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Tax accounting in the late medieval German territorial states

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This paper examines tax accounting in the late medieval German territorial states, where we find that tax accounting starts in an oral context. By the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, miscellaneous notes on taxes arising in various contexts were commonly augmented by wax tablets or tallies as practical devices to help operate the early taxation system. Later, the adoption of paper for record-keeping permitted the maintenance of independent tax accounts. Finally, specialist accounts were used as records as part of the auditing process and to serve, in the fifteenth century, as evidence of tax payments. This transition was associated with the shift away from proportional taxes (Quotitätssteuern) to scaled-down taxes (Repartitionssteuer) . At the end of the fifteenth century, the regional German princes thus had available to them written information that provided a reliable source for estimating tax revenue which had the potential to contribute towards the creation of the modern state. In contrast, the Empire's attempt to tax all subjects by means of the so-called ‘Common Penny' failed and left the Empire without an effective financial database.

Keywords: Germany; Tax accounting; later Middle Ages

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of History, Historisches Seminar, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, München, Germany

Publication date: 2005-11-01

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