Hendy Byz Econ 1081-1204 Reappraisal

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Byzantium, 1081-1204: An Economic Reappraisal Author(s): M. F. Hendy Reviewed work(s): Source: Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Fifth Series, Vol. 20 (1970), pp. 31-52 Published by: Royal Historical Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3678761 . Accessed: 29/11/2011 09:36Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

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is generHE Byzantine Empire of the period Io8I-I204 considered to have been culturally brilliant but ally economically decadent. The standard against which this decadence is measured is the situation supposed to have existed during the ninth and tenth centuries when the Empire consisted basically of the Balkan coastlands, the Aegean islands and Asia Minor, and when it possessed a flourishing agriculture dependent upon a free peasantry which also supplied the manpower of its army and navy, a vital urban life, and control of its extensive internal and external trade. Its revenue was therefore assured and its coinage stable. By the twelfth century it had lost the greater part of Asia Minor which had formed the factor essential to its agricultural, military and urban life. The first two were now largely in the hands of feudal magnates who commanded ruinously expensive but unreliable mercenaries, and the trade of the Empire had fallen under the control of the Italian merchant cities. The reduced revenue was incapable of standing the strain placed upon it by increased expenses, the difference being made up by the debasement of the coinage-which caused further chaos in economic life.l A picture that is at once composite and simplified but, it is hoped, also recognizable. While some of its elements are undoubtedly correct, however, the inferences drawn from several seem1 The economic history of the Byzantine Empire lacks adequate general treatment. The following works may be consulted: S. Runciman, Byzantine A. Andreades in Byzantium: an Civilization(London, I933), pp. I63-222; Introductionto East Roman Civilijation,eds. N. H. Baynes and H. St. L. B.Moss (Oxford,

EconomicHistory of Europe, ii eds. M. Postan and E. E. Rich (Cambridge, I952), pp. 86-II8. Most general histories include some commentary upon economic affairs, and particularly relevant to this paper seems to be: G. Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State, trans. J. Hussey (Oxford, 2nd edn, I968), pp. 357, 369-72, 374, 393-94.31

1948), pp. 51-70, 7I-85;

S. Runciman in The Cambridge




of dubiousvalidity and others are demonstrably incorrectin both respects. The majordifficulty the confronting economichistorianof the Byzantine is an almostcomplete both of official lack Empire and even of privaterecords,a problemwhich, admittedly, is shared westernmediaevalists whichfor themis increasbut by (if inglyalleviated neverto the extenttheywouldwish)fromthe twelfthcentury onwards. resultis thatthe economic The history of theEmpire throughout is basedon whatcanbe gleaned heavily fromthe occasional reference chronicles, in legal hagiographies, codes, a few monasticarchivesand descriptions foreign by travellers. Thereis no possibility quantification the detecof and tion of whole movements must rest on the chanceevidenceof individuals who not only demonstrated perverseability to a misunderstand to say flagrantly but (not misrepresent) who were notoriously of considering aboutthe information capable economyof theirstatea painto recordandan imposition upon theirreaders. The firstpartof this paperwill therefore devotedto an be at a conspectus the salientfeatures the economic of of attempt situation the twelfthcentury the sourcesdescribed during using aboveandincluding criticisms factandinference accepted of in views where they seem necessary. The second will bring the evidence archaeology theimperial of and coinage(thetwo orders of evidence permit that to estimation) bearuponthe comparative of the urbandevelopment the Empire,and utilize of problem evidenceto confirm whatappears be their to recently published

Since the ninth and tenth centuries Empirehad lost its the southern Italian andthe central of provinces plateau AsiaMinor. It had,on the otherhand,gainedthe innerBalkans since (finally retained someform (since965anduntil II9I). It hadapparently of controloverthe Crimea adjacent and southern and Russia,1 it1 The latest treatment seems conclusive: G. G. Litavrin, 'A propos de Tmutorokan', Byjantion, xxxv (i965), pp. 221-34.

IoI8 and until the late II8os), Crete (since 96I), and Cyprus




had both won and lost Antioch(969/I085). The overallterritorialconcentration therefore had tendedto shiftawayfromAsia in favourof Europe,but what this represented economically remainscompletelyuncertain.For whereasone might have some discussion to the economicsignificance the as of expected of the Balkans into northof the Rhodope theEmpire, absorption it has insteadalmostexclusively revolvedroundthatof the loss of the central of AsiaMinor. plateau The area of Asia Minorremaining under directByzantine controlduringthe majorpartof the twelfthcenturycomprised the coastlands, fromTrebizond thenorth-east in roundto Attalia in the south-west, the river-valleys thewest.The western and of frontier with the Seljuks, frontier maybe termed, within if it left the EmpireMalagina, and Chonae; Laodicea but Philadelphia, between these cities, which were more or less permanently and Turkish handslay a broad imperial, thoseusuallyin various bandof disputed the perimeter the of territory, roughlymarking central andincluding suchcitiesas Castamenon, plateau Gangra, Claudiopolis, Dorylaeum, Cotyaeum, Sozopolisand Sublaeum. Comnenian seems to have followed militaryactivitytherefore the strategy securing perimeter fortifying territory of the and the behindit.' This implied distinction well havehadeconomic may It shouldbe emphasized the physicalstructure Asia that of Minor,involvinga basic divisioninto coastalplainand rivervalley over againstcentralplateau,is one which has clear-cut economic of strucrepercussions. Comparison a mapof physical ture with mapsof densityof population, annualprecipitation, naturalvegetation,land-useand agricultural will production, illustrate pointmostsatisfactorily.2 this Thoseareas arenow that1 An attempthas been made to illustratethe extent of approximate Comnenian territoryin Asia Minorin a map to appearin: M. F. Hendy, and Oaks Coinage Moneyin theByrantine Empirezo8z-z226 (Dumbarton


Studies, xii) in press. This is largely based on the chroniclers Nicetas Choniates and John Cinnamus, and P. Charanis, 'On the Asiatic Frontiers of the Empire of Nicaea', Orientalia ChristianaPeriodica, xiii (1947), pp. 58-62. For the construction of fortressessee: H. Ahrweiler-Glykatzi, 'Les forteresses construites en Asie Mineure face a l'invasion seldjoucide', Akten des XI internationalen Byrantinistenkongresses (Munich, 1960), pp. 182-89. 2 E.g. Atlas of the Arab World and the Middle East (London, I960), pp. 6, 38-40.



the most denselypopulated, most well-watered, the with the the mostfavourable natural andallowing mostprofitvegetation ableandvaried of land,areveryheavilyconcentrated use towards the periphery the peninsula-in other words towardsthe of thoseareas coast-lands river-valleys, and whichareprecisely that werethenheldby the Comneni. implication obvious,and The is not althoughit would perhaps be possiblein any extensiveor of to provethatthe economic character thepeninabsolute way sulain the Byzantine thatof today,the probaperiodparalleled bilitythatit did is very great. But if this parallel accepted, whatstagedid it comeinto is at For althoughmuch of it is dependent being? upon natural it thatareunlikelyto havechanged radically, was at phenomena in somestageat leastlessclose.A decline the quality density and of Anatolian and agricultural urbanlife since ancienttimes is demonstrable. customary The answer would,of course,be that it musthaveoccurred of to subsequent the Seljukinvasions the But to Io70s.1 one may be permitted doubtthis. In I955 W. C. Brice(a historian wellas a geographer), an in as article whichseemsto haveremained to unknown Byzantinists,2 evidencewith whichhe soughtto prove that broughtforward the techniques Anatolian of would have tendedto agriculture declinewith the graecization romanization archaic of and Phryof had giansociety,andthatthedeterioration thelandscape commencedshortlybefore the opening of the Christian era. He out thatthe features characterize deterioration; this that pointed the denudation topsoil;recession forestsandgradual of of desicmustbe geologically characterconnected theequally with cation, isticsiltingup of river-mouths conversion fertilelowlands and of into malarial thatis to be foundat several alongthe swamp places coast. Historical evidencequiteclearlydemonstrates these that had well processes beenalready advanced the earlyByzantine by the immediate causehaving perhaps been the reckless period, of large-scale commercial spread duringthe Hellenistic fa