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Poliudie, by Nicholas Roerich, 1908 (Moscow).

A tribute (from Latin tributum, contribution) is wealth one party gives to another as a sign of respect or, as was often the case in historical contexts, of submission or allegiance. It also incorporated certain aspects of regulated trade in goods and services between the parties under a contractual relationship formed upon duress, and based upon the potential for threats if specific performance did not occur. A tributary or tributary state is a state, colony, region, or people who pay tribute to a more powerful, suzerain state.

Various ancient states, which could be called suzerains, exacted tribute from areas they had conquered or threatened to conquer. In case of alliances, lesser parties gave tribute to the dominant parties as a sign of allegiance and for the purposes of financing the agreed projects - usually raising an army. The term may also be used on religious tax used for maintenance of temples and other sacred places.

Athens received tribute from the other cities of the Delian League. Empires of Assyria, Babylon, Carthage and Rome exacted tribute from their provinces and subject kingdoms. Ancient China received tribute from various states such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Roman republic also exacted tribute in the form of equivalent to proportional property taxes for the purpose of waging war.


Chinese practice of tributes as trade regulation and authority

In China, the tribute system began from the earliest days to provide both an administrative means to control vassals, as well as a means of providing exclusive trading rights to those who paid tribute from foreign regions. The process of tribute from a foreign nation to China allowed reciprocal trade under both imperial protection and imperial regulation, and barred entry into this trade by those who did not participate. It was an integral part of the Confucian philosophy and was seen by the Chinese as equivalent to the familial relation of younger sons looking after older parents by devoting part of their wealth, assets, or goods to that purpose. Political marriages also existed between the Chinese empire and tribute states, such as Songtsen Gampo and Wencheng (Gyasa).

Bactrians carrying tribute, Persepolis

China often received tribute from the states under the influence of Confucian civilization and gave them Chinese products and recognition of their authority and sovereignty in return. Sometimes Chinese support was significant in local politics. There were numerous tribute states to the Chinese-established empires throughout ancient history, including neighboring countries such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. This tributary system and relationship are well known as Jimi (羁縻) or Cefeng (册封), or Chaogong (朝貢). In Japanese, the tributary system and relationship is refered to as Shinkou (進貢), Sakuhou (冊封) and Choukou (朝貢).

According to the Chinese Book of Han, the various tribes of Japan (constituting the nation of Wa) had already entered into tributary relationships with China by the first century [1]. However, Japan ceased to present tribute to China and left the tributary system during the Heian period without damaging economic ties. Although Japan eventually returned to the tributary system during the Muromachi period, it did not recommence presenting tribute [2][3]. According to the Korean historical document Samguk Sagi (삼국사기, 三國史記), Korea sent a diplomatic representative to the Han Dynasty in 32 AD, and the Emperor Guangwu of Han granted the official rank of Korea. The tributary relationship between Korean and China was established generally after the 4th century.[4]

There is a clear differentiation between the term "tribute" and "gift." The former, known as gong, has important connotations. The Chinese emperors made sure that the gifts they paid to other states were known as mere gifts, not tributes. Even at times when a Chinese dynasty had to bribe nomads from raiding their border such as in the Han Dynasty and the Song Dynasty, the emperors gave "gifts" to the Xiongnu and the Khitan. The only time when a dynasty paid formal tribute to another was during the southern Song dynasty, where tribute was given to the Jin Dynasty for peace. The Jin Dynasty also saw itself as the legitimate holder of the "Mandate of Heaven".

In addition, the Zheng He expeditions also carried goods to build tribute relationships between the Ming Dynasty and newly discovered kingdoms. Tribute activities occupy several chapters in the Twenty-Four Histories.

Islamic notions of tribute

The Islamic Caliphate introduced a new form of tribute, known as the 'jizya', that differed significantly from earlier Roman forms of tribute. According to Patricia Seed:

What distinguished jizya historically from the Roman form of tribute is that it was exclusively a tax on persons, and on adult men. Roman "tribute" was sometimes a form of borrowing as well as a tax. It could be levied on land, landowners, and slaveholders, as well as on people. Even when assessed on individuals, the amount was often determined by the value of the group's assets and did not depend—as did Islamic jizya—upon actual head counts of men of fighting age. Christian Iberian rulers would later adopt similar taxes during their reconquest of the peninsula.[5]

Christians of the Iberian Peninsula translated the term 'jizya' as tributo. This form of tribute was later also applied by the Spanish and Portuguese empires to their territories in the New World.[6]

Western European notions of tribute in medieval times

Raiders, like Vikings and Celtic tribes, could also exact tribute instead of raiding the place if the potential targets agreed to pay an agreed amount of valuables.

Tribute was not always money, but also valuables, effectively making the payers hostages kept unpillaged in exchange for good behavior.

Various medieval lords required tribute from their vassals or peasants, nominally in exchange for protection to incur the costs of raising armies, or paying for free-lance mercenaries against a hostile neighbouring state. That system evolved into medieval taxation and co-existed as a secular approximation of the churchly tithe upon income.

During the Spanish Reconquista, there were period when the Christian kings were more militarily powerful than the Moors, but lacked the population to settle and defend the conquered territories. They were contented with receiving tribute, the parias. Combined with commerce across the Mediterranean, it was a means for African wares like gold to enter Europe.

Tribute in the modern era

Modern elements of tribute are restricted to highly formal and ceremonial rituals: such as formal gifts being given to prove either fealty or loyalty upon the inauguration of a US or other president, a wedding of a president's children while in office; the accession of a member of a royal family, or their marriages; and even in the largely staged show business marriages, where studios, banks, and other stars prove their loyalty through expensive gifts in hope of future benefits, and if are not given will result in loss of business. Thus, the element of duress and coercion seen in earlier times is part of this process, particularly in Hollywood.

In general use, the phrase, "to pay tribute," often means, "to praise or laud," whether or not an accompanying gift (the historical understanding of "tribute") is provided.


  1. ^ 後漢書, 會稽海外有東鯷人 分爲二十餘國
  2. ^ Yoda, Yoshiie (1996). The foundations of Japan's modernization: a comparison with China's path towards modernization. BRILL. pp. 40–41. ISBN 9004099999. "King Na was awarded the seal of the Monarch of the Kingdom of Wa during the Chinese Han Dynasty, and Queen Himiko, who had sent a tribute mission to the Wei Dynasty (third century), was followed by the five kings of Wa who also offered to the Wei. This evidence points to the fact that at this period Japan was inside the Chinese tribute system. Japanese missions to the Sui (581-604) and Tang Dynasties were recognized by the Chinese as bearers of imperial tribute;however in the middle of ninth century - the early Heian period - Japan rescinded the sending missions to the Tang Empire."  
  3. ^ Mizuno Norihito (2003). "China in Tokugawa Foreign Relations:The Tokugawa Bakufu’s Perception of and Attitudes toward Ming-Qing China". Ohio State University. pp. 109. "It was not that Japan, as China’s neighbor, had had nothing to do with or been indifferent to hierarchical international relations when seeking relationships with China or the constituents of the Chinese world order. It had sporadically paid tribute to Chinese dynasties in ancient and medieval times but had usually not been a regular vassal state of China. It had obviously been one of the countries most reluctant to participate in the Sinocentric world order. Japan did not identify itself as a vassal state of China during most of its history, no matter how China saw it."  
  4. ^ "우리 나라와 중국과의 조공 관계는 대개 4세기 이후 삼국시대부터 성립되었다. ≪삼국사기≫에 의하면 32년(고구려 대무신왕 15)에 후한으로 사신을 보내어 조공을 바치니 후한의 광무제(光武帝)가 왕호를 회복시켜주었다는 기록이 있다."
  5. ^ Seed, Patricia (1995), Ceremonies of Possession in Europe's Conquest of the New World, 1492-1640, Cambridge University Press, p. 80, ISBN 0521497574  
  6. ^ Seed, Patricia (1995), Ceremonies of Possession in Europe's Conquest of the New World, 1492-1640, Cambridge University Press, pp. 80–1, ISBN 0521497574  

See also

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

TRIBUTE (Lat. tributum, a stated payment, contribution), a sum of money or other valuable thing paid by one state or person to another state or person, either as an acknowledgment of submission, or as the price of peace or protection. Hence, in a secondary sense, an offering to mark respect or gratitude. Revenue by means of tribute was one of the most characteristic forms of the financial systems of ancient states. In imperial Athens large revenues were derived from the states of the Delian league, while in both Carthage and Rome inferior or dependent districts and races were laid under contribution to a very considerable extent (see Finance).

The word tribute was also applied in the Roman republic to (I) certain extraordinary taxes, as opposed to the ordinary vectigalia. Such, in particular, were certain property taxes, raised to meet the expenses of war. They were levied on all citizens alike, in proportion to the extent of a man's fortune, and varied according to the total amount of revenue to be raised. (2) To the ordinary stipendium or tax of fixed amount paid either in money or in kind, on property, trades, or as a poll-tax, raised in the Roman provinces (see Province).

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Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

a tax imposed by a king on his subjects (2 Sam 20:24; 1 Kg 4:6; Rom 13:6). In Mt 17:24-27 the word denotes the temple rate (the "didrachma," the "half-shekel," as rendered by the R.V.) which was required to be paid for the support of the temple by every Jew above twenty years of age (Ex 30:12; 2Kg 12:4; 2Chr 24:6, 9). It was not a civil but a religious tax.

In Mt 22:17, Mk 12:14, Lk 20:22, the word may be interpreted as denoting the capitation tax which the Romans imposed on the Jewish people. It may, however, be legitimately regarded as denoting any tax whatever imposed by a foreign power on the people of Israel. The "tribute money" shown to our Lord (Mt 22:19) was the denarius, bearing Caesar's superscription. It was the tax paid by every Jew to the Romans. (See PENNY.)

This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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Simple English

A tribute (from Latin tribulum, contribution) is wealth one party gives to another as a sign of respect or, as was often case in historical situations, of submission or loyalty.

This is trade between the parties under a contractual relationship formed upon pressure, and based upon the possibility of threats if improved relationships did not happen.


Imperial China

In the time frame before the 20th century, the term "tribute" is used to describe a kind of regulated trade in goods and services between China and other trading partners.[1]

Despite the term "tribute" state, China did not get involved in the domestic affairs and diplomacy of its trading partners, such as Joseon,[2] Japan,[3] Siam,[4] Cochinchina[5] and the Ryūkyū Kingdom.[6]

  • 1784: The earliest imperial device in Japan was lost. It was found in the late 18th century. A Han Dynasty emperor of China gave the gold object to the emperor of Japan in the first century (57 AD).[7]. This is a relic of the Chinese tribute system.[8]

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