Seeing the churches like the state: Taxes and wealth redistribution in late antique Italy


Two key economic questions tend to be asked about the transformation of the Roman world. First, how did Roman fiscal structures continue, disintegrate and transform? Second, how did emerging churches play a role in the redistribution of wealth through new administrative structures to create a new social system, what Ian Wood has called a ‘temple society’? These two processes – one focussing on the continuity or discontinuity of the Roman economic structures and the other on churches within that system – are usually examined separately or assumed to follow, what we call here, a ‘Gallic model’. In this article, we first demonstrate that Wood’s ‘temple society’ is far more complex in its emergence in Italy than in Gaul. Second, we argue that the churches of Italy remained embedded within late Roman fiscal structures, even as they transformed during late antiquity. Fiscal arrangements, examined through the churches of Rome and Ravenna, established churches as ever more central economic actors to the state fiscal system by 600 and shaped their long-term wealth redistribution process.

Publication Type
Journal Article
Early Medieval Europe