Tax Time (121 A.D. The Emperor Hadrian)
By: Terrance Cheesman
In this joyous time when citizens are lining up to pay their taxes, it is nice to look back on an event in the Roman Empire. In 121 A.D. The Emperor Hadrian minted a Sestertius advertising what would be called today a tax holiday. On the Obverse one finds the portrait of Hadrian with the legend IMP.CAESAR TRAIANVS HADRIANVS AVG. P.M. TR.P. COS III. The supreme army commander Caesar Hadrian, successor of Trajan the Emperor Chief Priest Tribune of the People and Consul for the third time.
The reverse features a lictor who is an attendant to a Consul setting fi re to a pile of tax notices much to the delight of the three figures to the left who obviously represent a much larger cheering crowd. Over his shoulder the lictor carries a faces a bundle of rods surrounding an ax symbolizing that a Consul had the authority to punish by flogging or decapitation.
The reverse legend reads RELIQVA VETERA HS NOVIES MILL. ABOLITA S.C. Receipts to the amount of 900 million Sestertii destroyed. HS is the symbol for Sestertii much the same was as the dollar sign $ is used today. Most collectors today are more familiar with the silver Denarius, but it is the Sestertius which the Roman used to explain value. 4 Sestertii make up a Denarius which roughly translates into a days wage. The amount this represents is also difficult to translate as well. What this amount meant in terms of the annual income of the state is difficult to assess. It may have represented something like 45 to 90 Billion Dollars today.
The cause of this event was not economic but political. The secession was a bit rocky and Hadrian had decided to execute four very popular and senior members of the Senate. There was a backlash and thus Hadrian decided that a tax holiday would ease the anger of his opponents. It succeeded.
Previously published in the ENS “The Planchet” Magazine Vol-56 Issue-05