Economic Factors in the Decline of the Byzantine Empire

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“Economic Factors in the Decline of the Byzantine Empire”
In this article taken from The Journal of Economic History, Peter Charanis discusses the factors that economically affected the decline of the Byzantine Empire. His discussion is based on the fact that past scholars, such as English historian Edward Gibbon who wrote The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, thought the Byzantine Empire was in a constant state of decline throughout its existence, but he disagrees. He says that more recent scholars have found that it was, in fact, one of the great empires in history. He references to historians such as Fridtjof Nansen, author of L’Armenie et le proche Orient, who said that the Byzantine culture “is and will remain one of the most remarkable works of architecture, and if the Byzantine culture had created nothing but that, it would be sufficient to classify it among the greatest.” Charanis is convinced that most scholars today reject Gibbon’s theory, and this article discusses why he believes so. Because the Byzantine Empire endured for over a thousand years and was the center of civilization until the middle of the eleventh century, it could not be looked at as a constantly declining empire. According to Charanis, it preserved antiquity, developed new forms of art, and held back barbarians. Byzantium produced great soldiers, statesmen, diplomats, reformers, and scholars. It was also successful at spreading the gospel among pagan tribes. Charanis quotes Czech historian F. Dvornik who wrote Les Slaves byzance et Rome au IX saying Byzantium “molded the undisciplined tribes and made nations out of them; it gave to them its religion and institutions, taught their princes how to govern, transmitted to them he very principles of civilation – writing and literature.”

“Byzantium was a great power and a great civilizing force,” Charanis said. He believed that war and religion were the two principal factors that molded the society of the empire and...
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