TRIBUTE (Heb. mas, forced laborers, middâh, tribute, toll, Gr. kēnsos, tax, census, phoros, tax, burden). The word mas occurs twenty-two times in the OT and is usually translated “tribute” in the KJV. Solomon conscripted a force of task-workers consisting of thirty thousand men (1Kgs.5.13; 1Kgs.9.15, 1Kgs.9.21). David, too, had forced laborers (1Kgs.4.6; 1Kgs.5.13). Conquered populations were often compelled to render forced labor (Deut.20.11; Josh.16.10). In NT times the kēnsos—an annual tax levied on persons, houses, or lands—was paid to a prince or civil governor on behalf of the Roman treasury. The phoros was a tax paid by agriculturists.

More often, particularly after the division of the kingdom, the Israelites found themselves vassals rather than overlords and paid tribute to others. Syria collected tribute from Israel, the northern kingdom, as the price for peace (2 Kings 12:17, 18). When later the Assyrians became the dominant power in the E, both Israel and Judah paid tribute to their rulers, including Tigleth-pileser III (2 Kings 16:8) and Shalmaneser V (2 Kings 17:3). Finally Israel was captured and depopulated by the Assyrians.

With Judah, the southern kingdom, the situation was much the same. Already mentioned is the payment made by Ahaz when he appealed to Assyria for help (2 Kings 16:5-9). Hezekiah was forced to pay tribute to Sennacherib of Assyria (2 Kings 18:13-16), and later he foolishly displayed all his treasures to the envoy from Babylon (2 Kings 20:12-15). From this time on, Judah was constantly torn between Babylon and Egypt, and tribute was the price of stability (2 Kings 23:33-35). In the end, Babylon took the last of Judah’s wealth (2 Kings 25).

When NT history began, Rome was the dominant power. Roman taxation was mainly indirect; but apart from this tribute was levied, which was a form of direct tax. Between 404 and 167 b.c. tribute was intermittently imposed on Rom. citizens to pay for the costly wars which filled that period. After 167 b.c. only provincials paid the tributum, a fixed sum for some provinces, and a variable amount for others. This payment applied to all provincials, whether Rom. citizens or not. Under the empire, a distinction was made between the tributum soli (imposed on provincial land) and the tributum capitis (imposed on all other forms of property). Tribute was based on the census, but the rate is unknown. Grants of immunity might be given to communities or individuals for various reasons.


For general matters concerning Syria and Judaea: Pauly-Wissova, Real-Encyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft (1939), VII A1, 44-47; Oxford Classical Dictionary; IDB.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(1) an income tax,

(2) the poll tax.

The latter must be paid by women and slaves as well as by free men, only children and aged people being exempted. The payment exacted began with the 14th year in the case of men and the 12th in the case of women, the obligation remaining in force up to the 65th year in the case of both. For purposes of assessment, each person was permitted to put his own statement on record. After public notice had been given by the government, every citizen was expected to respond without personal visitation by an official (see Lu 2:1 ff). On the basis of the records thus voluntarily made, the tax collectors would enforce the payment of the tribute.

See also TAX, TAXING.

Frank E. Hirsch