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Typically between tribal societies or premodern nations, tribute payment by a lesser power to a dominant power, usually defined by a treaty or legal agreement, usually as the result of a real or perceived threat of punishment by the dominant power in exchange for a promise not to attack. It is distinct from reparations after war. Among individuals, it is called blackmail or a protection racket.

The group paying it may consider it deterrence, but there are many historical examples of finding that it does not deter.


Rudyard Kipling wrote, with respect to Britons paying tribute to the Vikings, who, at the time, were Danish:

IT IS always a temptation to an armed and agile nation,
To call upon a neighbour and to say:
"We invaded you last night - we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away."
And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you’ve only to pay ’em the Dane-geld
And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!
It is always a temptation to a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say:
"Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away."
And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.
It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray,
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say:
"We never pay any one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost,
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that plays it is lost!"

American history

In response to a French demand for tribute, Representative Robert Goodloe Harper, replied, on June 18, 1798,

"Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute."