A term for Egypt’s annual wheat crop during Roman times. A substantial part of the annona was destined to feed the people of Rome (annona civica, annona urbis). In economic terms, the contribution Egypt had to furnish after its conquest by the Romans in 30 B.C. was of paramount importance, as the shipments from the to the Tiber provided the imperial capital every year with wheat for four out of twelve months. Augustus himself assumed in 22 B.C. the cura annonae (the responsibility for the grain supply), a fact that underlines the political importance of the annona as a means of feeding and controlling the plebs urbana (city population).

After the foundation of Constantinople in 324-330, Egypt’s civil annona was shipped to the new capital of the Roman East. The organization of the annona, its collection, its transport down the Nile, its storing in Alexandria, and finally its conveyance to Rome (or later to Constantinople) was carefully supervised by the praefectus annonae Alexandriae (superintendent) and was of great concern to the emperors, as is shown by the well-known Edict XIII (538-539) of Justinian. (For the general context of the annona civica, see TAXATION.)

During the first three centuries of Roman rule in Egypt, the annona militaris (supply for the army) was normally secured by the administration, which spent part of the annual tax revenue to buy food and other items for the troops at prices fixed by the state (coemptio). Other supplies may have been provided by the imperial estates in Egypt.

The term annona for provisions destined for Roman troops in Egypt appeared in the papyri only at the end of the second century A.D., sometimes in connection with the visits of the Severan emperors in that country (Thomas and Clarysse, 1977, pp. 199f.). As in other provinces of the empire, it was not unusual to levy taxes or to impose deliveries in kind for certain requirements of the army such as food, clothes, and fuel. Another obligation was to provide billets (metatum) and transport services for the army (angariae), especially in time of war or during movements of troops.

The extant papyrological documentation does not yet allow us to discern exactly how the military annona emerged and evolved. It may have started with irregular impositions for military supplies, demanded when the need arose—hence perhaps a frequent feature in the troubled years of the third century (see conflicting discussion of evidence in Van Berchem, 1937, and Carrié, 1977). The annona militaris was to become a regular part of the taxation system with the reforms of DIOCLETIAN. As for the organization of the military annona, the network and methods already in existence for the overall tax collection were applied to the military contributions, too.

That is, the central state authorities, represented by the praefectus, communicated to the strategi (commanders) the nature and amount of taxes to be collected for the army. These regional authorities then charged the town councils (curiae, boulai, created about A.D. 200) of their respective districts with the actual collection of the annona militaris. In their turn, the town councils designated some of their members as curators (epimeletai) of the annona. These epimeletai performed their service as a liturgy (i.e., as an unpaid obligation), but to make absolutely sure that these obligations were fulfilled, the town councils were compelled to assume collective responsibility for the curators they had appointed (Bowman, 1971, pp. 77-82).

This system, which had evolved in the third century, seems not to have changed basically in the fourth, as far as the military annona is concerned. One new feature, however, is the insertion of the diadotai (distributors of provisions) between the epimeletai and the soldiers. The diadotai appear in until the end of Byzantine rule in Egypt.

During their period of service, the soldiers normally did not receive their pay in cash, but in kind. That meant that the population of Egypt provided nearly everything for the maintenance of the soldiers and their mounts. In the almost complete absence of general data, the sources provide abundant details on the nature of military supplies and the ways of their collection. The military annona consisted of a great variety of items: cereals (bread, wheat, barley), meat, wine, vinegar (for cheap wine), oil, vegetables, etcetera. Hay and chaff were delivered for the mounts (horses, camels, mules, asses).

Other items were collected for equipment and fuel, for example, hides (leather) and iron. Another important part of the military annona in the wider sense were clothes for the soldiers. These military taxes were paid in kind, but they could be replaced by payments in cash, a method that was rarely applied in the fourth century, but that spread later in the course of the Byzantine period. The money collected in that way was spent entirely, in principle at least, for the maintenance of the troops.

There were still other taxes related to the military sector, one of the most important being an amount of gold that served to buy recruits (aurum tironicum), in fact an adaeratio (funding) of recruits that the land had to furnish proportionally to its surface (cf. the list of taxes in Lallemand, 1964, pp. 191-205).

In addition to the current requirements of military annona in late antiquity, special levies were organized in times of crisis or when the emperor was on the move with his entourage and army. Two substantial papyri of the Chester Beatty collection have preserved the minutiae of such circumstances (cf. Skeat, 1964). The first of them is concerned with preparations for the forthcoming visit of Diocletian to Panopolis (AKHMIM) in September 298, especially with arrangements for provisioning the troops accompanying the emperor. This text shows an evident lack of enthusiasm and cooperation on the side of the municipal authorities.

The second papyrus consists entirely of official correspondence between the strategos of the Panopolites and the procurator (epitropos) of the Lower Thebaid, all dated from 300. It contains a long series of orders issued to the strategos to supply money or provisions to a wide variety of military units throughout the Thebaid. It is striking to see deliveries (oil, salt) being made from the nome of Panopolis to places as far away as Syene (ASWAN).

The military organization in Egypt was rearranged several times in the course of the Byzantine period (see ARMY, ROMAN). Justinian’s Edict XIII gives some interesting information on such changes in the service of the military annona. Edict XIII, chapter 13, states that the military expenditures in Alexandria and in the two provinces of Aegyptus are now to be placed under the direct supervision of the augustalis (imperial superintendent) and his office. They had formerly been administered by a secretary (scrinarius) for military affairs (stratiotika). Another reform of Justinian is concerned with the annona for the dux of the Libycus limes (Libyan boundary), for his office and his troops (Edict XIII, chap. 18).

Because Libya was too poor to deliver the necessary provisions, the districts of Mareotes and Menelaites in Aegyptus prima (Egypt I—that is, the Delta) were joined to the administrative sphere of the Libyan dux in order to secure sufficient annonary supplies. These measures were part of a wider reorganization aiming at a more efficient policing of the troubled region to the west of Alexandria (Edict XIII, chaps. 17-22). There is ample papyrological evidence for the collection and distribution of military annona in Byzantine Egypt, for instance, in the papyri concerned with sixth- century Aphrodito in Upper Egypt. They show, among other things, payment of the annona in cash (gold) in three installments per annum and deliveries to troops stationed in Antaeopolis, Antinoopolis, and Hermopolis.

What was the percentage of the overall tax revenue of Egypt destined to the military annona, and did the latter become ever more oppressive in the course of late antiquity? In the absence of really satisfying statistical data, these questions are difficult to answer and have led to very divergent evaluations (cf. Carrié, 1977, with debate on p. 392f.). The problem is basically complicated by our ignorance of the total number both of the inhabitants of Byzantine Egypt and of the army stationed there.

A ostracon, probably found in Idfu, is among the latest mentions of the military annona, the delivery being made through horsemen (Gascou, 1978). As the technical term annona had not yet occurred in the papyri of the Arab period, Gascou proposed for this ostracon a date toward the end of Byzantine rule in Egypt (but see the mention of annona in a Coptic document of the post-Conquest period, MacCoull, 1986, p. 33, no. 29, 1.5; cf. also el Abbadi, 1984, on military annona in early Arab Nessana).


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