Fiscus, from which comes the English term fiscal, was the name of the personal treasury of the emperors of Rome. The word is literally translated as "basket" or "purse" and was used to describe those forms of revenue collected from the provinces (specifically the imperial provinces), which were then granted to the emperor. Its existence pointed to the division of power in the early era of the Empire between the imperial court and the Senate. In subsequent years, as the emperors assumed greater control over the finances of the Roman world, the size of the fiscus was increased.
The head of the fiscus in the first years was the rationalis, originally a freedman due to Augustus' desire to place the office in the hands of a servant free of the class demands of the traditional society. In succeeding years the corruption and reputation of the freedman forced new and more reliable administrators. From the time of Hadrian (117-138), any rationalis hailed from the Equestrian Order (equites) and remained so through the chaos of the 3rd century and into the age of Diocletian.
- Fiscus, article in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities
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