Three gospels in the Christian bible refer to an attempt to trick Jesus by asking him if Jewish citizens should pay taxes to the Roman occupiers. He is reported to have asked to see a Roman coin. Showing it to the questioners he pointed to the image of the Roman emperor as said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
The Romans had a well-developed system of coinage and taxes could be defined and collected using coins. However, that has not always been the case in history. Although there has always been taxation, there has not always been access to cash.
In medieval Europe, the rate of taxation, (tithes), was generally around 10% of the value of produce. Part was paid to the local lord and part to the church. It could be paid in coin or in kind. Many people did not have cash as often there was little in circulation or indeed it may not have existed in some communities, so the tax could take the form of seeds, produce, equipment or even labour.
In Britain in the 14th Century, tithes were around 2% of farm or garden produce. Here too the amount could be paid in cash or kind. For example, a tax bill of one ounce of silver, (32 grammes), could be paid as 35 pounds, (16 kilos), of butter.
There were even stranger ways of paying tithes. On the Swedish island of Sollerön a tax record from 1539 shows that the islander’s taxes were paid in the form of 32 squirrel pelts. The fur was in demand both in Sweden and Europe.
In my Norse book, For The Want Of Silver, the story opens when tithe collectors come into conflict with villagers. The tax was paid in the form of produce from the sea – herring, smoked by the community.