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Zeke

The Economy Of The Byzantine Empire

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The Economy of the Byzantine Empire was much like Rome, it's major drive was that of large agricultural estates which were mostly located in Asia Minior which was the main breadbasket of the Empire for most of its existance. Most other activies involving small scale manufacturing occured in the cities, and much like their ealirer western counterparts slaves were indeed part of Byzantine culture correct? I also know the silk trade was a very big issue.

 

How did the undermining of this simple economy effect the Byzantines in the Long run?

 

Does anyone have anything else to add about their economy??

 

Zeke

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I also know the silk trade was a very big issue.

 

I'm no Byzantine expert, but I thought that it was more than just a big issue. Particularly in later years, the control of trade with the east I thought was it's prime economic resource, agriculture being something in the background.

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Control of Asia Minor was the mainstay of the Byzantine economy; as was mentioned, it was the "breadbasket" of the Empire. Asia Minor was where the richest landowners come from, where most of the Empire's soldiers and horses came from and where many of the Emperors came from. As well; having control of Asia minor and the Golden Horn meant that it was impossible for rich goods from China to pass into Europe without passing through Byzantine territory, from which they could tax the merchants and the goods. These goods had to pass through Byzantine territory, because the alternatives was going through land hostile to Christians or Westerners and engulfed in war, which was the Holy Land, or going north-west from China into unmapped territory.

 

When the Byzantines were defeated at Manzikert, and the subesquent loss of most of Asia Minor, that heralded the beginning of the end of the Empire. It had lost it's main recruiting ground for soldiers, it's main horse breeding areas (Loss of the famous Byzantine Cataphracti subsequent) and much of it's right to tax incoming goods. With the loss of soldiers came loss of land; with the loss of land came economic instability; with economic instability came the fall. The low percentage of gold in the Byzantine's coins from it's loss of trade profits prompted Venice to mint it's own pure gold coin, and this signalled the Byzantine's loss of trade to Venice. Thus, more instability resulted; coups occurred, the 4th crusade took the city and that was that. The Empire would not recover.

 

Thus, possession of Asia Minor was essential to the Byzantine economy and survival. This is obvious in that the empire, in it's long history, experienced many disasters (i.e. the loss of Egypt, North Africa, Italy, the loss of territory in the Balkans, constant warring and defeats), yet continued to survive because it kept possession of Asia Minor, it's main source of funds and soldiers. Without it, the Empire soon foundered.

Edited by Tobias

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The low percentage of gold in the Byzantine's coins from it's loss of trade profits prompted Venice to mint it's own pure gold coin, and this signalled the Byzantine's loss of trade to Venice. Thus, more instability resulted; coups occurred, the 4th crusade took the city and that was that. The Empire would not recover.

In my opinion,

I believe it was truely the fourth crusade that damaged and destroyed the Byzantine Empire and economy. The lost of Asia Minor was a big blow economically, but Constantinople was still the major trade center of the East because its location in terms of trade. The Venetians were anxious to replace Constantinople in trade, though it would be hard. They only achieved that by helping the Fourth Crusade that almost never happened due to political upheavals also at the time. When Alexius IV was overthrown, the Crusaders used this as an excuse to sack Constantinople for three days, thus establishing the Latin Empire along with other ones. Though Constantinople still remained a good trade site, but the Venetians were given a part of the conquered city and territory to control, obviously they tried to suppress trade in favor of the Venitian port.

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I believe it was truely the fourth crusade that damaged and destroyed the Byzantine Empire and economy. The lost of Asia Minor was a big blow economically, but Constantinople was still the major trade center of the East because its location in terms of trade.

 

Certainly, that is correct. But read my post above; as i said, the Empire lost it's major recruiting ground for soldiers and it's heavy cavalry, and came to start relying on European armies too heavily. As it couldn't effectively guard it's own frontiers, territory was lost to advancing peoples (although Alexius, John and Manuel Comneni held things together for a while), and thus came instability amoung the various factions of the Empire. Action was demanded, and when it didn't come, Emperors were deposed. This continuing civil war and disunity made it absurdly easy to gain against the Byzantines, in terms of land, trade and economy. As you said, the advent of the Fourth Crusade was what effectively destroyed the Byzantine Empire, but it was the loss of Asia Minor that was the first fatal blow.

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That is a very interesting paper Cato; most enlightening.

By the way, the discussion of the Gracchan corn dole must have been straying a tad off course to be talking about the Byzantine economy :)

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That is a very interesting paper Cato; most enlightening.

By the way, the discussion of the Gracchan corn dole must have been straying a tad off course to be talking about the Byzantine economy :)

 

Well, it was straying off course, but not as far as the Byzantine economy. The paper was relevant because it had pretty decent economic data from the age of Augustus, which could be used to assess the average wealth of the ordinary Roman. The upshot is that the average Roman had about twice as much as was necessary to survive.

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I'm confused here. So are you folks telling me that the vast riches of Constantinople were based on farming in Asia Minor?! Constantinople's whole reputation was its wealth from trade, so does it not count for a large portion of the Empire's wealth?

Edited by Favonius Cornelius

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I'm confused here. So are you folks telling me that the vast riches of Constantinople were based on farming in Asia Minor?! Constantinople's whole reputation was its wealth from trade, so does it not count for a large portion of the Empire's wealth?

 

From the paper I cited above:

Byzantium around the year 1000, by being the richest and leading

nation of the West, fulfilled all the functions which we have come to expect from a global

hegemon: it was the trading center, its currency was the store of value (

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I'm confused here. So are you folks telling me that the vast riches of Constantinople were based on farming in Asia Minor?! Constantinople's whole reputation was its wealth from trade, so does it not count for a large portion of the Empire's wealth?

 

No, not necessarily. The best trade routes to Europe lay through Asia Minor at this time. As you probably know, most of Europe at this time was Christian. Christian trade could not always travel safely through Muslim lands (i.e. Syria, Egypt, Israel etc.), and whilst the Byzantines held Anatolia and Asia Minor, along with Armenia owing allegiance to the Empire, the best course for European merchants for trade with China, India etc was to via the Byzantine provinces in this area. Thus, merchants could pass relatively safely through Christian land, and the Byzantines could impose taxes, levies and duties on the goods passing through the Empire, as well as conducting it's own trade to China etc. However, once the Turks (Muslims) had control of Anatolia and Asia Minor, it was no longer safe to send Christian merchant trains through this area. Thus, not only did the Byzantine's trade with the East and the West dry up, but they could no longer exact money from the European merchants passing through their territory. And thus, nations like Venice realised they could do a better job with trade then the Byzantines, and they took most of the trade from Byzantium. With the lifeblood of the Empire (trade) rapidly dwindling, it's economy collapsed, and it couldn't hire or maintain armies, and thus collapsed.

 

The problem of trade with China and India and the other areas supplying exotic goods being blocked by the Muslims lasted into the renaissance, and resulted in people such as Columbus, Magellan etc searching for alternate routes to India and China.

Edited by Tobias

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Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't an important trade and revenue commodity for the Byzantines silk? I swear I read that Constantinople had illegally acquired silk worms and so were able to produce thier own silk and not have to pay the exorbent taxes on it from China and could turn around and sell it to Europe for almost the same price and make a killing? Or am I completely off on this...

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Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't an important trade and revenue commodity for the Byzantines silk? I swear I read that Constantinople had illegally acquired silk worms and so were able to produce thier own silk and not have to pay the exorbent taxes on it from China and could turn around and sell it to Europe for almost the same price and make a killing? Or am I completely off on this...

 

Yes, they got those little worms all right. In Justinian's time, 6th century AD. And it must have made a big difference to their balance of payments. It's not only taxes, though such items were indeed heavily taxed, but also the high cost of transport of silk (like any other luxury product) through the Gobi desert, across the 'roof of the world' and passing through territories that were often unstable and dangerous.

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And it must have made a big difference to their balance of payments. It's not only taxes, though such items were indeed heavily taxed, but also the high cost of transport of silk (like any other luxury product) through the Gobi desert, across the 'roof of the world' and passing through territories that were often unstable and dangerous.

 

Precisely what i've been trying to say; sometimes i just can't get the right words out :P

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I'm confused here. So are you folks telling me that the vast riches of Constantinople were based on farming in Asia Minor?! Constantinople's whole reputation was its wealth from trade, so does it not count for a large portion of the Empire's wealth?

 

No, not necessarily. The best trade routes to Europe lay through Asia Minor at this time. As you probably know, most of Europe at this time was Christian. Christian trade could not always travel safely through Muslim lands (i.e. Syria, Egypt, Israel etc.), and whilst the Byzantines held Anatolia and Asia Minor, along with Armenia owing allegiance to the Empire, the best course for European merchants for trade with China, India etc was to via the Byzantine provinces in this area. Thus, merchants could pass relatively safely through Christian land, and the Byzantines could impose taxes, levies and duties on the goods passing through the Empire, as well as conducting it's own trade to China etc. However, once the Turks (Muslims) had control of Anatolia and Asia Minor, it was no longer safe to send Christian merchant trains through this area. Thus, not only did the Byzantine's trade with the East and the West dry up, but they could no longer exact money from the European merchants passing through their territory. And thus, nations like Venice realised they could do a better job with trade then the Byzantines, and they took most of the trade from Byzantium. With the lifeblood of the Empire (trade) rapidly dwindling, it's economy collapsed, and it couldn't hire or maintain armies, and thus collapsed.

 

The problem of trade with China and India and the other areas supplying exotic goods being blocked by the Muslims lasted into the renaissance, and resulted in people such as Columbus, Magellan etc searching for alternate routes to India and China.

 

 

Ah I see. And I am guessing that a quick jump by ship from Constantinople to some port in the eastern Black Sea/Cholchis area would not help at all? It's this corridor I am curious about. After all Trebizund seemed to be able to ike out a decent living in its area, I assumed it had something to do with trade along the Black Sea.

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