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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, or luxury goods, or 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. The Aztec Empire is another example. 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.
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 Roman republic also exacted tribute in the form of payments equivalent to proportional property taxes for the purpose of waging war.
In China, the tribute system began from ancient China period to provide both an administrative means to control their interests, as well as a means of providing exclusive trading priorities to those who paid tribute from foreign regions. It was an integral part of the Confucian philosophy and was seen by the Chinese as equivalent to the familial relation of younger sons looking after older parents by devoting part of their wealth, assets, or goods to that purpose. Political marriages also 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. During the period before the Japanese invasion into 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. Mostly of the Asian countries would join 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.
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.
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.
Christians of the Iberian Peninsula translated the term 'jizya' as tributo. This form of tribute was later also applied by the Spanish and Portuguese empires to their territories in the New World.
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.
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