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The Byzantine Economy

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  • December 2011
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The Byzantine economy was among the most advanced in Europe and the Mediterranean for many centuries. Constantinople was a prime hub in a trading network that at various times extended across nearly all of Eurasia and North Africa. Some scholars argue that, up until the arrival of the Arabs in the 7th century, the Empire had the most powerful economy in the world. The Arab conquests, however, would represent a substantial reversal of fortunes contributing to a period of decline and stagnation. Constantine V's reforms (c. 765) marked the beginning of a revival that continued until 1204. From the 10th century until the end of the 12th, the Byzantine Empire projected an image of luxury, and the travelers were impressed by the wealth accumulated in the capital. One of the economic foundations of the empire was trade. The state strictly controlled both the internal and the international trade, and retained the monopoly of issuing coinage. Constantinople remained the single most important commercial center of Europe for much of the Medieval era, which it held until the Republic of Venice slowly began to overtake Byzantine merchants in trade… State's role

The state retained the monopoly of issuing coinage, and had the power to intervene in other important sectors of the economy. It exercised formal control over interest rates , and set the parameters for the activity of the guilds and corporations in Constantinople, in which the state has a special interest (e.g. the sale of silk) or whose members exercised a profession that was of importance for trade. The emperor and his officials intervened at times of crisis to ensure the provisioning of the capital and to keep down the price of cereals . For this reason, the empire strictly controlled both the internal circulation of commodities, and the international trade (certainly in intent; to a considerable degree also in practice).[47] Additionally, the state often collected part of the surplus in the form of tax, and put...

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