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History of the Byzantine empire
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For a considerable length of time feudalism has been studied as a phenomenon belonging exclusively to medieval western Europe, and indeed as distinguishing the history of this area from the history of other lands. It even has been supposed, not infrequently, that feudalism in all western countries was a homogeneous phenomenon, identical in substance. The fact has been obscured that feudal conditions established in one or another country in the West had their own peculiarities. Recently, however, the meaning of the term feudalism has grown broader; scholars have noted that the presence of feudalizing processes is to be found among different peoples in various parts of the earth and various epochs of history. The comparative historical method has eliminated an important historical prejudice that long dominated: that the complicated political, social, and economic phenomenon conventionally called feudalism belonged exclusively to the Middle Ages in western Europe. Therefore at present the term feudalism is used in two senses, one generic, the other specific. West European feudalism in the Middle Ages is only one species of feudalism and is a concept used in the narrower sense of the word, while in the broader sense feudalism is a stage of culture through which, according to many historians and sociologists, all peoples pass in their historical development. No doubt the feudal process was far from reaching its complete development everywhere; for instance, sometimes the process was limited only to the social aspect and failed to attain political significance. Nevertheless, the transfer of this problem from the limits of western European medieval history into world history has allowed scholars to discover feudalism in ancient Egypt, in the Arab califate, in Japan, in the Islands of the Pacific Ocean, and in Old Russia. In each country where adequate conditions appear, feudalism in one or another stage of development is a phenomenon possible but not necessarily unavoidable.
Striking in its brevity and acumen is the definition of feudalism given by a Russian scholar, P. Vinogradov: “Feudalism is marked by the territorial aspect of political relations and by the political aspect of territorial relations.” Obviously this definition does not touch the economic aspect of the problem. But later that aspect was brought up and indeed emphasized by scholars, and now it must be considered.
Many different opinions, sometimes diametrically opposite, have been expressed concerning the origin of western European feudalism. Some scholars derive it from Germanic or Roman conditions existing at the turning-point from ancient to medieval history; some believe it to be the result of the Carolingian legislation; others try to explain this complicated institution by the social conditions of the almost unknown old Germanic life, especially the imaginary conditions of the old Germanic “march.” All these theories have now only historical significance and strikingly illustrate the amount of labor and sometimes excessive perspicacity which scholars expend to establish a complicated historical phenomenon, in this case feudalism, on a really scholarly basis.
Many distinctive features of western European feudalism are explained partly by conditions in the Roman Empire during the first three centuries of its existence. Several elements later became constituent parts of feudalism. Precarium or benefice (beneficium), patronage, and immunity are well known in Roman times. Beneficium formerly designated any temporary possessions, sometimes during the life of the possessor; therefore lands given on certain conditions for temporary use, often for life, were also called beneficia; among the conditions the possessor’s rendering of military service occupied first place, so that beneficium usually meant a territorial grant to be held on condition of paying military service. Later when western European feudalism took definite shape, the beneficium became a feodum (fief), i.e. land given in hereditary possession on definite conditions. The conventional name feudalism comes from this word feodum, whose origin has not yet been definitely established. Patronage, i.e. the custom of placing oneself under the protection of a more powerful man, passed from Roman times to the Middle Ages and in the feudal epoch began to be called by a Latin word, commendatio, or sometimes by a German word, mundium. Finally, immunitas, which was known in the Roman period, in the feudal epoch meant giving certain state rights to private individuals; these men were often exempted from certain obligations to the state, and government agents were forbidden to enter the territory of an immunist.
In the West as the central power declined, these three elements, which existed for a considerable time independently of each other, gradually began to concentrate in one person; the same individual, namely the landowner, distributed benefices, received commendations, and used immunities. In other words, the landowner became a sovereign. This process concerned both laity and clergy. Of course this evolution took place in various countries in various ways.
The problem of feudalism in Byzantium has not been much studied; intensive work is still needed, and one must be very cautious in generalizing. But at least it is now quite possible to speak of feudalism and feudalizing processes in Byzantium, whereas not long ago the term “Byzantine feudalism” would have seemed a paradox.
Since Byzantium is the continuation of the Roman Empire, it may be said a priori that the phenomena analogous to benefice, patronage, and immunity are, of course, to be noted in the internal life of Byzantium. The question is only to what extent these phenomena developed in the modified conditions of the eastern provinces of the Empire, and what forms they took.
In the east the Greek word kharistikion corresponded in meaning to the Latin word beneficium, and the Greek word kharistikarios corresponded to beneficiarius, i.e. a man granted land on condition of paying military service. But in Byzantium, especially beginning with the tenth century, the system of distribution of land as kharistikia, was usually applied to monasteries, which were granted both to laymen and to clergy. Possibly this peculiarity of Byzantine beneficium (kharistikion) should be connected with the iconoclastic epoch, when the government in its struggle against the monks resorted to the secularization of monastery lands, which gave the Emperor a rich source for land grants. This circumstance, in all probability, is the reason why the original meaning of kharistikon, a grant of land in general not specifically monasterial, was lost and the term kharistikion was used specifically as a monastery grant. A very good authority on the internal life of Byzantium, P. V. Bezobrazov, wrote: “The characteristic feature of the system of kharistikion was that the owner of a monastery, whoever he might have been (emperor, bishop, or private individual), gave a monastery for life to someone who thereupon took the name of kharistikarios. The kharistikarios received all the revenues of the monastery and was obliged to maintain the monks and take care of the buildings, in a word to carry on the whole economy of the monastery. It is evident that the surplus of the revenues belonged to the kharistikarios.” Another noted Russian Byzantinist, Th. Uspensky, plainly stated that the system of kharistikion as a custom of granting monasteries and church lands was an institution which developed within the church itself and was in complete harmony with the customs and opinions existing among the laity as to the right of disposal of land property. If these definitions of kharistikion, especially Uspensky’s, are accepted, it must also be affirmed that all links with the Roman past were lost; this conclusion is incorrect. The kharistikion is a survival of the Roman precarium-beneficium which received a special meaning owing to special conditions in the eastern half of the Empire.
In the epoch of the pagan Roman Empire, military landownership existed, the distinctive feature of which was that the land on the borders of the Empire was granted as hereditary property, but on specific condition that the possessors should defend the frontiers and hand down this obligation to their children. The beginning of this measure is usually referred to the period of Emperor Severus Alexander, i.e. to the first half of the third century, when he granted the frontier lands taken from the enemy to the frontier soldiers (limitanei) and their chiefs upon condition that they should maintain hereditary military service and not alienate the lands to civilians. Although some scholars categorically state that these frontier lands (agri limitanei) have no connection with the later beneficium or fief (feodum), none the less many eminent historians, not without reason, discover the roots of the beneficia of the Middle Ages in the system of the distribution of lands in the pagan Roman Empire. A novel of Theodosius II issued in the first half of the fifth century and included in the Code of Justinian in the sixth century, which was proclaimed binding upon both parts of the Empire, western and eastern, confirms the military service of the frontier soldiers or frontier militia (limitanei milites) as a necessary condition for possessing land, and refers the custom to ancient statutes (sicut antiquitus statutum est).
Beginning with the seventh century, under the menace of the Persian, Arab, Avar, Slavonic, and Bulgarian invasions which often successfully wrested from the Empire important and prosperous frontier provinces, the government strengthened military organization all over the territory of the Empire; so to speak, it applied the former frontier organization to the inland provinces. But many severe military failures which Byzantium suffered from the seventh to the ninth centuries, in addition to the internal troubles of the iconoclastic period and the struggle for the throne, evidently shook the well arranged system of military land holding; the large landowners, the so-called “powerful” men or magnates, took advantage of this new situation and against the law began to buy up military holdings. Therefore when in the tenth century the emperors of the Macedonian dynasty issued their famous novels to defend peasant interests against the encroaching tendencies of the “powerful” men, they were at the same time acting to defend military holdings. The novels of Romanus Lecapenus, Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Romanus II, and Nicephorus Phocas aimed at restoring the firmness and inviolability of military holdings and mainly at securing that such holdings should not be alienated to men who gave no military service; in other words, fundamentally these novels reproduced the provision of the novel of Theodosius II quoted above which passed into the Justinian Code. Th. Uspensky, who regarded the Slavonic influence in Byzantium as one of the most important elements of its internal life, wrote as regards military holdings: “If in the tenth century some traces of community are noted in the organization of military holdings, this of course indicates not Roman origin of the institution but Slavonic, and its first manifestations must be referred to the epoch of the Slavonic settlements in Asia Minor.” But this hypothesis of the noted Russian historian cannot be proved. The system of military holdings survived to some extent down to the fall of Byzantium; at least in legislative texts from the eleventh century to the fourteenth the arrangements of the emperors of the tenth century are treated as still in force, although in reality they were not always so.
For a considerable time, as far as the fragmentary and obscure evidence shows, apparently no specific term was generally accepted in Byzantium to designate imperial grants, except possibly the term kharistikion; this word has not yet been studied from this particular aspect, so its use may be given only as an hypothesis, although a very plausible one. A special term to designate imperial grants made its appearance in Byzantine sources in the eleventh century; it was a term which was formerly used as an alternative for kharistikion, but which later began to be employed specifically in the sense of imperial grant. This term was pronoia.
Some scholars have incorrectly derived this word from the German word Frohne (socage, compulsory service); since they discovered it in Serbian documents before they learned it from Byzantine sources, they even believed that the Serbians borrowed it when they were still neighbors of the Goths. It goes without saying that pronoia is a Greek word meaning “forethought, care” in the Christian sense, “providence.” Of course the word pronoia after receiving the special meaning of imperial grant did not lose its original sense, so that in a later period which cannot be exactly dated, Byzantine documents contain both meanings; similarly in the west the feudal term beneficium failed to overcome the original use of this word as “favor, benefit.”
The man who asked for and received a monastery as a grant (kharistikion) pledged himself to take care of it, i.e. in Greek to take “pronoia” of it. Therefore the man who received such a grant was sometimes called not only kharistikarios but also pronoetes, i.e. provider. In the course of time the granted estate itself began to be called pronoia. According to Th. Uspensky, in Byzantium the term pronoia “means a grant to the office-holding class of populated lands or other revenue-yielding property as a reward for service done and on condition of discharging a certain service from the grant.” Military service was especially meant. The pronoia was not an hereditary property held unconditionally; the possessor of a pronoia could neither sell, bequeath, nor give away the granted land. In other words, the pronoia is identified with those military lands which go back to the period of the pagan Roman Empire. The pronoia was granted either by the emperors themselves or in their name by their ministers.
As early as the tenth century, there is evidence of the word pronoia used in the sense of a land grant on condition of military service. Complete certainty on the special meaning of pronoia from documents begins only with the second half of the eleventh century. This circumstance in no way proves that this meaning of pronoia could not have existed earlier. Further publication of earlier documents and a study of the published sources from this specific angle may establish the special meaning of pronoia for the period previous to the eleventh century. In the epoch of the Comneni the system of granting pronoias was already a common thing. In connection with the Crusades and the penetration of western European influence into Byzantium, especially under the latinophile Emperor Manuel I (1143-1180), actual western European feudal terms, though in Greek form, make their appearance in Byzantium, for example lizios, which corresponds to the medieval Latin word ligius, i.e. a vassal or holder of a fief. It is interesting to note that when the crusaders of the Fourth Crusade, i.e. western European landlords, began to establish themselves on the occupied territories of the Eastern Empire, they found the local land conditions very similar to those of the West and easily adaptable to their own feudal forms. In a document of the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Byzantine emperors’ grants are called fiefs (de toto feudo, quod et Manuel quondam defunctus Imperator dedit patri meo). Another document of the same period testifies that the western conquerors continued to maintain the conquered population as formerly, exacting from them nothing more than they had been used to under the Greek emperors (debemus in suo statu tenere, nihil ab aliquo amplius exigentes, quam quod facere consueverant temporibus graecorum imperatorum). Much material for the study of feudal relations on the territory of Byzantium is contained in the so-called Chronicle of Morea, a rich mine of information on this subject. The institution of pronoia survived through the Middle Ages till the fall of the Empire.
The study of the problem of pronoia in Byzantium, in connection with kharistikion and military lots, deserves great attention and may lead to most interesting results, not only for a better and more correct understanding of land conditions and of the internal life of the Empire in general but also for instructive and illuminating analogies with other countries, Western, Slavonic, and Muhammedan, including the later Ottoman Empire.
The term pronoia is in common use in Serbian documents. In the history of Russia, pronoia is sometimes compared with the Russian kormlenie (feeding). This was a custom in Old Russia; the Russian nobles were granted towns or provinces as kormlenie, often as reward for service in the field; these nobles were given the opportunity to enrich themselves by korm (food), gifts, and fees, legal and administrative, from the local population. But the Russian kormlenie was not connected with the possession of a territory and meant only the administration of a town or province with the right to collect revenues for the profit of the administrator. Therefore the Byzantine pronoia corresponds rather to the pomestye of the State of Moscow, i.e. an estate held temporarily on condition of discharging military service, which speedily assumed an hereditary character.
The Roman patronage (patrocinium) or the western European commondatio-mundium was also well known in Byzantium. The codes of Theodosius and Justinian contain a considerable number of decrees, beginning with the fourth century, where patronage (in the codes called patrocinium) was very severely punished because poor men who placed themselves under the protection (patronage) of their wealthy and powerful neighbors wished thereby to escape various state obligations, especially burdensome taxation, and this the state could not admit. In the novels of Justinian and later emperors there is a Greek term corresponding to the Latin patrocinium; this is prostasia, i.e. “acting in behalf of someone, patronage, protection,” which in any form whatever was forbidden. But in spite of the prohibitive measures of the central government the large landowners (the “powerful” men) continued their very profitable practice of patronage or prostasia, forming a sort of intermediary between the state and the taxable population, and the imperial power was unable to overcome this evil. The novel issued by Romanus Lecapenus in 922 which forbade the “powerful” to acquire any property whatever from the poor, mentions among other means of the rich’s oppressing the poor, prostasia, i.e. patronage.
The institution of immunity (immunitas) was also known in Byzantium as exkuseia or exkusseia (εξκουσσεια), which with the derivative verb (εξκουσσευειν, εξκουσσευεσθαι) is merely the Greek form of the Latin word excusatio (verb, excusare), with an analogous meaning. Scholars particularly interested in exkuseia found the earliest imperial charter (chrysobull) granting an exkuseia was issued only in the middle of the eleventh century (1045); they accordingly failed to see in this institution, which according to the charter was so far away from Roman times, a survival of the former immunity and therefore they tried to explain its origin by other causes. One scholar, N. Suvorov, traced the origin of the Byzantine immunity-exkuseia back to a Western custom which passed to Byzantium in German shape. In his opinion, “it is impossible to establish any historical link between these later Byzantine immunities and the immunities of the Roman Law. Even if we suppose that German immunity has Roman roots, it was already in Frankish form when it passed in Byzantium.” Another scholar who made a special study of the problem of exkuseia, P. Yakovenko, disagreed with this opinion; he believed that this institution originated and developed in Byzantium independently and he refused to acknowledge any connection between exkuseia and the Roman immunity, because there is a strong difference between these two conceptions. “The origin of exkuseia is to be sought in the political disorder which broke out in Byzantium because of the degeneration of the Roman state institutions. Along with this, the confusion of the principles of Public Law with those of Private Law also exerted its influence. From these causes the kernel of exkuseia originated; the state officials were forbidden to enter granted possessions, and the recipient of the grant of immunity was also granted the right of collecting state revenues.”
In Roman legislative documents the Latin terms immunitas and excusatio are identical in meaning, and the attempts of some learned jurists to establish a definite distinction between them have not led to final results.
In the codes of Theodosius and Justinian there are severe regulations against exemptions from taxation which are called immunitates or are expressed by the verb excusare.
The documents of the Byzantine period contain grants of immunities-exkuseias mostly given to monasteries. According to them the privileges granted by the charters of the Byzantine emperors were chiefly concerned with forbidding imperial officials to enter the privileged localities, with exemptions from taxation, and with the right of jurisdiction; in other words, here was the real medieval immunity on the western feudal model.
It is usually supposed that the earliest charter (chrysobull) granting an exkuseia was issued in the middle of the eleventh century. But this alone cannot be a proof that no exkuseia was granted before, the more so as the style and expressions of the charters of the eleventh and twelfth centuries which are preserved indicate that the idea of exkuseia was at that time perfectly common, definite, and well known, requiring no explanation. Nor is this all. The charters of the emperors of the Macedonian dynasty, of the late ninth and of the tenth century, granted to the Athenian monks, show all the traits of exkuseia. A charter of Basil I (867-886) protects all those who “have chosen the hermit life on Mount Athos” both from military commanders and imperial officials and from private citizens and peasants so “that no one shall disturb those monks or enter the inner places of Mount Athos.” This charter was confirmed by Basil’s son, Emperor Leo VI the Philosopher (886-912), Another confirmation of this charter granted by the “earlier reigning” emperors was made in the first half of the tenth century by a charter of Romanus I Lecapenus (919-944). In other Athenian documents on the demarcation of litigable lands on Mount Athos in the tenth century, there are references to the charters of the preiconoclast period, which have survived; these were the charters of the seventh century and the opening of the eighth issued by Constantine IV (668-685), Justinian II Rhinotmetus (685-695 and 705-711), as well as by the first restorer of icon worship, Empress Irene (797-802) and her son Constantine VI (780-797), Of course it is impossible to tell exactly what these charters contained; but on the basis of the dispute which concerned the possession of land by the Athenian monks it may be supposed that they also dealt with immunities.
The edict of the Emperor Justinian II, which was issued in September, 688, and which exists in an inscription, may be regarded as an example of immumty-exkuseia of an earlier period. By this edict Justinian II granted a salina in Thessalonica to the Church of St. Demetrius “for all following and everlasting years.” as its exclusive property which was exempted from any previous obligations. In his edict Justinian plainly expressed the purpose of his grant: the entire profit from the salina was to provide for the expenses of the illumination of the church, the daily substance of its clergy, necessary upkeep of the building, and all other needs of the clergy.
The privileged monasteries which are sometimes called “monastery-princedoms” were developing from the period of Justinian the Great (527-565), and these monasterial immunities may be connected with the various privileges established in the fourth century for the Christian clergy by Constantine the Great and his successors. It is true all these fragmentary observations on immunity in Byzantium deal exclusively with monasterial life. But many early charters (chrysobulls) have disappeared, and moreover the question of Byzantine immunity has been very little studied in general, especially in its history before the eleventh century. Even various published Byzantine sources, such as histories, chronicles, and lives of saints, have not been adequately estimated from this point of view. When this preparatory work is done, new and important material almost certainly will be available on the problem of lay exkuseia-immunityin Byzantium. And it may be inferred that Byzantine exkuseia in its origin goes back to the time of Roman immunity and is a part of the complicated social inheritance which the Christian Empire received from the pagan Empire.
Further study of Byzantine prostasia-patronnge and exkuseia-immunity will be exceedingly important both for the better understanding of the internal life of Byzantium itself and for the internal history of the neighboring countries, Muhammedan and Slavonic, Old Russian in particular. The valuable studies on feudalism in Old Russia by N. Pavlov-Silvansky, who compared western patronage with Russian zakladnichestvo and western immunity with bayar samosud (right of jurisdiction among the Russian nobility), would have been still more valuable had the author not limited himself to western analogies but had also made use of Byzantine evidence.
Large landownership, the famous Roman latifundia, is also one of the characteristic features of the social structure of the Byzantine Empire. The powerful provincial magnates were at times so dangerous to the central power that the latter was compelled to undertake a stubborn struggle against them, often unsuccessfully.
In this respect the epoch of Justinian the Great, who energetically strove against the large landowners, is exceedingly interesting. The Secret History of Procopius as well as Justinian’s Novels give the most interesting material on this subject; the Secret History is a work of the sixth century, biased and one-sided, obviously reflecting the interests and ideas of the large landowners, but if properly used is an extremely valuable source on the internal history of the Byzantine Empire. This and the Novels reveal the Emperor’s struggle against the aristocracy based on landownership, a struggle which not only affected the sixth century but continued far later. One of Justinian’s novels addressed to the proconsul of Cappadocia blaming the desperate condition of state and private landownership in the provinces upon the unrestrained conduct of local magnates, contains these significant lines: “News has come to us of such exceedingly great abuses in the provinces that their correction can hardly be accomplished by one person of high authority. And we are even ashamed to tell with how much impropriety the managers of ‘landlords’ estates promenade about, surrounded by body-guards, how they are followed by large mobs of people, and how shamelessly they steal everything.” Then after mentioning a few facts about private property, this novel goes on to say that “state property has almost entirely passed into private ownership, for it was stolen and plundered, including all the herds of horses, and not a single man spoke against it, for all mouths were stopped with gold.” From these statements it appears that the Cappadocian magnates had full authority in their provinces, and that they even maintained troops of their own, armed men and bodyguards, and seized private as well as state lands. Similar information about Egypt in the time of Justinian is found in the papyri. A member of the famous Egyptian landowning family of Apions possessed in the sixth century vast landed property in various parts of Egypt. Entire villages were part of his possessions. His household was almost regal. He had his secretaries and stewards, his hosts of workmen, his own assessors and tax collectors, his treasurer, his police, even his own postal service. Many of these magnates had their own prisons and maintained their own troops.
Against these large landowners Justinian waged a merciless struggle. By various means he consciously and persistently aimed at the destruction of large landownership. He was not completely successful, however, and large land-ownership remained an undying feature of the Empire in later periods.
A convinced enemy of large landownership by the laity, Justinian at the same time tended to preserve and augment church and monastery property. Justinian’s epoch is the most important step in the process of the formation in the Empire of the large church and monastery landownership which in connection with exkuseias-immunities created as it were feudal centers, monastery-principalities, or monastery-fiefs, which according to an historian, took in Byzantium the place of the duchies and counties of western Europe. But the distinctive trait of a western European feudal state is first of all the instability, weakness, and sometimes disintegration of the central power. The large landowning Byzantine monasteries, from the feudal standpoint, were created and managed by antifeudal elements, because the abbots (igumens) who headed the monasteries possessed full power and were practically monarchs and autocrats in their own possessions. Perhaps this is one of the distinguishing peculiarities of Byzantine feudalism.
In the development of church and monastery landownership in Byzantium, the seventh century is of very great importance. After the conquest by the Arabs of Palestine and Egypt where monasticism was particularly flourishing, a considerable number of monks fled for refuge to the inland provinces of the Empire; old monasteries swarmed with refugees, and new monasteries were built. Therefore the second half of the seventh century and the beginning of the eighth can be justly regarded as the period when monastery landownership reached its climax. Because of many privileges, it undermined the finances of the state and as a great many robust young men entered monasteries and became therefore exempt from military service, it sapped the military power of the Empire. The state could not submit to such a situation. According to Vasilievsky “without much danger of error, it may be inferred that before the beginning of iconoclasm the Eastern Church was in no way inferior in size of land property to the Western Church. The Frankish kings had early begun to complain that their treasury was depleted and their riches had passed to the bishops and clergy; towards the end of the seventh century a whole third of the land in the Frankish state belonged to the Church. We believe that something similar was also the case in Byzantium at the same time.”
It may be supposed that the Isaurian emperors who are chiefly famous for their iconoclastic policy waged their struggle not only against icons but also against monastery landownership or monastery feudalism. In the iconoclastic epoch monastery lands were mercilessly confiscated, and the monks themselves, as well as those attached to the monasteries often not from a religious motive but for exemption from various state obligations, were reduced to lay estate, and thus forced to discharge their state duties.
But with the end of iconoclasm and the accession to the throne of the Macedonian dynasty circumstances changed. The number of monasteries increased again, and the amount of land which passed into monastery possession augmented still more rapidly. Feudalizing processes in the church and monastery domain which had been temporarily stopped by the iconoclastic emperors began to develop again in a direction undesirable and at times dangerous to the central power. The French scholar Charles Diehl wrote on this epoch: “Usurpations continued; the might of the large land aristocracy always grew; feudalism always developed. In the ninth century the crisis took a character of particular acuteness.”
In the political life of the Empire a very striking analogy may be drawn between western European feudal lords, dukes (duces) and counts (comites) and the exarchs of the close of the sixth century, who under Emperor Maurice (582-602) stood at the head of the two vast territorial organizations, the exarchates of Ravenna and of Carthage or Africa. The exarchs or the governors general, first of all military officers, gradually concentrated in their hands the administrative and judicial functions and had the final word in the management of church affairs in the exarchate. Whenever the exarch arrived at Rome, he was accorded an almost imperial reception. The protocol of his entry into Rome became the model of the reception of Frankish kings or German emperors. The reception of Charlemagne in Rome in 774, for instance, was modeled after that of the exarch, and it remained authoritative for all imperial receptions in Rome during the Middle Ages. It is not surprising that from time to time the exarchs raised the banner of revolt both at Carthage and at Ravenna and advanced claims to the imperial throne. At the opening of the seventh century, the revolt of the African exarch Heraclius resulted in the establishment of a new dynasty in Byzantium in the person of his son, also Heraclius.
It is relevant to emphasize the fact that the same Emperor Maurice under whom the two almost independent exarchates were instituted made a will when he was seriously ill several years before his death. This will was apparently not known during his lifetime; it was discovered and opened later, under Heraclius. In it Maurice divided his Empire among his children: he assigned Constantinople and the eastern provinces to his eldest son; Rome, Italy, and the islands to his second son; and distributed the rest of the Empire among his younger sons. This will was not carried into effect because of the revolution of 602 when Maurice was overthrown; but it is interesting as an attempt at a typical feudal division such as often took place in the West in the epoch of the Merovingians and Carolingians as well as in Old Russia in the so-called “appanage period.”
The process of formation of a new provincial or, to use the Byzantine term, theme organization may also furnish some material for feudal analogies. In the seventh century in connection with the Persian, Arab, Bulgarian, and Slavonic dangers a reorganization of the provincial administration was carried out by appointing at the head of some vast territories military governors general who gradually obtained complete superiority over the civil authorities. These provincial governors later in the ninth and tenth centuries sometimes handed down their power and functions in their own families from generation to generation; they became as it were hereditary governors in their respective provinces and thus evaded direct control by the imperial power. Their position was analogous to that of the hereditary counts and dukes of the West.
The almost permanent struggle on the eastern frontier in Asia Minor against the Arabs caused the so-called akritai to appear. Akrites (plural akritai) was a name applied during the Byzantine period to the defenders of the outermost borders of the Empire; it is derived from the Greek word akra, meaning border. The akritai sometimes enjoyed a certain amount of independence from the central government and are with some grounds to be compared with the western European margraves (meaning rulers of the borderland, marches) and with the cossacks of the ukraina (also meaning border), in the history of Russia. In these border districts where war was the normal state of things and security did not exist, “one felt,” according to a French historian, A. Rambaud, “far removed from the Byzantine Empire, and one might have been not in the provinces of an enlightened monarchy but in the midst of the feudal anarchy of the West.” An English historian, J. B. Bury, says that the continuous strife against the Saracens (Arabs) in the East developed a new type of warrior, the kavallarios, i.e. a rider, knight (in German Ritter), “whose heart was set on adventure and who was accustomed to act independently of orders from the emperor or a military superior … In the tenth century many of them possessed large domains and resembled feudal barons rather than Roman officers.” The famous families in Asia Minor of Phocas, Sclerus, Maleinus, and Philocales, with whom Basil II (976-1025) irreconcilably and continually struggled, are representatives of large landlords in Asia Minor who because of their vast land properties were not only a social anomaly in the Empire but also a serious political danger to the reigning dynasty, for they could group around them their own military forces. A man who received a pronoia upon condition of military service had the right or probably even the obligation to maintain a body of troops which, if circumstances allowed, he could bring to a considerable size. The famous Novels of the emperors of the Macedonian dynasty in defense of small land-ownership point out once more how threatening from the state standpoint was the development of large landownership.
The troubled period of the eleventh century was characterized by a struggle between the large landowners of Asia Minor who relied on their military forces, and the central government. The result was that in 1081 a representative of large landownership, Alexius Comnenus, took possession of the throne and founded a dynasty of long duration (1081-1185). But Alexius was forced to recognize Trebizond as an almost independent state and during his reign he took severe measures against the large landowners among both laity and clergy. A strong reaction against large landownership took place under the last emperor of the Comnenian dynasty, Andronicus I (1182-1185). But the former system triumphed again under the Angeli (1185-1204).
With the epoch of the crusades, western crusaders and other westerners appeared. At first they only passed through the territory of the Empire; then, especially owing to the latinophile policy of Manuel I, they settled in great numbers and penetrated into all branches of Byzantine social and economic life. Finally after the Fourth Crusade they occupied the major part of the Byzantine Empire. By this time feudalizing processes in Byzantium had assumed so definite a shape that the westerners found nothing new to them in the general conditions of the Empire.
A mass of most interesting material for the study of feudalism in the Latin states established in the East in the epoch of the Crusades is found in the codes compiled there. The first place belongs to the so-called Assises of Jerusalem or the Letters of the Holy Sepulchre (Lettres du Sépulcre) which, according to later Jerusalemite tradition, were attributed to the first ruler of Jerusalem, Godfrey. Omitting here the complicated and debatable question of the different versions of the Assises and all discussion of the relation of the original code to the later Assises of Jerusalem, the Assises, whatever their origin, were purely thirteenth century law, and “the laws of Jerusalem were based on the feudal customs of eleventh century Europe as brought to the East by the men of the First Crusade.” The Assises have the most fundamental significance both for better understanding of feudal relations in the Christian Orient in connection with local conditions and for the problem of feudalism in general. A French historian who made a special study of the institutions of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Gaston Dodu, wrote: “The Assises de la Haute Cour [this was the section of the Assises treating of the relations between the Latin princes and their vassals] represent the old and the purest expression of French feudalism;” the compilers of the texts which have survived “wrote a complete treatise of feudal holdings superior to anything the Middle Ages have left us on this subject.” One must go to the Assises “to study the true character of feudalism.” Very recently an American historian who wrote a very important book on the feudal monarchy in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, John L. La Monte, emphasized the same idea. He wrote: “The Assises de la Haute Cour are in essence French feudal law, and the feudal system of Jerusalem, if the feudal system be taken to mean only the relations between the landholding nobility, was pure western feudalism which the crusaders had brought with them from their western homes. Once established it was preserved. The forces which affected feudalism in the West had but little effect on the slower moving East. For there is truth in the old assertion that in the feudal system of Jerusalem we find an almost ideal system of feudalism. Western institutions of the eleventh and twelfth centuries are transplanted into a semi-virgin field and are retained into a later age when the west itself had largely abandoned them.” Thus quite unexpectedly the Christian East has given into the hands of scholars a code of feudal law brought into a definite system, under whose conditions western Europe lived for a long time.
After the Fourth Crusade, the Assises of Jerusalem were introduced in Morea, which had been conquered by the crusaders, and in other Latin possessions established at that time on Byzantine territory as well as in the island of Cyprus; for the latter island the Assises were translated into Greek. The Assises of Antioch, which give a good idea of the laws of this Latin principality in the East, may serve as an excellent supplement to the Assises of Jerusalem. The original text of the Assises of Antioch has been lost; but their Armenian translation has survived, and in the nineteenth century this was translated into modern French. Thus these Franco-Eastern codes are of great importance for the history both of western European feudalism and of the Latin and Greco-Byzantine Orient, and even for certain sections of the Ottoman law.
The study of feudalism in Byzantium has just begun. In 1879 a Russian historian, V. Vasilievsky, in connection with his discussion on pronoia, dropped the remark that only in the epoch of the Comneni and Angeli may one notice in Byzantium “a real embryo of a feudal order, although not the developed system.” It is true that Vasilievsky never made any special study of Byzantine feudalism. He could not even imagine that any feudal processes might have existed in Byzantium before the close of the eleventh century, when the Comneni ascended the throne. Of course the well-organized feudal hierarchy which in the feudal society of the West created long lines of suzerains, vassals, and subvassals, was never formed in Byzantium. “But,” as Charles Diehl justly remarked, “in the Byzantine Empire the existence of this powerful provincial aristocracy had the same consequences as in the states of the western Middle Ages; especially whenever the central power became weakened, it was a terrible source of troubles and dissolution.”
The so-called feudalizing processes in the social, political, and economic aspects may be observed in the Byzantine Empire through the whole course of its history.