Episode 86 – The People

The Imperial Administration from The Palgrave Atlas of Byzantine History by John Haldon

The Imperial Administration from The Palgrave Atlas of Byzantine History by John Haldon

Amphora workshop in Western Turkey (From Daily Life in the Byzantine Empire by Marcus Rautman)

Amphora workshop in Western Turkey (From Daily Life in the Byzantine Empire by Marcus Rautman)

Cypriot village in the 19th century (From Daily Life in the Byzantine Empire by Marcus Rautman)

Cypriot village in the 19th century (From Daily Life in the Byzantine Empire by Marcus Rautman)

Farmhouse in Qirqbize in Syria (From Daily Life in the Byzantine Empire by Marcus Rautman)

Farmhouse in Qirqbize in Syria (From Daily Life in the Byzantine Empire by Marcus Rautman)

We explore the lives of the people of Byzantium. From the Emperor through the court down to the farmers, merchants and minorities who made up the population.

Period: 695-802

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Categories: Podcast | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “Episode 86 – The People

  1. Benjamin the Drunkard

    Another fantastic episode, Robin. I have a couple of questions regarding the status of the Roman Senate at this point? I seem to recall that they had been greatly marginalized during the reign of Heraclius. Was Senator largely a ceremonial title at this point?

  2. Nick

    Great episode Robin. I have a question about something you mentioned, which was that among jobs typically done by Jews in the Empire, being a scribe was one of them. Do you have specific examples of Jews as scribes? If so, do you know what kind of scribes they were?

    Since much of the early history of scribal practice in the post-Roman west comes out of Christian monasteries, I assume the same took place in Byzantium. Therefore if Jews were scribes I assume they would have been government scribes copying charters etc, or possibly copying Jewish religious documents for their own communities. In any case, it would be great if you could shed some more light on the situation. Thanks!

    • I’m afraid that’s all the detail I have on that. Your guesses sound plausible to me. Certainly there would have been concern to keep the copying of Jewish texts going in that community.

  3. Ron Hood

    I am not a language expert but I don’t think there are any modern languages that are descendants of classical Greek except for, well, Greek. Whereas Latin has dozens of modern offsprings. Yet Greek was very widely used for centuries and was so dominant in culture and commerce throughout the eastern Mediterranean that the “Romans” of Byzantium left off speaking Latin and were all speaking Greek within a handful of generations of Constantine. And I think Greek persisted there pretty much until Constantinople fell. The Old Testament was translated from Hebrew to Greek long before it was put into Latin and I think even the New Testament was first produced in Latin by translating it from Greek. And much of the Renaissance was enabled by Islamic scholars and a few guys from Venice and Florence learning Greek and rescuing brilliant stuff written in Greek from disappearing over the receding horizon of history. And I think that you even said in episode 12 or so that Justinian’s monumental effort consolidate Roman jurisprudence into a standard code that was eventually unearthed in the dusty stacks of some monastery had to be translated from the Greek that Justinian’s legal team produced. So what gives? How come Latin persists and Greek did not. There is an irony here in that Latin is commonly regarded as a “dead” language and Greek is not. But that has it backwards. The question is why it is the way it really is.

    • Greg

      Well Latin transformed into the various Romance languages on the local level while formal Latin continued in the Church and the western legal tradition. So Latin was going to be all over the west, and it would everywhere be associated with power. By contrast, Greek would be of little utility outside Romania, and the breakdown of the old Hellenistic Mediterranean meant that there was little call for Greek to be be the language of trade (and, consequently, culture). In other words, changes to social and cultural factors made Greek irrelevant outside of the increasingly tiny Greek speaking world. It wasn’t until the rediscovery of the old Greek masters in the west that knowing Greek once again carried social importance

    • Nick

      Well, part of the reason is the Byzantine state itself. It did not fragment in the way that the western Empire did, and therefore its language did not fragment either, as Latin did.

      In the Latin case, the Germanic groups that came into the Empire were already (or soon to be) Christian and wanted to maintain Roman culture and institutions, which included Latin. They were also not so numerous as to be able to completely ‘replace’ the people (and the language of those people) they conquered. The church’s use of Latin also played a major role.

      In the Byzantine case, the territories that Byzantium lost to the Arabs and later to the Turks were lost to people speaking different languages and bringing with them a different religion and culture, and who migrated in large numbers. There was no benefit for these people in keeping Greek intact.

    • It’s an excellent question and 2 good answers already. I will only add that:

      Latin was the language of the educated elite in Western Europe. It was the common tongue for political, legal and church discussions for centuries. This gave it a prominence which Greek never enjoyed.

      Also as we will see in our narrative, the Slavs will not learn Greek but accept a Greek-style alphabet for their own tongue. Meanwhile the Arabs obviously had their own language and had no need for Greek. Whereas in the West there was no cultural baggage associated with Latin. On the contrary the Roman Empire was to be emulated and fondly remembered as part of most nations’ identities.

  4. Ken Cook

    Another great episode!
    Keep up the good work.

  5. Shawn

    The big takeaway for me from this episode was that it explained why feudalism never really developed in Byzantium. There was still a strong central government that provide the emperor with an effective bureaucracy for collecting taxes and checking the growth of private land barons.

    I love it when I listen to this podcast and a little lightbulb goes on over my head. I can feel my brain getting fizzy with insight and understanding. This is one of life’s great pleasures. Thanks again for providing that for me, or rather, all of us!

  6. Glenn

    You missed a great oppertunity to call this episode “The Plebs. Errrr. I mean. The People.”

  7. Listener Priyankar Kandarpa-from Singapore

    Hi Robin!

    I have a question. As of c.a. 800 AD, how was trade in the empire in this period? Like, Empress Irene did cut taxes on merchants and that does suggest how there was trade, but in contrast to, say, 600, how did trade routes shift and how did it affect the empire?

    • We don’t have detailed information between the Caliphate and Byzantium. It still went on certainly but was obviously much reduced from 600 when the Empire was united. But with Byzantium so much poorer than in 600 the merchants coming down the Silk Road may have stopped in Damascus and not bothered to go further. At the other end of the Empire again very impoverished compared to 600. Harder to reach the markets of the West due to the dislocation in the Balkans and less secure waters.

  8. Pingback: Villain’s Schemes: Influence – Brandes Stoddard

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