Ezra 6 – New International Version

  1. King Darius then issued an order, and they searched in the archives stored in the treasury at Babylon ;
  2. A scroll was found in the citadel of Ecbatana in the province of Media, and this was written on it ;
  3. In the first year of King Cyrus, the king issued a decree concerning the temple of God in Jerusalem:
  • Let the temple be rebuilt as a place to present sacrifices, and let its foundations be laid. It is to be sixty cubits high and sixty cubits wide ;
  1. with three courses of large stones and one of timbers. The costs are to be paid by the royal treasury ;
  2. Also, the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, are to be returned to their places in the temple in Jerusalem; they are to be deposited in the house of God ;
  3. Now then, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and you other officials of that province, stay away from there ;
  4. Do not interfere with the work on this temple of God. Let the governor of the Jews and the Jewish elders rebuild this house of God on its site ;

Ezra Reads the Law to the People, one of Gustave Doré’s illustrations for La Grande Bible de Tours. * Source ;

8. Moreover, I hereby decree what you are to do for these elders of the Jews in the construction of this house of God : Their expenses are to be fully paid out of the royal treasury, from the revenues of Trans-Euphrates, so that the work will not stop ;

The rise of Darius the First

These being the words of Persian King Darius the Great who ruled over the Archaemenid Empire from September 522 BC until October 486 BC.

Darius I would successfully quell revolts and rebellions at the start of his reign and afterwards through military campaigns expand the domain of the Archaemenid Empire to its largest extent which stretched from the Balkans in Europe up to the Indus Valley in India.

Being inspired by the Lydians and probably some other practical reasons of having a standardized coinage, Darius the First effectively reorganized the governmental structure of the Archaemenid Empire and the taxations of its provinces, thus maximizing revenue.

Darius the great. * Source ;

It’s not hard to imagine how such a vast empire when managed properly would benefit much of trade routes going trough its lands. Not even mentioning all the various goods, wares and precious metals that came out of all the corners of the Empire.

Alas such a vast empire also needed a large standing army, garrisons, infrastructure for trade, movement of soldiers, government officials and of course the ordinary citizen.

The Achaemenid Empire at its greatest territorial extent, under the rule of Darius I (522 BC to 486 BC). * Source ;

On top of that Darius the Great also had to contribute a great deal to the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. A large empire like the Archaemenid would need a lot of money of which a large part was gathered by means of taxation.

In this article by means of ancient sources we’ll dive deeper in the amount of money that could be collected by taxation.

How much talents in Silver were collected in revenue ?

Thankfully we have to owe credit to the “Father of History” Herodotus himself for the answer to this question because in his work called “Histories” he actually describes how much talents of Silver flowed to the Royal Treasury coming from the twenty Satrapies.

The numbers of talents given per province is given in a Babylonian Talent. This would amount to 30,3 kilograms of silver per talent give or take the accuracy involving weights and such.

Portrait of Herodotus, identified after other known inscribed portraits of the historian. Greek marble, Roman copy of a Greek original of the early 4th century BC. From the area of Porta Metronia, Rome. * Source ;

A series of old Babylonian weights ranging from 1 mina to 3 shekels. Made from Haematite. * Source ;

The first province consisted of the Ionians, Magnesians of Asia, Aeolians, Carians, Lycians, Milyans and Pamphylians who on accord of Darius the Great had to pay one combined tribute. They paid a sum of 300 talents of silver.

The second province consisted of the Mysians, Lydians, Lasonians, Cabalians and Hytennians who paid a sum of 500 talents.

The third province was comprised by Hellespontians of the right side of the entrance to the straights, Phrygians, Thracians of Asia, Paphlagonians, Mariandynians and Syrians. They paid a sum of 360 talents of silver ;

The fourth province was Cilicia who paid a tribute of 360 white horses, one for each day of the year and 500 talents of silver.

Of the 500 talents of silver 140 talents were used for the expenses of the cavalry who were the guard of Cilicia. The remaining 360 talents of silver were to paid to Darius the Great ;

The fifth province were the lands between Posideion, a city founded on the Cilician and Syrian border and the border of Egypt except the territory belonging to the Arabs, who paid no tribute. In this country was Phoenice, Palastine and Cyprus. This region paid 350 talents of silver.

The location of Hellespontine Phrygia, and the provincial capital of Dascylium, in the Achaemenid Empire, c. 500 BC. * Source ;

The sixth province was Egypt and the lands of Lybia and the cities of Cyrene and Barca. In addition to a revenue payment of 700 talents of silver this province also contributed money from fish caught in Lake Moeris and 120.000 bushels of grain needed for Persian soldiers and their allies stationed at Memphis.

The Sattagydae, Gandarii, Dadicae and the Aparytae paid 170 talents of silver together. This was the seventh province.

The eight province was Susa and the rest of the Cissian country who paid a sum of 300 talents of silver.

Babylon and the rest of Assyria as the ninth province paid to Darius the Great a sum of 1000 talents of silver and 500 boys who would become eunuchs.

The Achaemenid Empire at its greatest extent including Babylon, c. 500 BC. * Source ;

Egbatna and the rest of Media together with the Paricanians and the Orthocorybantians making up the tenth province paid a sum of 450 talents of silver.

The eleventh province consisted of the Caspii, Pausicae, Pantimathi and Daritae who combined payed a sum of 200 talents of silver.

Bactria as far as the lands of Aegli was the twelfth province and paid a sum of 360 talents of silver.

The thirteenth province was the country of the Pactyic, Armenia, and lands as far as the Euxine sea. They paid a sum of 400 talents of silver.

The Sagartii, Sarangeis, Thamanei, Utii and people living on islands in the Persian Sea (some being expelled) paid 400 talents of silver and made up the fourteenth province.

The Sacae and Caspii payed a sum of 250 talents of silver as the fifteenth province.

Ancient cities of Bactria. * Source ;

The sixteenth province were the Parthians, Chorasmians, Sogdi and Arii paying 300 talents of silver.

The Ethiopians of Asia and the Paricanii paid 400 talents of silver being the seventeenth province.

The Matieni, Saspiri and Alarordii were to pay an appointed sum of 200 talents as the eighteenth province.

The Moschi, Tibareni, Macrones, Mossynoeci, and Mares who made up the people of the nineteenth province, were ordered to pay 300 talents of silver.

The Indians who are more numerous than any other nation that I’m aware of made up the twentieth province. They also paid the largest sum of tribute out of all the other provinces which amounted to 360 talents of gold dust. With the gold-silver ratio being 1:13 this would amount to 4680 talents of silver !

Later on Darius the Great would subjugate additional territories as far as Thessaly in Europe and make them pay tribute. The collected silver would then be melted and poured into earthen jars.

When cooled and solid the earthen jars would be broken and excess clay would be chipped away. The silver would then be stored and when money was needed silver was cut away from the blocks as was deemed appropriate to serve a certain purpose.

The total number of talents of silver collected from the twenty provinces flowing directly to the Royal Treasury would amount to 12.180 talents of silver.

Type IIIb Achaemenid Daric coin, c. 420 BC. * Source ;

What was the worth of the revenues gathered by the Archaemenids and mentioned by Herodotus ?

As we’ve calculated in above mentioned chapter the total number of talents collected from tribute was 12.180 talents of silver as mentioned by Herodotus.

A Babylonian talent would roughly weigh about 30,3 kilogram.

12.1280 x 30,3 = 369.054 kilograms of silver !

Todays spot price of silver as of November 2020 is $780,55 / 655 Euro per kilo.

When all this information is fed to a calculator the value of the tributes of silver would be :

  • 288 million U.S. Dollars or 242 million Euro in todays currency ;

Darius the Great gathered a vast amount of money from the taxation which he himself had help reform. The system of taxation and the money generated thereof would help immensely with maintaining the empire for over 2 centuries to come.

It would also serve as the monetary means to send an expedition to subjugate those stubborn Greek city states and conquer these area’s or deliver “water and earth” as a token of their subjugation.

Luckily for the Greeks they themselves found a nice source of silver which would help them in their struggle against the Archaemenid Empire under Darius the Great and later his son Xerxes.