Does Byzantium = Rome?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Riain, Nov 5, 2007.

  1. Riain Well-Known Member

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    Not a WI, but did Byzantium do most of the things that the Roman empire did; building roads/aqueducts/canals/public buildings/major region-protecting fortifications, maintian permanent navy and an army equipped by the state? Or did it become decentralised like fuedal Europe, but to a lesser degree?
     
  2. Don_Giorgio Praefectus Praetorio Orientis

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    Until Justinian the Eastern Roman Empire was behaving pretty much as the old Roman Empire... in laws, customs , etc.
    Runciman refers to Justinian as the last Roman Emperor... the complete "Hellenization" of the ERE came with Emperor Heraclius...
     
  3. Wozza Well-Known Member

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    Largely not.
    Frist of all the Late Roman Empire changed considerably during the sixth century: it stopped building baths and ampitheatres and started building churches and monasteries, so the move to medieval archictecture and away from the Classical conception of public buildings had already started. This was once perceived as a process of decline but is not seen as a process of change.

    After the Arab conquests the Byzantine state that emerged was radically different from the Late Roman one. Most importantly it was not aan urban state, the cities declined to small settlements centres around fortresses. This involved important political changes as well as demographic/economic ones - the cities had been self-governing and had dominated the countryside, and had been important sponsors of public building.

    However, the governmenal legacy of the Late Roman state survived - the tax and military systems. This meant that the Byzantines did maintain permanent military forces, and also survived as a highly centralised state - officials were paid in gold that could be kept save in Constantinople, and so was much more valuable than lands that the Arabs raided each year, this encouraged loyalty to the centre.

    There is a vigorous, if lopsided, debate about whether the thematic armies were paid in gold or lands and gold. Most historians plump for the latter. However the thematic armies were not peasant infantry as Ostrogorsky argued - they were heavy cavalry, just like western armies.

    Rural Byzantium in the high period then was not unlike the west - it featured armoured horsemen supported by the land living in a largely rural society. The political superstructure - and heavy use of gold thanks to the imperial tax system, are very important differences.

    One thing to consider is that Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus never travelled more than 100 km from Constantinople, to Cyzicus in fact, Western monarchs could never dream of this, they were forced to be peripatetic, to be presentr on the ground as much as possible. It is notable that the more successful later Emperors (the 3 great Comneni in particular) were extremely mobile, which is indicative of the decline of the centralised system. On which I shall rant more if you are interested.
     
  4. Riain Well-Known Member

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    Firstly, I'm aware that we are talking about 1000 years here and shit happens, so I'm happy with the broad themes._________________ I've heard of military peasants, given grants of land to live off and money to buy military equipment with. Were they the cataphracts, which were like European knights without the social status, or something else? Or did they have their own power bases of large estates, personal fortifications and household troops? Did the Emperor have a permanent seige-train to add to the Theme armies/navies? Did their infantry have the support weapons of classic legions, catapulta etc? Did they keep up and improve the paved roads, stone bridges and major fortifications with their centralised govt, even if they didn't build baths and ampitheatres?
     
  5. Susano Banned

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    Yes. There was an uninterrupted continuation. Hence Byzantium wasnt just the sucessor to the Roman Empire, it WAS the Roman Empire. What they did is irrelevant, Germany or France or whoever dont do nearly the same stuff as in 1000 and yet still are the same nations, after all.
     
  6. Wozza Well-Known Member

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    Think gentry not peasantry - they have enough land or gold to support a heavy cavalryman, one source mentiones a manor worth 4 pounds of gold being required. Whether they were given this land on the old field armies simply ended up living off it because they had to is not really known. The creation of the themes as militarty districts and the creation of the military lands has often been conflated, but should not be.

    Social status is a good question - we are talking about a gentry, better educated and wealthier than the peasantry, with local and possibly court connections. There was a very detailed heirarchy of imperial titles and offices, which probably reached into these thousands of families.

    Generally there were not large estates in the high period - they were not worth acquiring, too vulerable; they did evolve over time of course. but by and large families developed a landholding as a result of their imperial military/civil service, not the other way around.

    Cataphracts are super-heavy cavalry, in relatively small numbers even in a major force according to the military treatises, and they are a 10th century development.

    I presume their was a seige train, I would have to check, but it would have been more improvised and ad hoc and not as advances as the Roman equivalent. Remember that their are the Late Roman mobile armies between the legions and the Byzantine armies.

    Fortification is a definite yes, road is a probably - although again expect the Byzantines not to be up to Roman standards.

    In many ways Byzantium is best imagined as a post-apocalyptic society where the military take over; the command structure allows them to keep on top of things but they are constantly improvising as regards technology
     
  7. Riain Well-Known Member

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    Thanks Wozza. I'll get back with more questions later.
     
  8. stafford1069 UK ISOT Default:Get Heligoland

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    Does Byzantium = Rome? Yes it does. Byzantium is an insulting name developed by 19-th Century Academics. The Romans called their empire from the Fifth Century onwards Romania, and the Emperor was the Emperor of Romania and the Romans. The Last Emperor of Romania and the Romans at Constantinople (Constantine's New City) was the Emperor Constantine XI Paleologos, martyred by the forces of Sultan Mehmet during the assault on The City on May 29, 1453.

    The Roman State Lasted from BC 753 - AD 1461 when the last surviving fragment of 1204 - Despotate of Trebizond - headed by the Roman Despot David was overrun by the Muslims.
     
  9. Ridwan Asher Jungle Arab

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    Welcome to AH.com, stafford1069. :)

    Be careful to not making yourself look like a troll in front of the others, or you'll get banned in a flash.
     
  10. Analytical Engine Make America British Again!

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    Don't forget your crash-helmet. :p
     
  11. Wozza Well-Known Member

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    Stafford, welcome. I think the original question was more about life in Byzantium and how it differed to life under the Roman Empire. This was certainly quite different.

    I would probably disagree with you about the Empire of Trebizond, it was a breakaway state with the same culture.
     
  12. Evilmittens Alt hist geek.

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    This is a debate scholars are still fighting about. One in which I seriously considered writing my dissertation on (for Phd). There is no where a consensus, but a majority argue that it is and Byzantium is merely a modern construction by historians.
     
  13. Riain Well-Known Member

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    Is John Julius Norwich a bad author to start learning about Byzantium from?_______ About the cavalry, Wozza mentions that I should think gentry rather than nobles. Was the armoured-cavalry more middle class and widespread than the noble cavalry of western Europe? Is this becuase state support/subsidy of this class meant that they didn't need huge estates with serfs etc to buy and maintain their lifestyle and war horse/equipment?____________ Did the Empire have the social systems like fuedal Europe with nobles having instituationalised calls over the rest of society for service, limited in the case of freemen but unlimited for serfs and the like? Or were most people more or less free of legal obligations to anyone other than the empire itself? Was everyone considered good enough for the army, unlike the Anglo-Saxon system where only free ceorls were Fyrd-worthy?
     
  14. carlton_bach Member

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    Norwich is not a bad author, but anyone who packages 1000 years in three books will leave gaps. Also, he is at his best when he writes about medieval Byzantium. Fortunately, we have a lot of good books about the era from Constantine to Heraclius.

    One thing you will want to look at if you can get it is Marcus Rautman: Daily Life in the Byzantine Empire. It's designed as an introductory text for college students so it's not too complex, but well researched and annotated.
     
  15. Wozza Well-Known Member

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    Norwich is not a scholar by his own admission. He tells a good tale about court politics but knows little about the economy and social structure.

    Regarding the cavalry - it costs roughly the same everywhere to support an armoured horseman, which naturally creates a tendency for economic units of a certain size.

    It is possible to get too excited about the position of peasants, generally they have similar lives in most societies, whether free or unfree. We know relatively little, and we can ignore the stylised version we have handed down to us in the "Farmer's Law." Feudalism is technically about relations within the nobility and gentry. Byzantium has nothing like this as it has the system of court titles and offices.

    The distinctive point about Byzantium is not the "nobiity" but those with Imperial offices and titles - the dunatoi, these steadily built up large estates and a nobility from the 9th-12th century.

    We can presume that large landowners did exist in the late 7th- late 9th century - just as in any other medieval society. The important point is that they were less powerful, compared to the imperial court, than in other medieval societies. Also the depradations of Arab raiding created less incentive to accumulate large estates.

    Good books are Cyril Mango's Byzantium and Mark Whittow's The Making of Orthodox Byzantium.

    I have not heard of the book Carlton suggests - can I ask when it was published Carlton?
     
  16. Riain Well-Known Member

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    I agree about Norwich, he loves this intriuge crap, I might just skip to the intriuges I care about.
    What sort of people were given these imperial titles and offices? I assume many were jobs-for-the-boys to set up family etc, but could anyone get one by being in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing? __________ I will be back with more questions about military/society setup when I get more of an idea about what to ask.
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2007
  17. carlton_bach Member

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    2006. If you've already done extensive reading it probably won't tell you anything new, but it makes a good starting point and I find it very useful to see how much I know from other contexts applis to Byzantium.
     
  18. Riain Well-Known Member

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    Were the land grants to the cavalry farmer-soldiers grazing runs, this would make maintaining a cav force easy compared to cropping? Did the cash economy make it more productive than the feudal economy, and what effects did that have on military effectiveness? Was armour and good weapons easier to come by in the Empire than in Europe, was the entire army uniformy well enough equipped?
     
  19. Wozza Well-Known Member

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    1. Not sure, probably varied according to the location, Anatolia is big and the coast is different to the interior plateau, where there was very good grazing land.

    2. Cash for small transactions (copper and silver) was limited in the 7-9th centuruies, recovered in the 10th, I would say that the presense of gold was of more political than economic importance. Although imperial markets did seem to exist in the provinces which probably brought some benefits. As for military effectiveness the Byzantine army was probably more reliable than feudal hosts. The cash economy also allowed the Emperors to create the Tagma as a full-time professional core.
    Harvey Economic Expansion in the Byzantine Empire 900-1200 is the book to read on this. Also Hendy book on Byzantine money if you are really keen.

    3. Je ne sais pas.
    John Haldon's book on Byzantine warfare 565-1204 is a good place for all militarty questions though.
     
  20. Trotsky Trotsky

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    If you're asking a citizen of Constantinople or elsewhere in the empire during the era of the empire, then yes, Byzantium = Rome. If you're asking historians and scholars, then they'd say yes and no. Archaeologically-speaking and historically-speaking, Byzantium was Rome. For the sake of historiography, academics say otherwise.