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Easton's Bible Dictionary
One who farmed the taxes (e.g., Zacchaeus, Luke 19:2
) to be levied from a town or district, and thus undertook to pay to the supreme government a certain amount. In order to collect the taxes, the publicans employed subordinates (5:27; 15:1; 18:10), who, for their own ends, were often guilty of extortion and peculation. In New Testament times these taxes were paid to the Romans, and hence were regarded by the Jews as a very heavy burden, and hence also the collectors of taxes, who were frequently Jews, were hated, and were usually spoken of in very opprobrious terms. Jesus was accused of being a "friend of publicans and sinners" (Luke 7:34
These dictionary topics are from M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain.
Easton, Matthew George. Entry for 'Publican'. Easton's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/ebd/p/publican.html. 1897.