Their Name

"Tax Collector"

The term "tax collector" or "tax gatherer" is from the Greek word "telones" and the King James Version of the Bible translates the word "publican," although the Greek word telones were really NOT the publicans. Publicans were wealthy men, usually non-Jewish, who contracted with the Roman government to be responsible for the taxes of a particular district of the imperial Roman state.

The Publican collected income tax for Rome. Sometime around 200 B.C. the Roman Senate found it fitting to farm the vectigalia (direct taxes) and the portoria (customs) to capitalists, who agreed to pay a substantial sum into the publicum (treasury) and so received the name of publicani.

The Roman class who handled the contracts and financial arrangements were called equites. They often went further in their dealings with the publicani and formed a joint-stock societas (company) partnership with them or one of their agents magister (manager). This manager usually resided at Rome and conducted business and paying profits to all partners through the submagistri (officer) who lived among the provinces. Directly under their authority were the portitores (customhouse officers) who would examine all goods, whether imported or exported, assess the value, wrote out a ticket and enforced payment. They would live within the province where they were stationed and come into contact with all classes of the population. It was these portitores who were referred to as the Tax Gatherers (telones) in the New Testament.

Return to Bible History Online

Tax Collectors