- May 7, 2011
Etymology of the term fiscal
Under the Merovingians and Carolingians, the fisc (from Latin fiscus, whence we derive "fiscal") applied to the royal demesne which paid taxes, entirely in kind, from which the royal household was meant to be supported, though it rarely was. Though their personal territory was at first enormous, the Merovingian kings, faced with stiff resistance to taxation from their Frankish and Gallo-Roman subjects and ill-served by their illiterate peers, relied on constant conquests to renew the fisc which they were in the habit of granting away, to ensure continued fidelity among their followers. Once fresh Frankish conquests were no longer forthcoming, constant redivision of the "fisc" among male heirs reduced Merovingian kingship to a cluster of competitive kinglets subsisting on inadequate resources. Annual contributions in kind, of grain, produce, fodder, was unwieldy to transport and not easily convertible, so the restless habit of Merovingian kings moving from stronghold to stronghold, was constantly encouraged.
Fiscus, from which comes the English term fiscal, was the name of the personal treasury of the emperors of Rome. The word is literally translated as "basket" or "purse" and was used to describe those forms of revenue collected from the provinces (specifically the imperial provinces), which were then granted to the emperor. Its existence pointed to the division of power in the early era of the Empire between the imperial court and the Senate. In subsequent years, as the emperors assumed greater control over the finances of the Roman world, the size of the fiscus was increased.
Juvenal satirized the entire treasury by writing that a turbot of great size caught in the Adriatic had to be sent to Rome as part of Domitian's fiscus.
The head of the fiscus in the first years was the rationalis, originally a freedman due to Augustus' desire to place the office in the hands of a servant free of the class demands of the traditional society. In succeeding years the corruption and reputation of the freedman forced new and more reliable administrators. From the time of Hadrian (117-138), any rationalis hailed from the Equestrian Order (equites) and remained so through the chaos of the 3rd century and into the age of Diocletian.
Etymology of the term fiscal
1550s, originally, "to appropriate for the treasury," from L. confiscatus, pp. of confiscare, from com- "together" (see com-) + fiscus "public treasury," lit. "money basket." Related: Confiscated; confiscating.
1560s, "pertaining to public revenue," from M.Fr. fiscal, from L.L. fiscalis "of or belonging to the state treasury," from L. fiscus "treasury," originally "purse, basket made of twigs (in which money was kept)," of unknown origin. The general sense of "financial" (1865, Amer.Eng.) was abstracted from phrases like fiscal calendar, fiscal year. Related: Fiscally.