Monetary exchanges and social capital in the tenth century Byzantine court
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date12/04/2024
The tenth-century Book of Ceremonies (De Ceremoniis), compiled during the sole rule of Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 945-959) and in the years after his death, has long been a source of interest for Byzantinists, who have used the wealth of information contained in the text to reconstruct the layout of the Great Palace and the lost cityscape of Byzantine Constantinople, as well as gain insights into court ceremonies, warfare, etc. Due to its unique compilation of antiquarian and contemporary ceremonies, the source also offers a range of opportunities for understanding the evolution of court protocol. By contrast, my thesis takes a new approach, and explores the treatise’s socioeconomic aspects. In order to do so, my research analyses the financial transactions recorded in De Ceremoniis, which when measured alongside each other can be interpreted as a financial ledger. While a range of payments are discussed in the text, the most significant are the investiture fees provided by dignitaries at the time of their appointment, and conversely the payments made to dignitaries at the yearly rogai (salary) distributions. This thesis incorporates a two part approach. The first part aims to reconstruct the tenth century court with regards to its overall size and title distribution. Meanwhile, the second part explores the flow of elite social and monetary capital not only through the court, but also the provinces from which dignitaries originated. While reconstructing the court or examining the financial details of De Ceremoniis are both interesting in their own right, the true significance of this project is realized when the two are examined alongside each other. Chapter 1 reconstructs the court via an extensive prosopographical analysis of nearly 4,000 dignitaries attested in either the literary or sigillographic record. Using this prosopography alongside Philotheos’ Kletorologion, the Taktikon Beneševič, and the Taktikon Escurial, we recreate what I term the ‘title stratigraphy’ of the court, tracing career trajectories in terms of dignitary promotions, correlated offices, and additional distinctions along the way. The second part of this chapter builds on the previous scholarship of Kazhdan and McCormick in calculating the overall size of the court. While their studies only considered the dignitaries who resided in Constantinople, my expanded definition of the court also includes provincial dignitaries who purchased imperial titles but did not participate in its daily activities. For this reason, my model uses the annual rogai distributions as its foundation for calculating the size of the court, since this was the only ceremony at which all dignitaries were expected to attend. Inspired by the anecdote of Ktenas and Liudprand’s description of the rogai distributions of 950, Chapter 2 focuses on the personal finances of the individual dignitary. It does so by measuring returns of both financial and social capital. Contained within the chapters of De Ceremoniis is a plethora of information regarding fees which were required to be paid to the state or outlaid to a range of officials and other individuals associated with the palatine establishment at the time of a dignitary’s investiture. Conversely the text also contains information on a range of payments to be made to dignitaries by the state throughout the year, foremost among them the yearly rogai. By measuring the expected yearly income of a dignitary against his initial investiture fees, we are able to calculate average return on investments that each class of dignitaries could have expected to receive. Thus, this allows us to determine which class of dignitaries could have expected to profit financially versus those who experienced a financial loss. As I argue in this chapter, a clear line is drawn between the dignities of patrikios and protospatharios. Every dignitary above this line stood to profit from their investment, while the dignitaries below this line appear to have invested into the court for its associated social capital. Chapter 3 focuses on the macroeconomic trends of the court, exploring who the primary profiteers were in this financial relationship between dignitaries and the court. By incorporating the individual return rates calculated in Chapter 2 alongside the title stratigraphy identified in Chapter 1, I measure the court’s self-sustainability rates (i.e. the rate by which the state was able to use investiture fees to offset rogai expenses). Two models are presented. The first incorporates only investiture fees provided directly to the treasury to be used for the purpose of yearly rogai, while the second model also incorporates a series of outlays made to a range of officials and other individuals associated with the palatine establishment, salaries which would have otherwise been provisioned by the state. In the process, I explore the notion of whether a “service based economy” may have existed, in which dignitaries directly paid for the services of those who assisted with the daily activities and ceremonies performed at court. Chapter 4 continues our discussion of the macroeconomic impacts of the court’s finances and elite funds more broadly defined. The first part extends our argument for dignitaries directly paying for the services provided to them at court, but this time explores the impact of dignitary funds on the lower orders of the palatine establishment. Using De Cer II, 55 as its primary case study, it explores the diffusion of the purse provided by the patrikios to the praipositoi at the time of his investiture. The second part of this chapter discusses socioeconomic spheres of influence and the positive feedback loop, which redistributed funds from the lesser elite (single generation dignitaries) to the power elite (generational holders of the court’s highest dignities and offices). My thesis concludes that two separate experiences existed at the court, one for the empire’s power elite and one for its lesser elite. I argue that while the power elite were able to retain generational monopolies on the court’s highest offices and dignities, profiting greatly from their vast rogai that Liudprand so vividly describes, the experience for the lesser elite was far different. Comprising approximately 80% of the court, individuals holding the dignities of protospatharios (senatorial elite) and below (lesser elite) served as the source of liquidity for the high salaries of the power elite (patrikios and above). By exchanging their accumulated wealth for perceived social capital, these single generation dignitaries of the lesser elite were able to provide the necessary funds for the state to appease the empire’s most powerful families without having to deplete the reserves of the imperial treasury.