Organization and modus operandi of the Byzantine salt monopoly

Organization and modus operandi of the Byzantine salt monopoly

By George C. Maniatis

Byzantinische Zeitschrift, Volume 102, Issue 2 (2010)

Abstract: This article analyzes the organization and functioning of the Byzantine salt monopoly. Saltworks were owned by the state, but some were also owned by monasteries and laymen. State-owned saltworks were not run as state enterprises; rather, their operations were auctioned to private individuals by competitive bidding conducted by provincial governors. Auctions of saltworks could be combined with concessions of the salt sales tax or other rights to sources of local revenue (e. g. fisheries, wharfage). Concessionaires of saltworks often were obligated to deliver salt free of charge and tax in perpetuity to influential monasteries because of long-standing local customs. The state had a fiscal, not a market monopoly on salt as the price of salt was determined by market forces. Still, topography and seasonality of production and trade could provide opportunities for exploitation of inter-spatial and intertemporal price differentials. Disaggregation of the salt market into definable producer–wholesaler, wholesaler–retailer, and retailer–consumer submarkets evinces the varying impact that market structure can have on the degree of competition and on the firms’ pricing strategies.

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