Levant, province (“liva”) of Damascus, 1596

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Levant, province (“liva”) of Damascus, 1596

Income decile

Percentage of population

Average per capita income (in akches per annum)

Income in terms of per capita mean













































Income distribution data: The data source is a tax census of rural settlements conducted by the Ottoman authorities. The data were processed, analyzed and kindly supplied by Metin Cosgel. The description of Ottoman tax censuses, Tahrir Defterleri, can be found in Cosgel (2004, 2006).
Monetary amount of taxes is calculated using the data on quantities (in physical units) that are paid as in-kind taxes multiplied by the administrative prices of barley and wheat (per local unit) as listed by the enumerators. This amount is then divided by the statutory tax rate on these products to yield estimated total output in monetary terms. (Total tax is higher than these two statutory tax rates because it includes also other flat taxes (e.g. tax on meadows) which are not directly linked to output.) For example, in Levant, the tax rate on wheat and barley ranged between 25 and 40 percent with a mode of 30 percent. Since the tax rates varied between the areas and settlements, enumerators would often indicate what tax rate applied in a particular case (see for example Cosgel, 2004, p.337). 1
The data cover only rural areas and people who were paying taxes there. They do not include Ottoman landlords who were exempt from taxation. There are no data on urban areas because the tax data from urban areas are very fragmentary -- as many people did not pay taxes at all: soldiers, government officials, etc. -- and as the tax rates varied for unknown reasons. In other words, Cosgel’s estimates of rural incomes are constructed essentially from tax data and using the fact that the tax rate applied in rural areas was more or less observed by the authorities. But the rules for cities varied between different occupations, and Cosgel believes that the rules were never firm even legally, and were applied often arbitrarily. City people were often government officials who also were not subject to taxes, and other professions like traders and artisans seem to have used their proximity to the rulers to ask for favors.

Population and area: Included is the province of Damascus which consists of 7 districts (Ajlun, Gaza, Lajjun, Nablus, Qada Hawran, Quds (Jerusalem) and Safad). Cosgel defines the areas as “Ottoman Palestine, Transjordan, and Southern Syria.” Area (26,250 km2) estimated from the detailed map of the region. Total number of settlements included in the survey is 1415; total number of households included in the survey is 47,405. Some 10 percent of household at most might have been omitted from the census (private communication from Metin Cosgel, March 26, 2008). Assuming an average number of 5 members per households (estimate provided by Metin Cosgel; same communication) gives an estimated total population of about 263,000.
Urbanization rate: Estimated by Metin Cosgel at 11.6 percent (personal communication). The population cut-off point for cities is not clear.
Mean income in $PPP: Obtained as the ratio between the overall mean income from the survey (169.3 akcha per capita) and the estimated subsistence minimum (52.2 akcha per capita) with the latter priced at $PPP 300. The average income is thus $PPP 974. The subsistence minimum is calculated as follows. Food minimum is taken to require consumption of 200 kg of wheat per person per year (data from the Byzantine diet; see Milanovic 2006; also Allen’s ‘bare bones subsistence basket’ containing 172 kg of wheat (quoted in Scheidel, 2008, Table 2, p.8)). The cost of that quantity is 42.9 akcha, based on per bushel average price of 5.83 akcha (average regional contemporary price) 2 and the standard conversion of the volume measure of bushels into kilograms of wheat (with 7.35 bushels holding 200 kg of wheat).3 This cost of 42.9 akchas is multiplied by 1.9 to get to total subsistence minimum (accounting for other food; the other food to wheat ratio being taken from Milanovic 2006) and then by 3.2 equivalent adults to get the subsistence minimum for an average five-member household.4 This yields 257 akchas per family of five, which is then divided by 5 to get the subsistence estimate of 52.2 akcha per capita. (Based on personal communications with Metin Cosgel).
Allen, Robert C. (2007), “How prosperous were the Romans: Evidence from Diocletian’s Price Edict (AD 301),” University of Oxford, Department of Economics, Discussion Paper Series 363, October 2007.

Cosgel, Metin (2004), “Ottoman Tax Registers”, Historical Methods, 37, 2 (Spring).

Cosgel, Metin (2006), “Taxes, efficiency, and redistribution: Discriminatory taxation of villages in Ottoman Palestine, Southern Syria, and Transjordan in the sixteenth century”, Explorations in Economic History, 43, 2 (April): 332-356.

Milanovic, Branko (2006), “An estimate of average income and inequality in Byzantium around year 1000,” Review of Income and Wealth 52 (3).

Scheidel, Walter (2008), “Real wages in early economies: evidence for living standards from 2000 BCE to 1300 CE,” Princeton/Stanford Working papers in classics (March).

1 Cosgel provides also two additional very similar surveys, from Western Anatolia (region of Bursa) for the year 1573, and Southern Hungary, for the years 1562-1570. The methodology of derivation of estimated incomes per settlement is the same but the regional prices of wheat and barley are different (region specific). The use of these different grain prices by region implies that one cannot directly compare total incomes between the three regions. That is, the within-regional analysis is possible, but not inter-regional analysis. The urbanization rates of these two regions however are much higher than that of Levant, and hence a rural based survey would be much less representative of the entire area.

2 The bushel prices within the seven districts varied between 5 and 6.7 akchas per bushel. We take the simple average of these (5.83 akchas).

3 The Ottoman or more exactly the Istanbul bushel (kile) is almost exactly the same as the US bushel, both equal to 0.97 UK bushel.

4 Using the contemporary OECD equivalence scale, a family of two adults and three children would imply 3.2 adult equivalent units.

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