The Geography of the Provincial Administration of the Byzantine Empire (ca 600-1200)

The Geography of the Provincial Administration of the Byzantine Empire (ca 600-1200): 1. The Apothekai of Asia Minor

By Efi Ragia

Byzantina Symmeikta, Vol. 19 (2009)

Abstract: The study of the geographical distribution of the apothekai/vassilika kommerkia is the only one that sheds light on the changes undergone by the Byzantine provincial administration at the end of the 7th century and at the beginning of the 8th century. The function of the institution was adjusted to the Later Roman provincial organization of the Empire. Its geographic expansion did not coincide with the territorial expansion of the themes institution (as this is recorded in the 10th century). However, some of the genikoi kommerkiarioi seals prove the progressing dissolution of the provinces for strategic and/or economic reasons. From the end of the 730s onwards the warehouses and the themes institutions came to coincide territorially, an event for which apparent prerequisite is the assignment of certain provinces to particular military regiments of the Empire.

Introduction: The themes (θέματα) of the Byzantine Empire were clearly defined administrative territories, which, at their peak (9th-10th c.), were administered by military dignitaries, the generals (στρατηγοί), aided by specialized staff sent to the provinces from the ministries (λογοθέσια) of Constantinople. Their formation and evolution was a product of a pressing situation potentially dangerous in political, economical, social and military terms, caused by the collapse of Byzantine power in the East under the devastating force of the Arab expansion. The Byzantines were forced to withdraw from Syria Palestine and Egypt. The first phase of the violent confrontation with the Arabs continued on Byzantine soil in Asia Minor and culminated in the two sieges of Constantinople (674-678, 717-718). By the time of the cruel and equally fierce second phase (9th c.), the Byzantines possessed a developed military machine whose basis was the institution of the themes, that formed the source of the Byzantine expansion to the East in the second half of the 10th c.

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