A tribute (from Latin tribulum, contribution) is wealth one party gives to another as a sign of respect or, as was often case in historical contexts, of submission or allegiance. It also incorporated certain aspects of regulated trade in goods and services between the parties under a contractual relationship formed upon duress, and based upon the potential for threats if specific performance did not occur. A tributary or tributary state is a state, colony, region, or people who pay tribute to a more powerful, suzerain state.
Various ancient states, which could be called suzerains, exacted tribute from areas they had conquered or threatened to conquer. In case of alliances, lesser parties gave tribute to the dominant parties as a sign of allegiance and for the purposes of financing the agreed projects - usually raising an army. The term may also be used on religious tax used for maintenance of temples and other sacred places.
Athens received tribute from the other cities of the Delian League. 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, and Vietnam. Roman republic also exacted tribute in the form of equivalent to proportional property taxes for the purpose of waging war.
China often got tribute from the states under the influence of Confucian civilization and gave them Chinese products and recognition of their authority and sovereignty in return. Sometimes Chinese support were significant in local politics. There were numerous tribute states to the Chinese established empires through out the ancient history, including neighboring countries such as Korea, Japan, Vietnam. This tributary system and relationship are well known as Jimi (羁縻) or Cefeng (册封), or Chaogong (朝貢). Japan had to pay tributes to China from ancient time, and China granted King of Japan. According to the Korean historical document Samguk Sagi (삼국사기, 三国史记), Korea sent a diplomatic representative to the Han Dynasty in 32 AD, and the Emperor Guangwu of Han granted the official rank of Korea. Korea became a tributary in the 4th century.
There is a clear differentiation between the term tribute and gift. The former, known as gong, 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.
In addition, the Zheng He expeditions also carried goods to build tribute relationships between the Ming Dynasty and newly discovered kingdoms. Tribute activities occupy several chapters in the Twenty-Four Histories.
Tribute was not always money but also valuables and that were effectively hostages kept in exchange for good behavior.
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 upon income.
During the Spanish Reconquista, there were period when the Christian kings were more militarily powerful than the Moors, but lacked the population to settle and defend the conquered territories. They were contented with receiving tribute, the parias. Combined with commerce across the Mediterranean, it was a means for African wares like gold to enter Europe.
In general use, the phrase "to pay tribute" often means "to praise or laud", whether or not an accompanying gift (the historical understanding of "tribute") is provided.