Empires and exploitation: The case of Byzantium

Empires and exploitation: The case of Byzantium

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Empires and exploitation: The case of Byzantium

By John Haldon

Paper give at the Empires and Exploitation in the Ancient Mediterranean conference at Stanford University (1999)

Introduction: In the context of the other “empires” being discussed in this conference, the Byzantine example is something of an anomaly. First, it was for most of its existence—from the seventh to the fifteenth century AD—territorially rather small (restricted largely to the southern Balkans and Asia Minor); second, although historians from the seventeenth century have called it an empire, its “emperor” was described by the Greek words Basileus, king, or autokrator, “autocrat,” and the Roman term imperator was used only very rarely and in correspondence with western rulers after the seventh century.

Third, it was an “empire” the history of which is largely one of contraction, with occasional efforts to recover lost territories followed by further contractions, so that imperialist exploitation of foreign conquests is the exception rather than the rule. Exploitation is thus meaningful only in terms of the ways in which the state and society of Byzantium functioned—who exploited whom and how, in economic and political terms—and in respect of the cultural impact of Byzantine civilization on the outside world. In this paper I shall be concerned for the most part with the former.

In spite of the fact that it represents one of the most interesting examples of a late ancient state formation which survived, with substantial modifications, well into the medieval period, the Byzantine (or medieval East Roman) empire has received remarkably little attention from either comparative historians or state theorists, certainly when compared with the treatment afforded Rome, out of which Byzantium evolved. This situation seems to me to reflect the fact that historians and specialists of the Byzantine world have themselves been very reluctant to generalize from their work or to draw broader conclusions within a comparative context, so that their subject has remained fairly difficult of access to the non-specialist.

Watch the video: National Geographic - Byzantium, The Lost Empire (July 2022).


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