A tribute (from Latin tributum, contribution) is wealth, often in kind, that one party gives to another as a sign of respect or, as was often the case in historical contexts, of submission or allegiance. Various ancient states exacted tribute from the rulers of land which the state conquered or otherwise threatened to conquer. In case of alliances, lesser parties may pay tribute to more powerful parties as a sign of allegiance and often in order to finance projects that benefited both parties. To be called "tribute" a recognition by the payer of political submission to the payee is normally required; the large sums, essentially protection money, paid by the later Roman and Byzantine Empires to barbarian peoples to prevent them attacking imperial territory, would not usually be termed "tribute" as the Empire accepted no inferior political position. Payments by a superior political entity to an inferior one, made for various purposes, are described by terms including "subsidy".
The ancient Persian Achaemenid Empire is an example of an ancient tribute empire; one that made relatively few demands on its non-Persian subjects other than the regular payment of tribute, which might be gold, luxury goods, animals, soldiers or slaves. However failure to keep up the payments had dire consequences. The reliefs at Persepolis show processions of figures bearing varied types of tribute.
The medieval Mongol rulers of Russia likewise only expected tribute from the Russian states, which continued to govern themselves. Athens received tribute from the other cities of the Delian League. The empires of Assyria, Babylon, Carthage and Rome exacted tribute from their provinces and subject kingdoms. Ancient China received tribute from various states such as Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Borneo, Indonesia and Central Asia. The Aztec Empire is another example. The Roman republic exacted tribute in the form of payments equivalent to proportional property taxes, for the purpose of waging war.
Tribute empires contrast with those like the Roman Empire, which more closely controlled and garrisoned subject territories. A tributary state is one that preserves its political position and such independence as it has only by paying tribute.
In ancient China, the tribute system provided an administrative means to control their interests, as well as providing exclusive trading priorities to those who paid tribute from foreign regions. It was an integral part of the Confucian philosophy, seen by the Chinese as equivalent to younger sons looking after older parents by devoting part of their wealth, assets or goods to that purpose. Political marriages have existed between the Chinese empire and tribute states, such as Songtsen Gampo and Wencheng (Gyasa).
China often received tribute from the states under the influence of Confucian civilization and gave them Chinese products and recognition of their authority and sovereignty in return. There were several tribute states to the Chinese-established empires throughout ancient history, including neighboring countries such as Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Borneo, Indonesia and Central Asia. This tributary system and relationship are well known as Jimi (羈縻) or Cefeng (冊封), or Chaogong (朝貢). In Japanese, the tributary system and relationship is referred to as Shinkou (進貢), Sakuhou (冊封) and Choukou (朝貢).
According to the Chinese Book of Han, the various tribes of Japan (constituting the nation of Wa) had already entered into tributary relationships with China by the first century. However, Japan ceased to present tribute to China and left the tributary system during the Heian period without damaging economic ties. Although Japan eventually returned to the tributary system during the Muromachi period in the reign of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, it did not recommence presenting tribute.
According to the Korean historical document Samguk Sagi (삼국사기, 三國史記), Goguryeo sent a diplomatic representative to the Han Dynasty in 32 AD, and the Emperor Guangwu of Han granted the official rank of Goguryeo. The tributary relationship between China and Korea was established during the Three Kingdoms of Korea. This continued until China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. This Chinese tributary system produced Tributary state/(冊封) of Korea and neighboring countries. China created suzerainty relationship. China is considered as a suzerain. Some list of tributaries of imperial China encompasses suzerain kingdoms from China in East Asia has been prepared. Before the Japanese annexation period of Korea, the geopolitics of East Asia were ruled by the Chinese tributary system. This assured them their sovereignty and the system assured China the incoming of certain valuable assets. "The theoretical justification" for this exchange was the Mandate of Heaven, that stated the fact that the Emperor of China was empowered by the heavens to rule, and with this rule the whole mankind would end up being beneficiary of good deeds. Most of the Asian countries joined this system voluntary. 
There is a clear differentiation between the term "tribute" and "gift." The former, known as gong (貢), has important connotations. The Chinese emperors made sure that the gifts they paid to other states were known as mere gifts, not tributes. Even at times when a Chinese dynasty had to bribe nomads from raiding their border such as in the Han Dynasty and the Song Dynasty, the emperors gave "gifts" to the Xiongnu and the Khitan. The only time when a dynasty paid formal tribute to another was during the southern Song dynasty, where tribute was given to the Jin Dynasty for peace. The Jin Dynasty, having occupied the plains around the Yellow River, also saw itself as the legitimate holder of the "Mandate of Heaven".
In addition, during Zheng He's expeditions, his fleet often returned with foreign envoys bearing tribute. The foreign states received gifts in return to build tributary relationships between the Ming Dynasty and the foreign kingdoms. Tribute activities occupy several chapters in the Twenty-Four Histories.
Western European notions of tribute in medieval times
Raiders, like Vikings and Celtic tribes, could also exact tribute instead of raiding the place if the potential targets agreed to pay an agreed amount of valuables; the Danegeld is a famous and large-scale example.
Tribute was not always money, but also valuables, effectively making the payers hostages kept unpillaged in exchange for good behaviour. Various medieval lords required tribute from their vassals or peasants, nominally in exchange for protection to incur the costs of raising armies, or paying for free-lance mercenaries against a hostile neighbouring state. That system evolved into medieval taxation and co-existed as a secular approximation of the churchly tithe levied on production.
The Islamic Caliphate
What distinguished jizya historically from the Roman form of tribute is that it was exclusively a tax on persons, and on adult men. Roman "tribute" was sometimes a form of borrowing as well as a tax. It could be levied on land, landowners, and slaveholders, as well as on people. Even when assessed on individuals, the amount was often determined by the value of the group's assets and did not depend—as did Islamic jizya—upon actual head counts of men of fighting age. Christian Iberian rulers would later adopt similar taxes during their reconquest of the peninsula.
Tribute in the modern era
Modern elements of tribute are restricted to highly formal and ceremonial rituals, such as formal gifts being given to prove either fealty or loyalty upon the inauguration of a president, a wedding of a president's child while the president is in office, or the accession or the marriage of a member of a royal family.
- Imperial Chinese tributary system
- List of recipients of tribute from China
- List of tributaries of Imperial China
- puppet state
- satellite state
- client state
- Lockard, Craig A. (2007). Societies, Networks, and Transitions: A Global History: To 1500. Cengage Learning. p. 315. ISBN 0-618-38612-2.
- 後漢書, 會稽海外有東鯷人 分爲二十餘國
- Yoda, Yoshiie; Radtke, Kurt Werner (1996). The foundations of Japan's modernization: a comparison with China's path towards modernization. The Chinese Tribute System and Japan (Brill Publishers). pp. 40–41. ISBN 90-04-09999-9.
King Na was awarded the seal of the Monarch of the Kingdom of Wa during the Chinese Han Dynasty, and Queen Himiko, who had sent a tribute mission to the Wei Dynasty (third century), was followed by the five kings of Wa who also offered to the Wei. This evidence points to the fact that at this period Japan was inside the Chinese tribute system. Japanese missions to the Sui (581-604) and Tang Dynasties were recognized by the Chinese as bearers of imperial tribute;however in the middle of ninth century - the early Heian period - Japan rescinded the sending missions to the Tang Empire.
- Mizuno Norihito (2003). "China in Tokugawa Foreign Relations: The Tokugawa Bakufu's Perception of and Attitudes toward Ming-Qing China" (PDF). Ohio State University. p. 109.
It was not that Japan, as China’s neighbor, had had nothing to do with or been indifferent to hierarchical international relations when seeking relationships with China or the constituents of the Chinese world order. It had sporadically paid tribute to Chinese dynasties in ancient and medieval times but had usually not been a regular vassal state of China. It had obviously been one of the countries most reluctant to participate in the Sinocentric world order. Japan did not identify itself as a vassal state of China during most of its history, no matter how China saw it.
- ≪삼국사기≫에 의하면 32년(고구려 대무신왕 15)에 후한으로 사신을 보내어 조공을 바치니 후한의 광무제(光武帝)가 왕호를 회복시켜주었다는 기록이 있다 («Tang» 32 years, according to (Goguryeo Daemusin 15) sent ambassadors to the generous tribute to the Emperor Guangwu of Han Emperor in abundance (光武帝) gave evidence that can restore wanghoreul -- Google translation?)
- Pratt, Keith L.; Rutt, Richard; Hoare, James (1999). Korea: a historical and cultural dictionary. Routledge. p. 482. ISBN 0-7007-0463-9.
- Kwak, Tae-Hwan et al. (2003). The Korean peace process and the four powers, p. 99., p. 99, at Google Books; excerpt, "Korea's tributary relations with China began as early as the fifth century, were regularized during the Goryeo dynasty (918-1392), and became fully institutionalized during the Yi dynasty (1392-1910)."
- Kwak, p. 100., p. 100, at Google Books; excerpt, "The tributary relations between China and Korea came to an end when China was defeated in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895. In fact, the present North Korea is more or less serving as a tribute of China in the modern times;"
- Lane, Roger. (2008). Encyclopedia Small Silver Coins, p. 331., p. 331, at Google Books
- Gundry, R. S. "China and her Tributaries," National Review (United Kingdom), No. 17, July 1884, pp. 605-619., p. 605, at Google Books
- Seed, Patricia (1995). Ceremonies of Possession in Europe's Conquest of the New World, 1492-1640. Cambridge University Press. p. 80. ISBN 0-521-49757-4.
- Seed, Patricia (1995). Ceremonies of Possession in Europe's Conquest of the New World, 1492-1640. Cambridge University Press. pp. 80–1. ISBN 0-521-49757-4.
- Kwak, Tae-Hwan and Seung-Ho Joo. (2003). The Korean Peace process and the Four powers. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate. ISBN 9780754636533; OCLC 156055048
- Pratt, Keith L., Richard Rutt and James Hoare. (1999). Korea: a Historical and Cultural Dictionary. Richmond: Curzon Press. ISBN 9780700704637; ISBN 978-0-7007-0464-4; OCLC 245844259
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