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Economic History Association

Economic Factors in the Decline of the Byzantine Empire


Author(s): Peter Charanis
Source: The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Autumn, 1953), pp. 412-424
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Economic History Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2114773
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EconomicFactorsin theDeclineof the


Empire
Byzantine

IT IS now fivehundredyearssincethe Byzantineempirewas

broughtto an end by the OttomanTurks.Scholarstodayquite


thatthe Byzantineempirewas,
justlyrejectGibbon'sassumption
in a stateof decline.Theyhavecome
itsentireexistence,
throughout
And this
as one of thegreatempiresin history.'
to rankit,instead,
years.Down to about
forovera thousand
It endured
forgoodreasons.
in
it was thecenterof civilization
century
themiddleoftheeleventh
it
of antiquity;
and literature
thethought
Christendom.
It preserved
It produced
newformsof art;it heldbackthebarbarians.
developed
and
soldiers,and diplomatsas well as reformers
greatstatesmen,
someand
aidedbyitsdiplomats
scholars.
Its missionaries,
renowned
espetimesby itsarmies,spreadthegospelamongthepagantribes,
and beyond.As a
ciallythe Slavs,whichdweltalong its frontiers
has put it, Byzantium"moldedthe undisciplined
Czech historian
Croatseven,and madenationsout
tribesof Serbs,Bulgars,Russians,
taughttheir
of them;it gave to themits religionand institutions,
of
to themthe veryprinciples
princeshow to govern,transmitted
a
was
2
power
literature."
great
and
Byzantium
civilization-writing
force.
and a greatcivilizing
empiredid not
Yet in a senseGibbonwas right.For theByzantine
thebattle
cometoan endas theresultofa singleblowas,forinstance,
to an end themighty
of Ninevehof612 B.C. is said to havebrought
The empirewhichMohammed
II destroyed
on May
empire.
Assyrian
1 Not only specialistsbut generallycultivatedpeople have come to have a high regardfor
Byzantium.The NorwegianFridtjofNansen wrotein his book, L'Arme'nieet le procheOrient
(Paris: Paul Geuthner,i928), p. 3I: St. Sophia "is and will remainone of the mostremarkable
and if the Byzantineculturehad creatednothingbut that,it would be
worksof architecture,
to classifyit among the greatest."And the philosopherA. N. Whiteheadwrotein his
sufficient
separatof Ideas (New York: The MacmillanCo., 1933), p. 104: "The distinction
Adventures
ing the Byzantinesand the Mahometansfromthe Romansis thatthe Romanswere themselves
derivingthe civilizationwhichtheyspread.In theirhands it assumeda frozenform.Thought
the civilizacopied.The Byzantinesand the Mahometanswere themselves
halted,and literature
energies,sustainedby physicaland spiritualadvention.Thus theircultureretainedits intrinsic
ture.They tradedwiththeFar East: theyexpandedwestward:theycodifiedlaw: theydeveloped
mathematics:they developed
new formsof art: theyelaboratedtheologies:theytransformed
medicine.Finally,the Near East as a centreof civilizationwas destroyedby the Tartarsand
the Turks."
2 F. Dvornik,Les Slaves byzanceet Rome au iXe sicle (Paris: LibrairieAncienneHonore
Champion,1926), Vol. II.
412

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The Decline of the ByzantineEmpire


29, 1453,

413

although
years,
awayforoverthreehundred
hadbeenwasting

part of thistime,notablyduringthe period of the Comneni,it was


force.By the time of the fall of Constantinople,
not an insignificant
however,the Morea,one or two islandsin the Aegean,and Constantinoplewere all thathad been leftof its once widelyextensiveterriitself,whichin the tenthcenturyhad a populatories.Constantinople
tionof perhapsone millionpeople,had been reducedto probablynot
As a centerof commerceit had long
more than 75,000 inhabitants.3
been eclipsedby Galata, the Genoese colonyon the oppositeside of
the Golden Horn. The Byzantineemperorsbecame puppetsin the
handsof the Italiancommercialrepublics,notablyGenoa and Venice,
servedthe Ottomansultansas vassals,or miserablytouredthe West
beggingforhelp in returnforwhich theywere readyto sacrificethe
religioustraditionsof theirpeople. What a far cryfromthe august
of thetenthcenturywho challengedEast
positionof theirpredecessors
and West and challengedthemnot withoutsuccess!"I shall conquer
yourlands,"wroteNicephorusPhocas to the Caliph of Bagdad, "and
I shall go as faras Mecca. . . . I shall conquerall the Orientand the
thereligionof thecross."' The
Occidentand I shallspreadeverywhere
same emperordeclaredto the ambassadorof the German emperor,
Otto I: "Do you want a greaterscandalthan that [Otto] shouldcall
himselfemperorand claim for himselfprovincesbelongingto our
empire?Both thesethingsare intolerable;and if both are unsupportable,thatespeciallyis not to be borne,nay,not to be heardof thathe
calls himselfemperor."' What broughtthe empirefromthispinnacle
of powerdown to the abjectpositionin whichwe findit in the fourcenturiesis one of the mostinteresting
problems
teenthand fifteenth
in history.
In the historyof the Byzantineempire,war and religionwere the
two principalfactorsthatmoldedthe societyof the empireand determined its externalposition.6War was the normal state of things
3 PeterCharanis,"A Note on the Populationand Citiesof the ByzantineEmpirein the ThirteenthCentury,"The JoshuaStarrMemorialVolume,JewishSocial Studies,PublicationNo. 5
on JewishRelations,Inc., 1953), pp. 137-39.
(New York: Conference
4 G. Schlumberger,
Un Empereurbyzantinau dixi~mesiacle: NicephorePhocas (Paris, I 890),
pp. 429 f.
5F. H. Wright,trans.,The Worksof Liudprandof Cremona(New York: E. P. Dutton &
Co.,

1930),

p. 249.

6 This statement,
made by me in my study,"On the Social Structureof the Later Roman
Empire,"Byzantion,XVII (I944-45), 57, has been repeatedby others.See, forinstance,D. A.
du Despotatde Moree. VI. Justice,"L'HellenismeContemporain,
"Les Institutions
Zakythinos,
has been given to it recently
Ser. 2, 4th year (i95o), p. 206. A most amazing interpretation
by a Sovietscholar.He writes:"The AmericanhistorianP. Charanisextractsfromthe Fascist

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414

PeterCharanis

throughout
itslongexistence.
The external
crisis,however,
thatparticularly
affected
theevolution
of itssociety
was thatof theseventh
century.
The advancesof theSaracensand theincursions
of theSlavsand
Bulgarsreducedvirtually
thewholeempireto a frontier
province.
To
copewiththissituation
theemperors
of theseventh
century
reorganized theprovincial
administration
of theempire,
whatis
introducing
knownas thethemesystem,
theessenceof whichwas thesubordinaexercised
tionof civilto military
in each province
authority
by the
ofthearmycorpsstationed
Butwiththeestablishcommander
there.7
mentof thethemesystem
is connected
theestablishment
of another
thesystem
small
Thesemilitary
institution,
ofmilitary
estates.
estates,
in sizeandgranted
became
in return
formilitary
toindividuals
service,
theopeningwedgein theformation
of a new classof freepeasant
proprietors.
The soldiersthemselves
constituted
the nucleusof this
class,butothersgradually
wereadded.For whiletheeldestson of a
soldierinherited
hisfather's
of miliplottogether
withtheobligation
therestof thefamilywerefreeto reclaimand cultivate
taryservice,
the land thatwas vacant.8
theirown
The freepeasants,
cultivating
in thearmy,cameto
land,payingthetaxes,and,ifnecessary,
serving
ofByzantium.
thedominant
in theagrarian
constitute
element
society
Theybecamea bulwarkofthestate,lentto itnewvigor,and enabled
it eventually
to recover
itspositionin theOrient.By theend of the
statethroughhadbecomethemostpowerful
tenthcentury,
Byzantium
world.
outtheChristian-Moslem
The situation
changedin theeleventh
century.
Duringthesecond
halfof thatcentury
theempiresuffered
a seriesof military
reverses
fromwhichit neverfullyrecovered.
The mostseriousof thesewas
the disastrous
defeatat Manzikert(0071). The battleof Manzikert
decidedthefateof Asia Minorand conditioned
thesubsequent
hisof
was onlya battle,and
tory theByzantine
empire.ButManzikert
had beenlostbeforewithout
theseriousconsequences
battles
thatfollowedManzikert.
Whatexplainsthedeclinethatsetin afterit and
of war, carolsits sham creativerole; it is a pseudo
ideologicalarsenalthe ancientglorification
scientific
theorycalling only to concurin the ideologicalpreparationof a new war." A. P.
Kazhdan, Agrarnyeotnosheniiav VizantiiXIII-XIV VV (Moscow: AkademicaNauk SSSR,
is by G. Alef.
I952),
pp. I7-18. The translation
7 The latestwork on the originof the themesystemwith the essentialbibliography
is by
Introduzione.Testo critico(Vatican City:
de thematibus.
Porfirogenito
A. Pertusi,Constantino
pp. I 03-I I.
BibliotecaApostolicaVaticana,I952),
see Charanis,"On the Social Striic8For a discussionof thiswiththe essentialbibliography
42-49.
Byzantion,XVII (I944-45),
tureof theLaterRomanEmpire,"

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The Decline of the ByzantineEmpire

4I5

thatwouldleadeventually
tothedisappearance
oftheempirewerethe
conditions
lifeofthe
whichcametoprevailin thesocialandeconomic
empirein the eleventhcentury
and later.Manzikertitselfwas the
resultof theseconditions.
The dominant
factin thesocialand economic
lifeoftheempirein
theeleventh
century
is thetriumph
ofthelandedmilitary
aristocracy
andthedeclineofthesoldiery-peasantry
whichhadforcenturies
served
as thebulwarkofthestate.
Fromtheverybeginning
of itshistory
thelargeestatehad beena
feature
of Byzantine
society.
The complicated
and burdensome
fiscal
administration
affected
bythereorganization
of theempirefollowing
thepoliticaland economic
crisisof thethirdcentury
workedin such
a wayas togiveimpetus
The society
to thegrowth
ofthelargeestates.
revealed
bythepapyriandthegreatlegislative
monuments
ofthefifth
and thesixthcenturies
is a society
dominated
bytheseestates.
Coloni,
reduced
toserfs,
composed
thevastmajority
oftheagrarian
population,
althoughthefreepeasantproprietors
did not disappearcompletely.
The development
in the seventhcentury
of the soldiery-peasantry
lessened
theextent
ofthelargeestates,
them.By
butdid noteliminate
theendoftheninthcentury
and
theyhadbecomelarger morenumerin the
ous. Thosewho possessed
themoccupiedimportant
positions
administration
and used thesepositionsto increasetheirholdings.
Thistheydid byabsorbing,
oftenthrough
dubiousmeans,thepropertiesofthesmallpeasants.
Thusthesmall,freepeasantproprietors
began to disappear.9
The greatemperors
of the tenthcentury
realizedthe dangerous
socialandpolitical
implications
ofthisdevelopment
andtriedto check
it. Everymajoremperor
fromRomanusLecapenusto and including
BasilII, withtheexception
of JohnTzimeskes,
issuedmorethanone
novelforthispurpose.These emperors
soughtto preserve
the free
peasantry
becausetheyconsidered
itan essential
element
forthehealth
ofthestate.As RomanusLecapenus
putitin oneofhisnovels:
9 For the essentialbibliography
see Charanis,"On the Social Structure
and EconomicOrganizationof the ByzantineEmpirein the ThirteenthCenturyand Later," Byzantino-slavica,
XII
94, n.2. To the workslistedtherethe followingshould be added: D. A. Zakythinos,
(I95I),
"Crise monetaireet criseeconomiquea Byzance du XIIIe au xve siecle," L'Hellinisme contemporain(I948), pp. 50 f.; E. E. Lipsic,Byzanz und die Slaven. Beitrdgezur byzantinischen
Geschichtedes 6-9. Jahrhunderts,
trans.fromthe Russian by E. Langer (Weimar: Hermann
Bohlaus Nachfolger,I95I),
pp. 5-I05;
Zakythinos,"La Societ6dans le despotatde Moree,"
L'Helle'nismecontemporain(I95I),
pp. 7-28; Zakythinos,"ttatismebyzantineet experience
hellenistique,"Annuairede L'Institutde Philologieet d'HistoireOrientaleet Slave. Tome X:
MelangesHenri Gregoire,II (I950),
667-80.

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4i6

Peter Charanis

hatredand envyof therichthatwe takethesemeasuresbut


It is notthrough
of theempireas a whole.... The
of thesmalland thesafety
fortheprotection
lossof
ofthepowerof thestrong. . . will bringabouttheirreparable
extension
law doesnotbringa checkto it.For it is themany,
thepublicgood,ifthepresent
settledon theland,who provideforthe generalneeds,who pay the taxesand
fallswhenthemanyarewanting.'0
Everything
furnish
thearmywithitsrecruits.

of thefree
takenfortheprotection
amongthemeasures
The strictest
the allelengyon,a
peasantry
was thatissuedby Basil II concerning
to paythetaxarrears
measurewhichrequiredthelandedaristocracy
Butwiththedeathof
ofpeasants
toopoortomeettheirownobligations.
cameto
ofthelargeestates
Basil(i025) theeffort
to stopthegrowth
andtheother
wasrepealed
theallelengyon
an end.His lawconcerning
The fateof
keptin thebooks,werenotenforced.
measures,
although
thefreepeasantry
decided.
wasdefinitely
a similarfatebefelltheclassof theenrolledsoldiers,
Meanwhile,
holders
which,byonemeans
Forthearistocracy,
ofthemilitary
estates.
absorbedalso
or another,
absorbedtheestatesof thesmallpeasants,
of thesesoldiers
thoseof thesoldiers.
of theinterests
The protection
ofthetenthcenoftheemperors
hadbeenoneofthedeepestconcerns
in thenovelthathe issued
Porphyrogenitus
tury.WroteConstantine
of theestatesof thesoldiers:"The armyis to the
fortheprotection
it neglects
statewhattheheadis to thebody. . . . He who neglects
thesafety
our Constituin promulgating
of thestate.. . . Therefore
forthewelfare
tion[on themilitary
we feelwe areworking
estates],
themeasures
ofall."" Butin thisas in thecaseofthesmallpeasants
takenbytheemperors
wereofno avail.It proved
ofthetenthcentury
ofthe
theproperties
fromabsorbing
impossible
to stopthearistocracy
ornot.
thelatterweresoldiers
small,whether
soldiers,
however,
oftheenrolled
thedepression
Whatconsummated
wastheanti-military
oftheeleventh
policywhichsomeoftheemperors
followedin orderto reducethepowerof themilitary
magcentury
of theempire.Those who occupiedthe
natesin theadministration
Their
postsin theempirewerealso greatlandholders.
highmilitary
commanders,
as military
wealth,
plusthepowerswhichtheyexercised
made themextremely
This
dangerousto the centralgovernment.
reasonswhyBasilII issued
danger,indeed,was one of theprincipal
ed. Zachariaevon Lingenthal(Leipzig, i857), III, 246-47. On the
10lJus-Graeco-Romanum,
effortsof the emperorto check the growthof ecclesiasticalpropertiessee Charanis, "The
MonasticPropertiesand the State in the ByzantineEmpire,"DumbartonOaks Papers (1948),
IV, 53-64.
11 Jus-Graeco-Romanum,
III, 262 f.

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The Decline of the ByzantineEmpire

4I7

has already
the dlelengyonto whichreference
thenovelconcerning
bothheadedbymemrevolts,
beenmade.He hadfacedtwoformidable
that
and it was onlywithdifficulty
aristocracy,
bersof thepowerful
withBardasSkleros,
987,Basilwasreconciled
When,after
he survived.
rebels,thelatteradvisedhimthat,if he wished
one of thepowerful
he shouldpermitno one of the
the imperialauthority,
to preserve
theirmeansbyheavytaxes.'2
andshouldexhaust
toprosper
aristocracy
thatoftheallelengyon,
he took,including
Hence,thevariousmeasures
butalso to crush
peasants
thepoor
notonlyto protect
weredesigned
Buton boththequestionoflandand thatof taxation
thearistocracy.
triumphed.
thearistocracy
was
ofthearistocracy
One oftheimportant
reasonsforthetriumph
ofthe
organization
holdthatit had uponthemilitary
theverystrong
Ifitcouldbe shakenfromthishold,itwouldloseinpowerand
empire.
and wouldbecomemoreamenableto thewishesof theiminfluence
ofthe
whatcertainemperors
And thisis precisely
perialgovernment.
IX Monomachos
(1042-I055),
notablyConstantine
eleventh
century,
X Dukas (i059-i067), tried
MichaelVI (1056-I057), and Constantine
was to weakenthe
to do. The meansof attackwhichtheyemployed
thusdepriving
the
army,
the
size
of
byreducing
military
organization
The greatmilitary
triumphs
commands.
ofitsmilitary
thearistocracy
oftheSaracensand theBulgarians
thecrushing
of thetenthcentury,
ofthefrontiers
andtheTigrisin the
totheEuphrates
andthepushing
and
eastandtotheDanubein theBalkans,createda senseofsecurity
armywas no longer
of a powerful
thefeelingthatthemaintenance
oftheimWithConstantine
IX, peacebecamethekeynote
necessary.
a
there
elimination
of the
and
began
systematic
policy,
perialforeign
of
fromthearmywhileat thesametimethedevelopment
aristocracy
Butthearistocracy
back,and
fought
waspromoted.
a civilbureaucracy
as a military
a newstruggle
ensued,thistimebetweenthearistocracy
came
civil
to
theimdominate
and
a
new
of
officials
who
class
party
perialcourt.
The struggle
plungedthe empireintoa seriesof civilwarsthat
and manpowerat a timewhennew and
squanderedits resources
bothin theEast
enemiesweremakingtheirappearance,
formidable
resultoftheimperial
policywas
andin theWest.Butthemostserious
of theenrolledsolof thearmyand thedepression
the deterioration
12 M. Psellos, Chronographic,
ed. and trans.into Frenchby E. Renauld (Paris: "Les Belles
Lettres,"i926), pp. I-I7. English trans.E. R. A. Sewter,The Chronographiaof Michael
Psellus (London: Routledge& Kegan Paul, 1953), p. 23.

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418

Peter Charanis

ofthesoldier
X Dukastheprofession
diers.BythetimeofConstantine
putsit,
historian
and so,as a Byzantine
had lostmuchofitsattraction
13
"thesoldiersput asidetheirarmsand becamelawyersor jurists."
of thearmythattookthe fieldin one of
The sameauthor,writing
againsttheSeljuks,states:
theexpeditions
and Bulgariansand Varangiansand
The armywas composedof Macedonians
otherbarbarianswho happenedto be about. There were gatheredalso those
And whatone saw in them[the
who werein Phrygia[thethemeAnatolikon].
The reincredible.
enrolledsoldiersof the themeAnatolikon]was something
nownedchampionsof the Romanswho had reducedintosubjectionall of the
east and the westnow numberedonlya few and thesewereboweddown by
Theylackedin weapons,swords,and otherarms,such
and ill treatment.
poverty
as javelinsand scythes.. . . They lackedalso in cavalryand otherequipment,
had nottakenthefieldfora longtime.For thisreasontheywere
fortheemperor
were reand theirwagesand maintenance
regardedas uselessand unnecessary
duced.'4

becamemoreand
and forgotten,
The enrolledsoldiers,
depressed
army.The bulkofthisarmy,
in theByzantine
morea minorelement
almostentirely
andlater,cametobe composed
in theeleventh
century
Turks,Alans,English,Normans,
of foreignmercenaries-Russians,
were
Thesemercenaries
and others.
Patzinaks,
Bulgarians,
Germans,
thanbythoseoftheempire.
swayedmorebytheirowninterests
thepronoiaandthe
oftwoinstitutions,
Meanwhile,
thedevelopment
to thewealthandpowerofthelandedaristocaddedfurther
exkuseia,
The pronoia15 was theprincipal
means
racy,bothlayand ecclesiastic.
butespecentury,
thattheemperors
ofthesecondhalfoftheeleventh
muchofthedeserted
land,to reconciallylater,adoptedto recuperate
and to rewardmany
withlandedinterests,
stitute
theclassofsoldiers
A pronoiawasgranted
fora specific
toan individual
oftheirpartisans.
in returnformilitary
or other
periodof years,usuallyhis lifetime,
unlessit
or to be rendered.
It was neverhereditary,
services
rendered
declaredso by a specialmeasure.
It consisted
usually
was specifically
13 Cedrenus,HistoriarumCompendium(Bonn, 1839), II, 652.
141bid., II, 668.

15 For the essentialbibliography


on the Byzantinepronoia see Charanis,"On the Social
and EconomicOrganizationof the ByzantineEmpirein the ThirteenthCenturyand
Structure
XII (1951), 97, n. iI. To the works listedthereshould be added
Later," Byzantino-slavica,
to the Historyof Feudalism
Pronoia,A Contribution
the importantwork by G. Ostrogorsky,
in Byzantiumand in South-SlavicLands (Belgrade: Serbian Academy of Science, Special
chose to
Ostrogorsky
Editions,CLXXVI, ByzantineInstitute,Vol. I, 1951). Unfortunately
writethisbook in Serbian.However we have now a lengthysummaryof it in English:Ihor
to the Social Historyof Late Byzantium,"The Annals
9evZenko,"An ImportantContribution
of the UkrainianAcademyof Artsand Sciencesin the UnitedStates,II (1952), 448-59.

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The Decline of the ByzantineEmpire

419

Someofthepronoiaewere
ofland,butit couldbe a riverora fishery.
ofall wastoincrease
lessso,butthegeneraleffect
others
veryextensive,
andtolessentheholdofthe
ofthearistocracy
thepowerandinfluence
For theholderof a
overtheagrarianpopulation.
centralgovernment
and
financial
important
it
inhabited
who
those
over
exercised
pronoia
judicialpowerswhichweregrantedto himalongwiththeland.He
troopsaccording
toservein thearmyand alsotofurnish
was expected
meetwiththepronoiain
to thesizeofhispronoia.Butwhenwe first
a military
itwasnotprimarily
century,
thesecondhalfoftheeleventh
grant;it becameso duringthereignofAlexiusComnenusand those
estatein
fromtheold military
The pronoiadiffered
ofhissuccessors.
whereastherecipihighin thesocialorder,
thatitwasheldbypersons
In a studywhichI devotedto
entsofthelatterwerepeasantsoldiers.
I showedthat
century
in thethirteenth
ofByzantium
theartistocracy
of the
manyoftheholdersofpronoiaebelongedto thegreatfamilies
to
the
and
ruling
to
other
each
related
were
that
families
empire,
notonlytothe
useofthepronoiacontributed
The extensive
dynasty.'6
ofthepowerandwealthofthearistocracy
speaking,
relatively
increase,
andthusweakened
oftheappanagesystem
butalsotothedevelopment
administration.
thecentral
was weakenedalso bythedevelopment
The centraladministration
The term,whichderivesno doubtfromtheLatin
of theexkuseia.'7
that
to thefiscaland judicialimmunities
excusatio
(excusare),refers
It
monasteries.
to
especially
oftengranted,
theimperialgovernment
appearedin theeleventh
thattheexkuseiafirst
thought
wasformerly
butit is now knownto be olderthanthat,'8and mayhave
century,
clergy
to theChristian
granted
outofthevariousprivileges
developed
associated
is
in thefourth
Its use on a wide scale,however,
century.
during
properties
andlater.As themonastic
century
withtheeleventh
governthattheimperial
therevenue
thisperiodwereveryextensive,
At
musthavebeenconsiderable.
mentlostbythegrantof exkuseiae
thewealthof
to increasing
the sametimetheexkuseiacontributed
ofthesecondhalfof
fortheemperors
ofthelayaristocracy,
members
theirpartisans
bygrantandlateroftenrewarded
century
theeleventh
16 Charanis,"The Aristocracy
of Byzantiumin the ThirteenthCentury,"Studiesin Roman
ed. by P. R. Coleman-Norton
Economicand Social Historyin Honor of Allan ChesterJohnson,
Press, I951), pp. 336-55.
(Princeton:PrincetonUniversity
and
on the exkuseiasee Charanis,"The MonasticProperties
17 For the essentialbibliography
the State in the ByzantineEmpire,"DumbartonOaks Papers (1948), IV, 65, n. 3I.
18 Ibid., pp. 64-67. For a reference
to exkuseia in the tenthcentury,995, see F. Dolger,
des HeiligenBerges.Textband(Munich: MiinchnerVerlag [BisherF.
Aus den Schatzkammern
Bruckmann],

I948),

p. I55,

L 3.

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420

Peter Charanis

such grantsbeingthen
ing to themthe revenuesof monasteries,
whoserevenueswere thus
knownas kharistikia.
And monasteries
ofexkuseia.
granted
oftenenjoyedtheprivilege
Thus thefailureto enforce
themeasures
thathad beenissuedfor
ofthesoldiery-peasantry
andthevariousgrantsofprivitheprotection
hadmadethelargeestates,
bytheeleventh
legesmadetothearistocracy
features
oftheagrarian
ofByzantium.
thedominant
landscape
century,
of the
These estateswereworkedby tenantpeasants,the paroikoi
free,butwho weretied
Byzantine
texts,
peoplewho werepersonally
Some
and corvees
thatcurtailed
theirmovement.
to certain
obligations
buttheyhadbecomehardly
continued
toexist,
freepeasantproprietors
Besidesworkingforthelord,the
fromtheparoikoi.
distinguishable
had allotments
of theirown forwhichtheypaid rentand
paroikoi
and fromwhich,afterthepassageof a
performed
variousobligations
were
numberof years,theycouldnot be evicted.These allotments
fromfather
toson.Thesetenant
transmissible
peasants,
weigheddown
lostall feeling
andnumerous
corvees,
bytheheavyburdenoftaxation
ofthestateas a whole.It is wellknownthatthepeasforthewelfare
to theSeljuk
no resistance
ofAsiaMinoroffered
antryoftheinterior
started
the
in AsiaMinorafterManzikert
Turks,whoseestablishment
the
century
empireon the road to generaldecline.In the twelfth
at theirdisposal,succeededin
Comneni,by utilizingeveryresource
of thepoliticalpowerof thestate,
abouta partialrecovery
bringing
nor
their
butneither
successors
triedto checktheeconomic
decay
they
In thefourteenth
of theagrarianpopulation.
century
thedeplorable
of thepopulation
economic
conditions
werea big factorin thesocial
thatshooktheempireand openedthewayforthe
and politicalstrife
riseoftheOttoman
Turks.' In thetenthcentury,
as we havepointed
outabove,RomanusLecapenushad declaredin one of hisnovelsdesignedto protect
thefreepeasantry
thattheextension
of thepower
and thedepression
ofthemanywould"bringaboutthe
ofthestrong
loss of thepublicgood."His prediction
had cometrue.
irreparable
The disappearance
theincreasein thewealth,
of thefreepeasantry,
and theconsequent
and powerof thearistocracy,
depresprivileges,
I think,someof theprinsionof theagrarian
constitute,
population
in thedeclineoftheByzantine
empire.
cipalfactors
Butthesociety
oftheByzantine
Inempirewasnotpurelyagrarian.
and
cludedin the empirewerea numberof cities-Constantinople
19 On the social upheavalsin Byzantiumin the fourteenth
centurysee Charanis,"Internal

XV
in Byzantium
in theFourteenth
Century,"
Byzantion,
Strife

(1940-41),

208-30.

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The Decline of the ByzantineEmpire

42I

Thessalonica
immediately
cometo mind-whoserolein theeconomic
lifeof theempirewas byno meansinsignificant.
The penuryof the
makesimpossible
sources
a detailedanalysisof theurbaneconomy
of
Byzantium,
butthatit was comparatively
highlydeveloped
therecan
be no doubt.2"
theurbaneconomyof Byzantium
Whatcharacterized
duringthe
wasitsstrict
greatdaysoftheempire
regulation
bythestate.Thisreguof twoelements:
thestrict
lationconsisted
controloverforeign
com2'
merce and theorganization
of thedomestic
tradesand professions
intoprivateand publicguildssupervised
The
by thegovernment.22
objectofthisregulation
was bothpoliticaland economic:politicalin
thatthegovernment
soughtto assureforitselfarmsand an ample
ofmanufactured
supply
goods-inthemain,luxuries-not
onlyforthe
butalsofortheuse of itsdiplomacy
household
in theform
imperial
tobarbarian
chieftains
and otherprinces;economic
in that
ofpresents
thegovernment
soughtto keepthegreatcitieswell provisioned
with
oflife,assurethequalityofgoods,andprevent
exorbitant
thenecessities
was also an important
sourceof revenue.
prices.The urbaneconomy
All imports
and exports
weresubjectto a io percentduty,and the
and trades,
besidesbeingliableforcertaintaxes,also perprofessions
variousliturgies.23
The preciseamountofthisrevenue,
formed
because
natureofthesources,
ofthefragmentary
cannotbe determined,
butit
musthavebeenconsiderable.24
20 Thereis reallyno systematic
and exhaustivestudyon thecommerceand industry
of Byzantium.The latestgeneralsurveyis thatby S. Runciman,"ByzantineTrade and Industry,"The
CambridgeEconomicHistoryof Europe, II (Cambridge:CambridgeUniversity
Press, I952).
The chapterby R. S. Lopez in the same publication,entitled"The Trade of MedievalEurope:
the South," also bearsupon the commerceof Byzantium.For the industryand commerceof
the Peloponnesusthereis now the book by A. Bon, Le Peloponnesebyzantinjusqu'en 1204
de France,i95i), pp. II9-53.
(Paris:Presses
Universitaires
On thesilkindustry
theimportant
studyis by Lopez, "Silk Industryin the ByzantineEmpire,"Speculum,XX (I945),
I-43.
21 As an illustration
of this one may consultthe commercialtreatywhich the Byzantines
concludedin thetenthcenturywiththeRussianPrinceIgor: S. H. Cross,"The RussianPrimary
XII (1930),
Chronicle,"HarvardStudiesand Notes in Philologyand Literature,
I59 f. A new
of this chroniclewill soon be publishedby the MediaevalAcadeditionof Cross's translation
emyof America.
22The fundamentalsourcefor the guild organizationin Byzantiumremainsthe Book of
A. E. R. Boak, "The Book of the Prefect,"
the Prefectof whichthereis an Englishtranslation,
6oo if. For the essentialbibliography
Journalof Economicand BusinessHistory,I (i929),
see
Charanis,"On the Social Structureand Economic Organizationof The ByzantineEmpire in
XII 95I), I49, n. 247.
the ThirteenthCenturyand Later," Byzantino-slavica,
23 G. Rouillard,"Les Taxes maritimeset commercialesd'apres des actes de Patmos et de
Lavra," Melanges Charles Diehl (Paris: Librarie Ernest Leroux, I930),
I, 277-89; John
Danstrup,"Indirecttaxationat Byzantium,"Classica et Mediaevalia,VIII (1946), 139-67.
24 For the twelfthcentury,
we are told by the travelerBenjaminof Tudella, the daily revconamountedto 20,000 nomismata.For the essentialbibliography
enues of Constantinople
cerningthemeaningof thisfigureand in generalabouttherevenuesof Byzantiumsee Charanis,

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Peter Charanis

422

withthe
was relaxedbeginning
The regulation
of urbaneconomy
in
this
develstep
The
significant
century.
eleventh
of
the
lastquarter
opmentwas takenin i082 whenAlexiusComnenusgrantedto the
fortheirallianceagainsttheNormansof Sicily,
Venetians,
in return
was thatof tradamongwhichthemostimportant
variousprivileges
all thecities
thepayment
ofanyduty,in virtually
without
ingfreely,
renewedbythe
thecapital.Theseprivileges,
including
oftheempire,
century,
althoughnot withoutreluctance,25
of thetwelfth
emperors
lifeof the
of thecommercial
virtualmasters
theVenetians
rendered
of
tolessentheinfluence
in an effort
century,
In thethirteenth
empire.
weregrantedto the Genoese(the
the Venetians,
similarprivileges
of one
I26i), but thatwas the substitution
treatyof Nymphaeum,
Genoese
or
whether
merchants,
Italian
The
for another.
exploiter
thattheycontrolled
inConstantinople
Venetians,
becamesoentrenched
thepriceof eventhedaily
of thatcityand determined
theeconomy
Athanasius(end of the thirAccording
to the patriarch
necessities.
passedinto
thefateof theRomanshad completely
teenthcentury),
to theemperor
bitterly
thehandsoftheLatins,"who,"he complained
II, "makefunofus and scornus to thepointthat,fullof
Andronicus
as secuconceit,
theytakethewivesof our compatriots
overweening
26
rityforthewheatwhichtheydeliverto us."
feature
whichwas sucha strong
Meanwhile,
theguildorganization
had virtually
ceasedto
ofthetenthcentury
oftheurbanorganization
century.
This at leastis theimpresexistbytheendofthethirteenth
Athanasius
which,although
ofthepatriarch
sioncreated
bytheletters
scholars.27
The
havebeenanalyzedbytwodifferent
notyetpublished,
to the emperorthatfalseweightswereused,
complained
patriarch
orwheatthat
wasoftenmixedwithchaff
thatthewheatwashoarded,
and was soldat exorbitant
prices.He urgedtheemperor
had rotted,
to supervise
thatconcerned
the
everything
to appointa commissioner
ofthecapital.The emperor
II) tookcogni(Andronicus
provisioning
He wasespecially
an investigation.
andordered
zanceofthecomplaints
thetradeofbaker,
whowerethosewhoexercised
anxioustodetermine
"InternalStrifein Byzantiumduring the FourteenthCentury,"Byzantion,XV (I940-4I),
gr.
224, n. 62. The nomismawas a gold piece whichweighedabout 4.50
25 JohnDanstrup,"Manuel I's Coup againstGenoa and Venice in the Light of Byzantine
CommercialPolicy," Classica et Mediaevalia,X (1948), 195-2I9.
26 See n.

27.

27 R. Guilland,"La Correspondence
inedited'Athanase,patriarchde Constantinople(I289N'. Binescu, "Le Patriarch
I2I-40;
Melanges Charles Diehl, I (0930),
1304-1310),"
1293;
AthanaseI et AndronicII Paleologue.ttat religieux,politiqueet social de l'Empire,"Academie
35 ff.
Roumaine:Bulletinde la SectionHistorique,23, I (1942),

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The Decline of the ByzantineEmpire

423

how manyof themtherewere,and underwhatconditions


werethe
ships,whichbroughtthe foodsuppliesto Constantinople,
sold and
bought.
Thus,at theendofthethirteenth
century
itwas notofficially
knownwhowerethebakersin Constantinople
andhowmanyofthem
therewere.Nor weretheysupervised
withtheviewof assuring
the
quality
ofanda fairpricefortheirproduce.
Contrast
thiswithwhatthe
saysaboutthebakersas theyfunctioned
in the
Book of thePrefect
tenthcentury:
The bakersshall make theirprofitsaccordingto the amountof grainpurchasedat the orderof the Prefect.They shall purchasethe properamountof
grain by the nomismafromtheirassessor.When theyhave groundit and
leavenedit, theyshallcalculatetheirprofitat a kerationand two miliarisiaon
the nomisma.28
The kerationwill be pureprofit,
whilethe two miliarisiawill
the foodof theirmill animals,the fuel
go forthe supportof theirworkmen,
fortheovens,and thelighting..
Wheneverthereis an increaseor decreasein the supplyof grain,the bakers
to havetheweightsof theirloavesfixedbytheassessorin
shallgo to thePrefect
withthepurchasepriceof grain.29
accordance

Obviously
bytheendofthethirteenth
century
thebakers'guildhad
brokendown;therewas notevena semblance
completely
of governoverthebaker'strade.Andwhatwas trueofthistrade
mentalcontrol
also trueof theothers.The onlyindication
was probably
of a trade
in thefourteenth
was thatof the mariners
organization
century
of
Thessalonica.
It has beensuggested
thatthisguildwas organizedby
in orderto protect
theirinterests,
themariners
themselves
but more
ofan olderorganization
probably
itwas a continuation
whichbecame
as thepowerof thecentralgovernment
moreor lessautonomous
deThe guildof themariners
tookthe
clinedin thefourteenth
century.
in theterrible
socialupheavalthatshookThessalonica
in
leadership
in theslaughter
of aboutone hundredmembers
of
I345 and resulted
thearistocracy.30
whichled to herfatal
It hasbeensaidthat"Byzantium's
weakness,
was"herrigid,defensive
declineinthecourseoftheeleventh
century"
towardtheoutsideworld. . . embodiedin theculturaland
attitude
28 Subdivisionof Byzantinemoneywas as follows:
I pound of gold = 72 nomismata
= 24 keratia= 288 folleis
i nomisma= i2 miliarisia

Reiches im X
des byzantinischen
"Die IdndlicheSteurgemeinde
See furtherG. Ostrogorsky,
63.
XX (1927),
fur Sozial-und-Wirtschaftsgeschichte,
Jahrhundert,"
Vierteliahrschrift
291 have used Boak's translation,
pp. 6i6-I7.
30 On this see Charanis,"InternalStrifein Byzantiumin the FourteenthCentury,"Byzanif.
2II
tion,XV (1940-41),

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424

Peter Charanis

economicbarriers
she raisedagainstall outsiders.""'The economic
barriers
spokenofin thisstatement
refer
no doubtto thestrict
controls
thatByzantium
had exercised
overcommerce
and industry.
It is extremely
doubtful
ifthisindeedwas Byzantium's
weakness.
The simple
observation
thatthe periodduringwhichthesecontrols
weremost
rigidly
enforced
is theperiodof thegreatness
of theempiresuggests
theopposite,
and thissuggestion
is reinforced
bythefurther
observationthattheperiodof declinecoincides
withthebreakdown
of these
controls.
The powerofa stateandas a consequence
itsability
to mainretainitspositionin theworldis commensurate
withits financial
sources,
theprincipal
sourceof whichis taxation.
In Byzantium
this
source,seriously
compromised
by thedisappearance
of thefreepeasantry
andtheincrease
inthewealth,
privileges,
andpowerofthearistocracywas reducedalmostto the vanishing
pointby the commercial
32 and theconsequent
privileges
granted
totheItalianrepublics
lossby
Byzantium
ofcontroloveritsurbaneconomy.
This was Byzantium's
aboutitsdeclineand finalfall.
thatbrought
weakness
PETER CHARANIS,RutgersUniversity
31 A. R. Lewis, Naval Power and Trade in the Mediterranean,
(Princeton:
A. D. 500-10oo
Press,I951), p. 253.
PrincetonUniversity
of
is given by the statement
32 An idea of what happenedto the revenuesof Constantinople
had
the ByzantinehistorianGregorasthat,while the annual customrevenuesof Constantinople
shrunkto about 30,000 nomismata,thoseof the Genoese colonyof Galata went up to about
century.NicephorusGregoras,
This was aboutthe middleof the fourteenth
200,000 nomismata.
II, 842.
ByzantinaHistoria(Bonn, i829-30),

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