By Alex Nobes
Rosetta Journal, Issue 11 (2012)
Introduction: Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118) has long been regarded as both the saviour of the Byzantine Empire, bringing it back from the brink of destruction, and as the orchestrator of its final decline. His economic policy is a key factor in any argument regarding the success of his reign. In this paper, said economic policy will be treated in its own right, with the aim of discussing whether it was influenced solely by Alexios’ recognition of the need for economic reform, whether it was seen as a means to an end and was not seen as important in itself, or whether it was indeed believed to be important but also linked into other events and connected to other motivations for the emperor. This final choice would indeed fit the image of Alexios as an extremely skilled politician.
Therefore, within this paper several main areas will be discussed and examined for evidence of these three ideas. Alexios’s monetary reforms will be discussed as these established the monetary system used until 1204. His taxation reforms will also be looked at and discussed in the context of the three choices outlined above. Mint production under the emperor is also an important feature of his economic policy as, from the coins produced and their quality and quantity, it may be possible to suggest whether the propaganda on the coins or their actual use was more important. Finally, the most controversial aspect of his economic policy will be looked at – the granting of trading privileges to the Venetians and other Italian maritime republics. Ostrogorsky states that, ‘[t]his laid the foundation stone of Venice’s colonial power in the East, and it made a wide breach in the commercial system of the Byzantine State.’ Though Hendy disagreed, this was long the view of the grants made by Alexios, and the problem of these grants and privileges will be discussed later.