Tax′es are levied on property and persons for the support of a government. In early times rulers often raised revenues by means of property owned by the government or crown or belonging to the king or prince himself. The possessions of subjects were often confiscated outright, fines were imposed, and in Europe for many years crimes were punishable by the payment of a stated sum of money. The Jews paid taxes mainly in the form of the first fruits of their lands and the firstborn of their flocks, and it was the heavy burden of taxation that caused the revolt of the Ten Tribes after the death of Solomon. In Athens a royalty on the products of the mines, import-duties, market-licenses, assessments on wealthy citizens and tribute from dependent nations were some of the ways used for raising money. In Rome, under the republic, to the spoils of conquered nations and their tribute were added, under the empire, tolls, taxes on grain, on the privilege of Roman citizenship etc. In Europe, under the feudal system, kings were supported by their own lands, and in war claimed the services of their barons and knights at their own expense. Venice, in the middle ages, began the modern system of taxation by taxing land and levying import-duties; but throughout Europe, until the French Revolution and in some cases since, the nobles and clergy were privileged classes and paid no taxes. In many countries of Asia the right of taxation was given or sold to governors of provinces or to the highest bidder, a practice which often resulted in wringing from the people all that they had, which caused widespread misery. In Europe, too, taxes were sometimes farmed out at a lump sum.

In the United States taxes are imposed by the federal, state and municipal governments. Federal taxes are in the form of tariffs (q. v.) on imports, excise-duties, (mainly on liquors and tobacco) and income taxes (q. v.). Import and excise duties are indirect taxes, that is, not paid directly by the consumer. The bulk of state taxes are laid directly on property. The heaviest taxes usually are those laid for local purposes by the county or city. Besides the ordinary city or county taxes, assessments are often made on property specially benefited, for opening streets or roads, for street-lamps, sewers, water-service etc.

Unjust and unfair taxation has often caused discontent and even revolutions, and how to tax without oppressing the people is a deep problem. Turgot the French statesman, called it the art of plucking the goose without making it cry. In most countries it is now recognized that no tax can be levied without the consent of the representatives of the people who have to pay it. It was England's attempt to raise a stamp-duty and a customs-duty on tea in America that caused the revolt of the colonies under the celebrated cry: “No taxation without representation.”