Empires and exploitation: The case of Byzantium
By John Haldon
Empires and Exploitation in the Ancient Mediterranean (2000)
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.