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Egypt and Rome                         295
a disputable point whether these systems were inspired by
Egyptian practice or evolved independently, but in one instance,
-the Lex Hieronica, whereby the tithe of Sicily was collected, the
analogies with Ptolemaic technique are so close that it seems
plausible that King Hiero, who had close relations with the
second Ptolemy, profited by Egyptian examples. The Lex
Hieronica was taken over by Rome when she annexed Sicily,
and its principles seem to have been applied later to the tithe
of Asia and other provinces. Unfortunately, owing to collusion
between the provincial governors and the tax farmers, the
system, which was according to Cicero in theory a model of
ingenuity, giving full protection to the government, the con-
tractors, and the cultivators, became under Roman rule an
instrument of gross extortion, and was ultimately discredited
and abandoned save for a few indirect taxes. Even in this
limited sphere it was long before the Roman government re-
gained a Ptolemaic standard of efficiency: it is an amazing fact
that Nero was the first emperor to give publicity to customs
tariffs, and it was not till the second century A.D. that imperial
procurators were appointed to check the contractors.
As lords of Egypt the Ptolemies had a right to the personal
labour of all its inhabitants. It was a right which they exercised
little, less probably than had the Pharaohs. Their army was at
first composed of foreign mercenaries, and when later natives
were enrolled there is no evidence that conscription was applied.
Their civil service was professional and a government post seems
to have been greatly coveted, whether for the salary attached
or for the perquisites which invariably fell to officials in antiquity;
such was the competition even for the humble position of a
village scribe that applicants were prepared to pay for it. Even
agricultural labour was in the main voluntary: leases of royal
land were allocated by competitive auction, the applicant who
offered the highest rent securing the farm till he was outbid.
The only purpose for which forced labour was normally used