In Ancient Athens, Rich People Bragged About Their Heavy Tax : The Indicator from Planet Money In the modern U.S. people may avoid or begrudgingly pay taxes. But in ancient Athens, wealthy people considered it an honor.

Grateful For Taxes

Grateful For Taxes

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Hans-Peter Merten/Getty Images
Porch of the Caryatids, Acropolis, Athens, Greece, Europe.
Hans-Peter Merten/Getty Images

While the modern income tax has not been with us for very long on the time scale of human civilization, taxes are an essential part of developed societies and certainly date back to at least the 4th or 5th century BC in ancient Athens.

Ancient Athens had a tax, called a liturgy, that fell largely on the wealthiest 1% of the population. These individuals were expected to pay the entire cost of provisioning, paying the wages for, and fully equipping a trireme warship for an entire year.

Believe it or not, wealthy Athenian citizens weren't just willing to pay these taxes, but often would brag about paying and even go above and beyond the call of duty. They took pride in doing so because of the status and social capital that would come with doing so.

On The Indicator, we speak with Professor Thomas Martin of the College of the Holy Cross about this ancient Athenian tax system, and what lessons it can teach us about the United States today.

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter / Facebook / Newsletter.

Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, PocketCasts and NPR One.