This series has three easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: The Byzantine Empire Circa 1100.
George Finlay (1799 – 1875) was from Scotland. His book was re-issued in 1877 with the more descriptive title A History of Greece from the Roman Conquest to the Present Time (146 BC to 1864). This blog post is the first in a series of excerpts from passage from this book. Finlay’s premise is that Roger’s invasion was a major milestone in the decline and fall of the Byzantine Empire.
This selection is from A History of Greece from the Roman Conquest to the Present Time by George Finlay published in 1877.
The century and a half before Roger’s invasion had been a period of tranquility for the distinctively Greek people of the empire, who had increased rapidly in numbers and wealth, and were in possession of an extensive commerce and many manufactures. Therefore they were perhaps the greatest sufferers from the adverse events which befell the State.)
The emperor Alexius I had concluded a commercial treaty with Pisa toward the end of his reign. Manuel renewed this alliance, and he appears to have been the first of the Byzantine emperors who concluded a public treaty with Genoa. The pride of the emperors of the Romans–as the sovereigns of Constantinople were styled–induced them to treat the Italian republics as municipalities still dependent on the Empire of the Caesars, of which they had once formed a part; and the rulers both of Pisa and Genoa yielded to this assumption of supremacy, and consented to appear as vassals and liegemen of the Byzantine emperors, in order to participate in the profits which they saw the Venetians gained by trading in their dominions.
Several commercial treaties with Pisa and Genoa, as well as with Venice, have been preserved. The obligations of the republics are embodied in the charter enumerating the concessions granted by the Emperor, and the document is called a chrysobulum, or golden bull, from the golden seal of the Emperor attached to it as the certificate of its authenticity.
In Manuel’s treaties with the Genoese and Pisans, the republics bind themselves never to engage in hostilities against the empire; but, on the contrary, all the subjects of the republics residing in the Emperor’s dominions become bound to assist him against all assailants; they engage to act with their own ships, or to serve on board the imperial fleet, for the usual pay granted to Latin mercenaries. They promise to offer no impediment to the extension of the empire in Syria, reserving to themselves the factories and privileges they already possess in any place that may be conquered. They submit their civil and criminal affairs to the jurisdiction of the Byzantine courts of justice, as was then the case with the Venetians and other foreigners in the empire. Acts of piracy and armed violence, unless the criminals were taken in the act, were to be reported to the rulers of the republic whose subjects had committed the crime, and the Byzantine authorities were not to render the innocent traders in the empire responsible for the injuries inflicted by these brigands. The republicans engaged to observe all the stipulations in their treaties, in defiance of ecclesiastical excommunication or the prohibition of any individual, crowned or not crowned.
Manuel, in return, granted to the republicans the right of forming a factory, erecting a quay for landing their goods, and building a church; and the Genoese received their grant in an agreeable position on the side of the port opposite Constantinople, where in after-times their great colony of Galata was formed. The Emperor promised to send an annual of from four hundred to five hundred gold bezants, with two pieces of a rich brocade then manufactured only in the Byzantine empire, to the republican governments, and sixty bezants, with one piece of brocade, to their archbishops. These treaties fixed the duty levied on the goods imported or exported from Constantinople by the Italians at 4 per cent.; but in the other cities of the empire, the Pisans and Genoese were to pay the same duties as other Latin traders, excepting, of course, the privileged Venetians. These duties generally amounted to 10 per cent. The republics were expressly excluded, by the Genoese treaty, from the Black Sea trade, except when they received a special license from the Emperor. In case of shipwreck, the property of the foreigners was to be protected by the imperial authorities and respected by the people, and every assistance was to be granted to the unfortunate sufferers. This humane clause was not new in Byzantine commercial treaties, for it is contained in the earliest treaty concluded by Alexius I with the Pisans. On the whole, the arrangements for the administration of justice in these treaties prove that the Byzantine empire still enjoyed a greater degree of order than the rest of Europe.
The state of civilization in the Eastern Empire rendered the public finances the moving power of the government, as in the nations of modern Europe. This must always tend to the centralization of political authority, for the highest branch of the executive will always endeavor to dispose of the revenues of the State according to its views of necessity. This centralizing policy led Manuel to order all the money which the Greek commercial communities had hitherto devoted to maintaining local squadrons of galleys for the defense of the islands and coasts of the Aegean to be remitted to the treasury at Constantinople. The ships were compelled to visit the imperial dockyard in the capital to undergo repairs and to receive provisions and pay.
A navy is a most expensive establishment; kings, ministers, and people are all very apt to think that when it is not wanted at any particular time, the cost of its maintenance may be more profitably applied to other objects. Manuel, after he had secured the funds of the Greeks for his own treasury, soon left their ships to rot, and the commerce of Greece became exposed to the attacks of small squadrons of Italian pirates who previously would not have dared to plunder in the Archipelago. It may be thought by some that Manuel acted wisely in centralizing the naval administration of his empire; but the great number, the small size, and the relative position of many of the Greek islands with regard to the prevailing winds render the permanent establishment of naval stations at several points necessary to prevent piracy.
Manuel and Otho ruined the navy of Greece by their unwise measures of centralization; Pericles, by prudently centralizing the maritime forces of the various states, increased the naval power of Athens, and gave additional security to every Greek ship that navigated the sea.
The same fiscal views which induced Manuel to centralize the naval administration when it was injurious to the interests of the empire, prompted him to act diametrically opposite with regard to the army. The emperor John had added greatly to the efficiency of the Byzantine military force by improving and centralizing its administration, and he left Manuel an excellent army, which rendered the Eastern Empire the most powerful state in Europe. But Manuel, from motives of economy, abandoned his father’s system. Instead of assembling all the military forces of the empire annually in camps, where they received pay and were subjected to strict discipline, toward the end of his reign he distributed even the regular army in cities and provinces, where they were quartered far apart, in order that each district, by maintaining a certain number of men, might relieve the treasury from the burden of their pay and subsistence while they were not on actual service. The money thus retained in the central treasury was spent in idle festivals at Constantinople, and the troops, dispersed and neglected, became careless of their military exercises, and lived in a state of relaxed discipline. Other abuses were quickly introduced; resident yeomen, shopkeepers, and artisans were enrolled in the legions, with the connivance of the officers. The burden of maintaining the troops was in this way diminished, but the army was deteriorated.
Continued on Monday, May 18th.
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