web counter








THAT a spirit of dominion was implanted in the breasts of those early settlers or refugees who rallied around Romulus, when, about 750 BC, he raised his standard on the Palatine hill, is made plain by the subsequent history of that infant community; and the native daring which first won wives for a colony of outcasts, foreshadowed the career of conquest and empire which eventually attached itself to the Roman name. Contemned, doubtless, and disregarded by their more reputable neighbors as a band of adventurers with nothing to lose, in despair of being respected they determined to make themselves feared; and the original leaven was infused through every further accretion of population, and was entailed as an inheritance on all succeeding generations who peopled the expanding city of the Tiber. When their kings threatened to become despotic they drove them out; when the patricians attempted to maintain an exclusive control the more numerous plebs revolted and gradually achieved the establishment of a republic, in which political honors and aristocracy became synonymous with the ability to fill, or the energy to gain, a ruling position. They devoted themselves with enthusiasm to the task of self-government, and sacrificed their private interests to the welfare of the Republic. Without history and without science, inflated by ambition within their narrow sphere, they applied the conception of immortality, which millenniums would not justify, to being acclaimed in the ephemeral fervor of the populace or to being remembered for a few decades in the finite language of poetry and rhetoric.

While the Roman state was in its cradle a citizen and a soldier were equivalent terms, and every man gave his military service as a free contribution to the general welfare of the public. But as wars became frequent and aggressive, and armies were compelled to keep the field for indefinite periods, a system of payment was introduced in order to compensate the soldier for the enforced neglect of his family duties. By the continued growth of the military system, War became a profession, veteran legions sprang into existence, and generals, whose rank was virtually permanent, became a power among the troops and a menace to the state. Finally the transition was made from a republic governed by a democracy to an empire ruled by the army. In the meantime the dominion of Rome had been extended on all sides to the great natural barriers of its position on the hemisphere; to the Atlantic ocean on the west, to the Rhine, the Danube, and the Euxine on the north, to the Euphrates on the east, and on the south to the securest frontier of all, the impassable deserts of Libya and Arabia.

The first emperors affected to rule as civil magistrates and accepted their appointment from the Senate, but their successors assumed the purple as the nominees of the troops, and often held it by right of conquest over less able competitors. Concurrently the Imperial city had been insensibly undergoing a transformation; by the persistent influx of strangers of diverse nationalities its ethnical homogeneity was lost; a new and more populous Rome, in which the traditions of republican freedom were dissipated, was evolved; and the inhabitants without a murmur saw themselves deprived of the right to elect their own magistrates. The laws of the Republic were submitted for ratification to the citizens, but in the ascent to absolutism the emperor became the sole legislator of the nation.

The elevation of an emperor seemed at first to be an inalienable privilege of the metropolis, and the original line of Caesars necessarily descended from a genuine Roman stock; but in little more than a century the instability of this law was made plain, and many an able general of provincial blood was raised to the purple at his place of casual sojourn. In the sequel, when men of an alien race, who neither knew nor revered Rome, obtained the first rank, they chose their place of residence according to some native preference or in view of its utility as a base for military operations. The simultaneous assumption of the purple by several candidates in different localities, each at the head of an army, foreboded the division of the Empire; and after the second century an avowed sharing of the provinces became the rule rather than the exception. As each partner resided within his own territory, Rome gradually became neglected and at last preserved only a semblance of being the capital of the Empire. But after Constantine founded a capital of his own choice even this semblance was lost, and the new Rome on the Bosphorus assumed the highest political rank. From this event we may mark the beginning of mediaevalism, of the passing of western Europe under the cloud of the dark ages; and the disintegration of the Roman Empire in the West was achieved by the barbarians within the following century and a half.

In 395 a final partition of the Empire, naturally halved as it was by the Adriatic sea, was made; and the incapable sons of Theodosius, Arcadius and Honorius, were seated as independent sovereigns on thrones in the East and West. During this period a central administrative energy to uphold Rome as an Imperial seat was entirely wanting; and a succession of feeble emperors maintained a mere shadow of authority while their provinces were being appropriated by the surplus populations of the north. Italy and southwest Gaul became the prey of East and West Goths; the valorous Franks under Clovis founded a kingdom which made itself permanently respected under the name of France; Vandals, with kindred tribes, gained possession of Spain and even erected a monarchy in north Africa, which extended beyond the limits of ancient Carthage; Britain, divested of Roman soldiers in 409, for centuries became the goal of acquisitive incursions by the maritime hordes who issued from the adjacent sea­boards, Saxons, Angles, and Danes.

In the change from a nominally popular or constitutional monarchy to a professed despotism, a reconstitution of all subordinate authority was regarded as a matter of necessity. At first the Empire was administered in about forty provinces, but under the later scheme of control it was parcelled out into nearly three times that number. In earlier times a Roman proconsul in his spacious province was almost an independent potentate during his term of office, the head alike of the civil and military power. But in the new dispensation no man was intrusted with such plenary authority, and each contracted province was ruled by a purely civil administrator, whilst the local army obeyed a different master. For further security, each of these in turn was dependent on a higher civil or military officer, to whom was delegated the collective control of a number of his subordinates. Again a shift of authority was made, and the reins of government were delivered into fewer hands, until, at the head of the system, the source of all power, stood the Emperor himself. In order to perfect this policy the army itself was treated in detail on a similar plan; and for the future no homogeneous body of troops of considerable number was collocated in the hands of a single leader.

A typical Roman legion had previously consisted of about six thousand foot, seven hundred horse, and of a band of auxiliaries drawn from foreign or barbarian sources, in all, perhaps, ten thousand men. Each legion was thus in itself an effective force; and as it yielded implicit obedience to a single praefect, the loyalty or venality of a few such officers in respect of their common general had often sufficed to seat him firmly on the throne. To obviate the risk, therefore, of revolt, usurpation, or even of covert resistance to the will of the Emperor, existing legions were broken up into detachments which were relegated to different stations so as to be dispersed over a wide area. As a consequence the praefect of the legion could only exist in name, and that office was soon regarded as obsolete. Consistently, when new legions had to be enrolled for the exigences of defence or warfare, their number was limited to about one fifth of the original amount. To complete the fabric of autocracy all the pomp and pretensions of Oriental exclusiveness were adopted by Diocletian, so that henceforward the monarch was only accessible to the subject under forms of such complexity and abasement as seemed to betoken a being of more than mortal mould.

Another signal divergence from the simple manners of the first emperors was the permanent establishment of eunuchs in high offices about the royal person. The Grand Chamberlain, as the constant attendant on the privacy of the monarch, generally became his confidant, and sometimes his master.

Ultimately, by habitude, or perhaps with a feeling for the vicious propensities of the times, the Emperor developed an almost feminine reserve in relation to the "bearded" or masculine sex; and in his movements he was guarded by his staff of eunuchs with as much jealousy as if his virtue were something as delicate as that of a woman.


The dominions of Anastasius the Elder, for there was a later emperor of that name, corresponded generally to those ruled during the first quarter of the past century by the Ottoman sultans, who were the last to conquer them, and who became possessed of the whole in 1461. Proceeding from east to west, the northern boundary of the Empire followed the coast of the Euxine in its sweep from the mouth of the Phasis (adjacent to the modern town of Batoum) to the estuaries of the Danube, as it delimits Asia on the north and Europe on the east, by the bold curve of its unequal arms. From the latter point, taking the Danube for its guide, the northern frontier stretched westwards to its termination on the banks of that river in the neighborhood of Sirmium. The western border, descending from thence almost due south, was directed in part of its course by the river Drina, and halved nearly vertically the modern principality of Montenegro as it struck towards the shores of the Adriatic. The coast of Greece, with its associated islands on this aspect, traced the western outline of the Empire for the rest of its course, excepting a small portion to be reached by crossing the Mediterranean to the Syrtis Major, where at this date the confines of Roman Africa were to be found. In this vicinity the Egyptian territory began, and the southern frontier coincided for the most part with the edge of the Libyan desert as it skirts the fertile lands of the north and east, that is, the Cyrenaica and the valley of the Nile. An artificial line, cutting that valley on a level with the first cataract and the Isle of Philae, marked the southern extension of Egypt as far as claimed by the Byzantine emperors.' From a corresponding point on the opposite shore of the Red Sea the Asiatic border of their dominions began. Passing northwards to regain that part of the Euxine from whence we started, the eastern frontier pursued a long and irregular track, at first along the margin of the Arabian desert as it verges on the Sinaitic peninsula, Palestine, and Syria; then crossing the Euphrates it gained the Tigris, so as to include the northern portion of Mesopotamia. Finally, returning to the former river, it joined it in its course along the western limits of Armenia, whence it reached the Phasis on the return journey, the point from which we set out. Considered in their greatest length, from the Danube above Sirmium, to Syene on the Nile, and in their extreme width, from the Tigris in the longitude of Daras or Nisibis, to the Acroceraunian rocks on the coast of Epirus, these ample dominions stretch from north to south for nearly eighteen hundred miles, and from east to west for more than twelve hundred. In superficial area this tract may be estimated to contain about half a million of square miles, that is, an amount of surface fully four times greater than that covered by Great Britain and Ireland. At the present day it is calculated that these vast regions are peopled by only about twenty-eight millions of inhabitants, but their modern state of decay is practically the reverse of their condition in the sixth century, when they were the flourishing, though already failing, seat of the highest civil­ization at that time existing on the earth; and there is good reason to believe that they were then considerably more, perhaps even double as, populous.

For the purposes of civil government the Empire was divided into sixty-four provinces, each of which was placed under an administrator, who was usually drawn from the profession of the law. These officers were, as a rule, of nearly equal rank, but in three instances the exceptional extent and importance of the provinces necessitated the bestowal of a title more lofty than usual on the governors.


The whole of Greece, including Hellas proper and the Peloponnesus, though now no longer classical, was ruled under the name of Achaia by a vicegerent, to whom was conceded the almost obsolete dignity of a proconsul. 2. Similarly, the central maritime division of Asia Minor, containing the important cities of Smyrna and Ephesus with many others and grandiosely named ‘Asia’, was also allowed to confer on its ruler the title of proconsul. This magistrate had the privilege of reporting directly to the Emperor without an intermediary, and had also jurisdiction over the governors of two adjacent provinces, viz.: the Hellespont, which abutted on the strait of that name, and The Islands, a term applied collectively to about a score of the Cyclades and Sporades. 3. The main district of Lower Egypt, adorned by the magnificent and populous city of Alexandria, the second capital of the Empire, was placed under an administrator bearing the unique title of the Augustal Praefect. The sixty-one remaining provinces were entrusted to governors of practically the same standing; of these, twenty-seven were called consulars, thirty-one presidents, two correctors, and one duke, the latter officer being on the southern frontier of Egypt, apparently in both civil and military charge.

To enumerate severally in this place all the petty provinces of the Empire would be mere prolixity, but there are a few whose designations present peculiarities which may save them from being passed over without notice. The comprehensive names of Europe and Scythia, which in general suggest such vast expansions of country, were given to two small portions of Thrace, the first to that which extended up to the walls of Constantinople, and the second to the north-east corner which lay between the Danube and the Euxine. With parallel magniloquence, a limited area adjoining the south­east border of Palestine was denominated Arabia. The maritime province of Honorias on the north of Asia Minor, perpetuated the memory of the despicable Emperor of the West, Honorius. The name of Arcadia awakens us to reminiscences of Mount Cyllene with Hermes and ‘universal’ Pan, of Artemis with her train of nymphs heading the chase through the woods of Erymanthus, or of the historic career of Epaminondas and the foundation of Megalopolis. But the Arcadia officially recognized in the Eastern Empire had no higher associations than the feeble son of Theodosius, brother of the above-named, and we may be surprised to find it in central Egypt with Oxyrhyncus and Memphis for its chief towns.

By a second disposition of the Empire of an inclusive kind the provinces were grouped in seven Dioceses, namely: three European, Dacia, Thrace, and Macedonia; three Asiatic, the Asian, the Pontic, and the Orient; and one African, Egypt. The first of these obeys the Praetorian Praefect of Illyricum, the sixth the Count of the Orient or East, and the last the Augustal Praefect, whilst the rulers of the remaining four are entitled Vicars. When I add that the Orient, the most extensive of these divisions, comprised in fifteen provinces the whole of Palestine and Syria as well as the southern tract of Asia Minor, from the Tigris to the Mediterranean, and the island of Cyprus, the limits of the other dioceses may be conjectured from their names with sufficient accuracy for our present purpose. By a final partition the dominions of the Byzantine Emperor were assigned, but very unequally, to two officers of the highest or Illustrious rank, viz.: the Praetorian Praefects of the East and of Illyricum. Dacia and Macedonia fell to the rule of the latter, whilst the remaining five dioceses were consolidated under the control of the former minister. The Praefect of the East is in general to be regarded as the subject in closest proximity to the throne, in fact, the first minister of the crown. The Imperial capital, as being outside all these subordinate arrangements, was treated as a microcosm in itself; and with its Court in permanent residence, its bureaus of central administration, and its special Praefect of Illustrious rank, may almost be considered as a third of the prime divisions of the Empire. Here, as a rule, through the long series of Byzantine annals, by the voice of the populace and the army, or by the intrigues of the Court, emperors were made or unmade.


The whole Empire was traversed by those narrow, but solidly constructed roads, the abundant remains of which still attest how thoroughly his work was done by the Roman engineer. The repair and maintenance of these public ways was enjoined on the possessors of the lands through which they passed; and similarly in the case of waterways, the care of bridges and banks was an onus on the shoulders of the riparian owners. On all the main roads an elaborate system of public posts was studiously maintained; and at certain intervals, about the length of an average day's journey, mansions or inns were located for the accommodation of those travelling on the public service. Each of such stations was equipped with a sufficient number of light and heavy vehicles, of draught horses and oxen, of pack-horses, sumpter mules, and asses for the exigences of local transit. Stringent rules were laid down for the equitable loading of both animals and carriages, and also for the humane treatment of the former. Thus a span of four oxen was allowed to draw a load of fifteen hundred pounds, but the burden of an ordinary pack-horse was limited to thirty. It was forbidden to beat the animals with heavy or knotted sticks; they were to be urged onwards by the use only of a sharp whip or rod fit to "admonish their lagging limbs with a harmless sting".

In addition to the mansions there were usually four or five intermediate stations called mutations, where a few relays were kept for the benefit of those speeding on an urgent mission. The abuse of the public posts was jealously guarded against, and only those bearing an order from the Emperor or one of the Praetorian Praefects could command their facilities, and then only to an extent restricted to their purely official requirements. A Vicar could dispose of a train of ten horses and thirteen asses on a dozen occasions in the year, in order to make tours of inspection throughout his diocese; legates from foreign countries and delegates from provincial centres, journeying to Constantinople to negotiate a treaty or to lay their grievances before the Emperor, were provided for according to circumstances. The highways were constantly permeated by the Imperial couriers bearing dispatches to or from the capital. These emissaries were also deputed to act as spies, and to report at headquarters any suspicious occurrences they might observe on their route, whence they were popularly spoken of as "the eyes of the Emperor". They were known by their military cloak and belt, their tight trousers, and by a spray of feathers in their hair to symbolize the swiftness of their course. One or two were appointed permanently to each province with the task of scouring the district continually as inspectors of the public posts. There was also a regular police patrol on the roads, called Irenarchs, whose duty it was to act as guardians of the peace.

A Roman emperor of this age, as an admitted despot subjected to no constitutional restraints, could formulate and promulgate whatever measures commended themselves to his arbitrary will. But such authority, however absolute in theory, must always be restricted in practice by the operation of sociological laws. Although a prince with a masterful personality might dominate his subordinates to become the father or the scourge of his country, a feeble monarch would always be the slave of his great officers of state. Yet even the former had to stoop to conciliate the people or the army, and a sovereign usually stood on treacherous ground when attempting to maintain a balance between the two. The army, as the immediate and effectual instrument of repression, was generally chosen as the first stay of the autocracy, and there are few instances of a Byzantine emperor whose throne was not on more than one occasion cemented with the blood of his subjects. But many a virtuous prince in his efforts to curb the licence of the troops lost both his scepter and his life.

The Council of the Emperor, besides the three Praefects already mentioned, consisted of five civil and of an equal number of military members, all of Illustrious dignity. Their designations were severally: 1. Praepositus of the Sacred Cubicle, or Grand Chamberlain, Master of the Offices, Quaestor, Count of the Sacred Largesses, and Count of the Privy Purse. 2. Five Masters of Horse and Foot, two at head-quarters, and one each for the Orient, Thrace, and Illyricum. To these may be added the Archbishop or Patriarch of Constantinople, always a great power in the State. In the presence of a variable number of these ministers it was usual for the Emperor to declare his will, to appeal to their judgment, or to act on their representations, but the time, place, and circumstances of meeting were entirely in the discretion of the prince. The formal sittings of the Council were not held in secret, but before an audience of such of the Spectabiles as might wish to attend. The legislation of the Emperor, comprised under the general name of Constitutions, fell naturally into two classes, viz., laws promulgated on his own initiative and those issued in response to some petition. Edicts, Acts, Mandates, Pragmatic Sanctions, and Epistles usually ranked in the first division; Rescripts in the second. A Rescript was granted, as a rule, in compliance with an ex parte application, and might be disregarded by the authority to whom it was addressed should it appear to have been obtained by false pretences, but the Court which set it aside did so at its own peril.


The Senate of Constantinople, created in imitation of that of Rome, was designed by Constantine rather to grace his new capital than to exercise any of the functions of government. Like the new order of patricians, the position of Senator was mainly an honorary and not an executive rank. All the members enjoyed the title of Clarissimus, that of the third grade of nobility, and assembled under the presidency of the Praefect of the city. As a body the Senate was treated with great ostensible consideration by the Emperor, and was never referred to in the public acts without expressions of the highest esteem, such as ‘the Venerable’, ‘the Most Noble Order, amongst whom we reckon ourselves’. This public parade of their importance, however, endowed them with a considerable moral power in the popular idea; and the subscription of the impotent Senate was not seldom demanded by a prudent monarch to give a wider sanction to his acts of oppression or cruelty. During an interregnum their voice was usually heard with attention; and a prince with a weak or failing title to the throne would naturally cling to them for support. They were sometimes constituted as a High Court for the trial of criminal cases of national importance, such as conspiring against the rule or life of the Emperor. They could pass resolutions to be submitted for the approval of the crown; they had a share in the nomination of some of the higher and lower officials; and they performed generally the duties of a municipal council.

In addition to the Imperial provinces there was also, to facilitate the work of local government, a subsidiary division of the Empire into Municipia. Every large town or city, with a tract of the surrounding country, was formed into a municipal district and placed under the charge of a local Senate or Curia. The members of a Curia were called Decurions, and were selected officially to the number of about one hundred from the more reputable inhabitants of the vicinity. They not only held office for life, but transmitted it compulsorily to their heirs, so that the State obtained a perpetual lien on the services of their descendants. In each Municipium the official of highest rank was the ‘Defender of the City’, who was elected to his post for five years by the independent suffrage of the community. His chief duty was to defend the interests of his native district against the Imperial officers who, as aliens to the locality, were assumed to have little knowledge or concern as to its actual welfare. He became ex officio president of the Curia; and in conjunction with them acted as a judge of first instance or magistrate in causes of lesser importance.

A provincial governor, generally called the Rector or Ordinary Judge, held open court at his Praetorium and sat within his chancel every morning to hear all causes brought before him. His chancellors guarded the trellis, which fenced off the outer court against the onrush of eager suitors; within, the advocates delivered their pleadings, whilst a body of scribes and actuaries took a record in writing of the whole proceedings. The precincts were crowded with his apparitors, officers upon whom devolved the duty of executing the judgements of the court. With the aid of his assessor, a legal expert well versed in the text of the law, the Rector elaborated his judgment, a written copy of which he was bound to deliver to each litigant. But if his decision were asked in cases which seemed too trivial for his personal attention, he was empowered to hand them over to a class of petty judges called pedanei judices. From the provincial court an appeal lay to the Vicar of the Diocese, or even to the Emperor himself, but appellants were severely mulcted if convicted of merely contentious litigation. At certain seasons the Rector went on circuit throughout his province to judge causes and to inspect abuses.


The permanent existence of any community in a state of political cohesion depends on its possession of the means to defray the expenses of government; and, therefore, the first duty of every primary ruler or administrative body in chief is to collect a revenue for the maintenance of a national treasury. The Roman or Byzantine system of raising money or its equivalent, by means of imposts laid on the subjects of the Empire, included every conceivable device of taxing the individual for the benefit of the state. The public were called on not only to fill the treasury, but were constrained to devote their resources in kind, their time, and their labor to the needs of the government. To obtain every requisite without purchase for the administration was the economical policy of the ruling class. Food and clothing, arms and horses, commuted to a money payment if the thing were unattainable, were levied systematically for the use of the civil and military establishment. The degree of personal liability was determined by the assessment of property, and those who were possessed of nothing were made liable for their heads. Social distinctions and commercial transactions were also taxed under well-defined categories. A considerable section of the community was, however, legally freed from the regular imposts. This indulgence was granted especially to the inhabitants of cities, whose facilities for combination and sedition were always contemplated with apprehension by the jealous despot. But immunity from taxation was also extended with some liberality to all who devoted themselves to art or learning.

The financial year began with the first of September, and was spoken of numerically as an indiction, according to its place in a perpetually recurring series of fifteen. Properly an indiction was the period of fifteen years which separated each new survey and revaluation of the private estates throughout the Empire. At the beginning of such a term the Imperial Censitors or surveyors pervaded the country districts, registering in their books and on their plans all the details of the new census. Their record showed the amount of the possessions of each landowner; the quality of the land; to what extent it was cultivated or lay waste; in what proportions it was laid out in vineyards and olive-grounds; in woods, pastures, and arable land. The number and magnitude of the farm and residential buildings were carefully noted, and even the geniality of the climate, and the apparent fecundity of the fruit-bearing trees, which were separately counted and disposed in classes, exercised the judgment of the Censitor in furnishing materials for a just estimate as to the value of an estate. Essential also to the cataster, or assessment, was a list of the flocks and herds possessed by the owner. The particulars supplied by the Censitor passed into the hands of another official named a Peraequator. He divided the district into ‘heads’ of property, each computed to be of the value of 1,000 solidi, and assigned to each landowner his census, that is, the number of heads for which in future he would be taxed. This assessment was not based on a mere valuation of the property of each person; it was complicated by the principle of Byzantine finance that all land should pay to the Imperial exchequer. It was the duty, therefore, of a Peraequator, to assign a nominal possession in barren or deserted land to each owner in fair proportion to his apparent means. Thus the possessor of a valuable farm was often encumbered with a large increment of worthless ground, whilst the owner of a poor one might escape such a burthen. Yet a third official, called an Inspector, came upon the scene, but his services were not always constant or comprehensive. He visited the province in response to petitions or appeals from dissatisfied owners, or was sent to solve matters of perplexity. His acquirements were the same as those of a Peraequator, but, whereas the latter was obliged to impose a rate on some one for every hide of land, the Inspector was allowed considerable discretion. After a strict scrutiny he was empowered to give relief in clear cases of over-assessment, and even to exclude altogether any tracts of land which could not fairly be imposed on any of the inhabitants of the district. Before final ratification, the cataster had to pass under the eyes of the local Curia, the provincial Rector, and of the Imperial financiers at the capital. The polyptica or censual books were then closed, and remained immutable until the next indiction.

2. Appended to the land survey was a register of the labourers, slaves, and animals employed by the possessors of estates; and upon every ordinary adult of this caste a poll­tax was imposed. Similarly with respect to every animal which performed a task, horses, oxen, mules, and asses for draught purposes, and even dogs. For this demand the landowner alone was dealt with by the authorities, but he was entitled to recover from his laborers whatever he paid on account of themselves or their families. As this capitation was very moderate, the individual was freed from it by the possession of the smallest holding, and subjected to the land-tax instead; but the farmer still paid vicariously for his work-people, even when assessed on property of their own. Slaves were always, of course, a mere personal asset of their masters, and incapable of ownership. A sweeping immunity from poll-tax was conferred on all urban communities, whence nobles and plutocrats escaped the impost for the hosts of servants they sometimes maintained at their city mansions; but even in the rural districts, virgins, widows, certain professional men, and skilled artizans generally, were exempt.

3. Port or transit dues, called vectigalia, were levied on all merchandise transported from one province to another for the sake of gain, that is, for resale at a profit; but for purely personal use residents were permitted to pass a limited quantity of goods free of tax. In this category may be included licenses for gold-mining, which cost the venturer about a guinea a year. Taxes of this class were let out by public auction for a term of three years to those who bid highest for the concession of collecting them. Export of gold from the Empire was forbidden, and those who had the opportunity, were exhorted to use every subterfuge in order to obtain it from the barbarians.

4. A tax, peculiar in some respects to the Byzantine Empire, was the lustral collation or chrysargyron, a duty of the most comprehensive character on the profits of all commercial transactions. Trade in every shape and form was subjected to it, not excepting the earnings of public prostitutes, beggars, and probably even of catamites. The chrysargyron was collected every fourth year only, and for this reason, as it appears, was felt to be a most oppressive tax. Doubtless the demand was large in proportion to the lapse of time since the last exaction, and weighed upon those taxed, like a sudden claim for accumulated arrears. When the time for payment arrived, a wail went up from all the small traders whose traffic barely sufficed to keep them in the necessaries of life. To procure the money, parents frequently, it is said, had to sell their sons into servitude and their daughters for prostitution. There were limited exemptions in favor of ministers of the orthodox faith and retired veterans, who might engage in petty trade; of artists selling their own works; and of farmers who sold only their own produce. The most popular and, perhaps, the boldest measure of Anastasius, was the abrogation of this tax. Fortifying himself with the acquiescence of the Senate, he proclaimed its abolition, caused all the books and papers relating to this branch of the revenue to be heaped up in the sphendone of the Hippodrome, and publicly committed them to the flames. The chrysargyron was never afterwards reimposed.

5. With some special taxes reaped from dignitaries of state, the income derived from crown lands and state mines, and with fines, forfeitures, and heirless patrimonies, the flow of revenue into the Imperial coffers ceased. From a fiscal point of view there were four classes of Senators, or to consider more accurately, perhaps, only two : those who were held to contribute something to the treasury in respect of their rank, and those who were absolved from paying anything. Wealthy Senators, possessed of great estates, paid an extraordinary capitation proportioned to the amount of their property, but lands merely adjected to fill up the census were exempt under this heading; those of only moderate means were uniformly indicted for two folles, or purses of silver; whilst the poorest class of all were obliged to a payment of seven solidi only, about with a recommendation to resign if they felt unequal to this small demand. Members who enjoyed complete immunity were such as received the title of Senator in recognition of long, but comparatively humble, service to the state; amongst these we find certain officers of the Guards, physicians, professors of the liberal arts, and others. Not even, however, with their set contributions were the Senators released from the pecuniary onus of their dignity, for they were expected to subscribe handsome sums collectively to be presented to the sovereign on every signal occasion, such as New Year's day, lustral anniversaries of his reign, birth of an heir, etc. When any of the great functionaries of state, during or on vacating office, were ennobled with the supreme title of patrician, an offering of 100 lb. of gold was considered to be the smallest sum by which he could fittingly express his gratitude to the Emperor; this accession of revenue was particularly devoted to the expenses of the aqueducts. Art oblation of two or three horses was also exacted every five years for the public service from those who acquired honorary codicils of ex-president or ex-count. Finally a tax, also under the semblance of a present, was laid on the Decurions of each municipality, who, in acknowledgement of their public services, were freed from all the lesser imposts. To this contribution was applied the name of coronary gold, the conception of which arose in earlier times when gold, in the form of crowns or figures of Victory, was presented to the Senate, or to the generals of the Republic who had succeeded in subjecting them, by conquered nations in token of their subservience. These presentations were enjoined on every plausible occasion of public rejoicing and the Imperial officials did not forget to remind the local Curiae of their duty to overlook no opportunity of conveying their con­gratulations in a substantial manner to the Emperor. The Imperial demesnes lay chiefly in Cappadocia, which contained some breadths of pasture land unequalled in any other part of the Empire. The province was from the earliest times famous for its horses, which were considered as equal, though not quite, to the highly-prized Spanish breeds in the West. Mines for gold, silver, and other valuable minerals, including marble quarries, were regularly worked by the Byzantine government in several localities both in Europe and Asia; but history has furnished us with no precise indications as to the gains drawn from them. Under the penal code, to send criminals to work in the mines was classed as one of the severest forms of punishment.

The exaction of the annones and tributes, expressions which virtually included all the imposts, was the incessant business of the official class. At the beginning of each financial year the measure of the precept to be paid by each district was determined in the office of the Praetorian Praefeet, subscribed by the Emperor, and disseminated through the provinces by means of notices affixed in the most public places. A grace of four months was conceded and then the gathering in of the annones or canon of provisions, which included corn, wine, oil, flesh, and every other necessary for the support of the army and the free distributions to the urban populace, began. Delivery was enjoined in three instalments at intervals of four months, but payments in gold were not enforced until the end of the year. The Exactors, who waited on the tributaries to urge them to performance, were usually decurions or apparitors of the Rector. The Imperial constitutions directed with studied benignity that no ungracious demeanour should be adopted towards the tax­payers, that no application should be made on Sundays, that they should not be approached by opinators, that is, by soldiers in charge of the military commissariat, that they should, when possible, be allowed the privilege of autopragias or voluntary delivery, and that, if recalcitrant, they should not be sent to prison or tortured, but allowed their liberty under formal arrest. Only in the last resource was anything of their substance seized as a pledge, to be sold under the spear if unredeemed, but in general any valid excuse was accepted and the tributaries were allowed to run into arrears. Consonantly, however, to the prevailing principle every effort was made by the Exactors to amass the full precept from the locality, and those who could pay were convened to make up for the defaulters. The actual receivers of the canon were named Susceptors, and their usual place of custom was at the mansions or mutations of the public posts. Scales and measures were regularly kept at these stations, and on stated occasions a Susceptor was in attendance accompanied by a tabularius, a clerk who was in charge of the censual register which showed the liability of each person in the municipality. The tabularius gave a receipt couched in precise terms to each tributary for the amount of his payment or consignment, particulars of which he also entered in a book kept permanently for the purpose.

The system of adaeratio, or commutation of species for money, was extensively adopted to obviate difficulties of delivery in kind; and this was especially the case with respect to clothing or horses for the army, or when transit was arduous by reason of distance or rough country. The transport of the annones and tributes to their destination was a work of some magnitude, and was under the special supervision of the Vicar of the diocese. Inland the bastagari, the appointed branch of the public service, effected the transmission by means of the beasts of burden kept at the mansions of the Posts; by sea the navicularii performed the same task. The latter formed a corporation of considerable importance to which they were addicted as the decurions were to the Curia. Selected from the seafaring population who possessed ships of sufficient tonnage, their vessels were chartered for the conveyance of the canon of provisions as a permanent and compulsory duty. Money payments, in coin or ingots, went to the capital; provisions to the public granaries of Constantinople or Alexandria, the two cities endowed with a free victualling market, or were widely dispersed to various centres to supply rations for the troops.

Besides the ordinary officials engaged in exaction there were several of higher rank to supervise their proceedings: Discussors, the Greek logothetes, who made expeditions into the provinces from time to time to scrutinize and audit the accounts; surveyors of taxes, Senators preferably, whose duties were defined by the term protostasia, to whom the Susceptors were immediately responsible; and lastly Compulsors, officers of the central bureaucracy, Agentes-in-rebus, palatines attached to the treasury, even Protectors, who were sent on special missions to stimulate the Rectors when the taxes of a province were coming in badly.

As to the revenue of the Roman Empire at this or at any previous period, the historian can pronounce no definitive word, but it concerns us to note here one important fact, viz., that Anastasius during the twenty-seven years of his reign saved about half a million sterling per annum, so that at his death he left a surplus in the treasury.


The political position of the Roman Empire in respect of its foreign relations presents a remarkable contrast to anything we are accustomed to conceive of in the case of a modern state. Having absorbed into its own system everything of civilization which lay within reach of its arms, there was henceforth no field in which statesmanship could exert itself by methods of negotiation or diplomacy in relation to the dwellers beyond its borders. Encompassed by barbarians, to live by definite treaty on peaceful terms with its neighbors became outside the range of policy or foresight; and its position is only comparable to that of some great bulwark founded to resist the convulsions of nature, which may leave it unassailed for an indefinite period, or attack it without a moment's warning with irresistible violence. The vast territories stretching from the Rhine and the Danube to the frontiers of China, nearly a quarter of the circumference of the globe, engendered a teeming population, nomads for the most part, without fixed abodes, who threatened continually to overflow their boundaries and bring destruction on every settled state lying in their path. Among such races the army and the nation were equivalent terms; the whole people moved together, and inhabited for the time being whatever lands they had gained by right of conquest. But their career was brought to a close when they subdued nations much more numerous than themselves, with fixed habitations and engaged in the arts of peace; and they then possessed the country as a dominant minority, which, whilst giving a peculiar tincture to the greater mass, was gradually assimilated by it. In classical and modern times conquest usually signifies merely annexation, but in the Middle Ages it implied actual occupation by the victors. Such was the fate of the Western Empire, when Italy, Africa, Spain, Gaul, and Britain were dissevered from each other by various inroads; and those countries at the time I am writing of are found to be in such a transitional state. Nor can Thrace and Illyricum, though forming a main portion of the Eastern Empire, be properly omitted from this list; for, exposed to barbarian incursions during more than two centuries, they enjoyed a merely nominal settlement under the Imperial government; and if we contemplate the Long Wall of Anastasius, at a distance of only forty miles from the capital, we shall need no further evidence that the Byzantines exercised no more than a shadow of political supremacy in these regions. But an exception to the foregoing conditions was generally experienced by the Romans on their eastern frontier, where the Parthian or Persian power was often able to meet them with a civil and military organization equal to their own.

The elaborate scheme for the defence of the Empire against its restless and reckless foes was brought to perfection under Diocletian and Constantine. Armies and fleets judiciously posted were always ready to repel an attack or to carry offensive operations into an enemy's country. A chain of muniments guarded the frontiers in every locality where an assault could be feared. Forts and fortified camps sufficiently garrisoned lined every barrier, natural or artificial, at measured distances. Suitable war vessels floated on the great circumscribing waterways; and where these were deficient their place was supplied by walls of masonry, by trenches, embankments, and pallisades, or even by heterogeneous obstructions formed of felled trees with their branches entangled one with the other.


Border lands were granted only to military occupants, who held them by a kind of feudal tenure in return for their service on the frontier. Every important station was guarded by from 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers and in the Eastern Empire the division of the army to which such duties were assigned may have amounted to over 200,000 men of all arms. These forces were called the Limitanei Milites, or Border Soldiers, and in each province of the exterior range were under the command collectively of a Count or Duke. Such were the stationary forces of the Empire, of whose services the frontiers could not be depleted should a mobile army be required to meet the exigences of strategic warfare. Large bodies of troops were, therefore, quartered in the interior of the country, which could be concentrated in any particular locality under the immediate disposition of the Masters of the Forces.

This portion of the army was organized in two divisions to which were given the names of Palatines and Comitatenses. The former, which held the first rank, were stationed in or near the capital under the two Masters at head-quarters; and, in accordance with their designation, were identified most nearly with the conception of defending the Imperial Palace or heart of the state. The latter were distributed throughout the provinces under the three Masters whose military rule extended over the East, Thrace, and Illyricum respectively.

The Palatine troops comprised about 50,000 men, the Comitatenses about 70,000. Cavalry formed a large proportion of all the forces, and may be estimated at about one third of the Limitanei and nearly one fourth of the other branches. In addition to these troops a fourth military class, the highest of all, was formed, the Imperial Guards already mentioned, viz., the Excubitors, Protectors, Candidates, and Scholars. The latter body consisted of seven troops of cavalry, each 500 strong, 3,500 in all. Owing their position solely to birth or veteran service, the three former groups were probably much less numerous, but their actual number is unknown. The usual division of the infantry was the legion of 1,000 men, that of the horse the vexillatio containing 500. The various bodies of foot soldiers were distinguished by the particular emblems which were depicted on their brightly painted shields, but amongst horse and foot alike each separate body was recognizable by an ensign of special design, for the former a vexillum, for the latter a dragon. The Imperial standard, or that of the general in chief command, was a purple banner embroidered with gold and of exceptional size. The vexilla were dependent horizontally from a cross-bar fixed to the pole or spear by which they were elevated. Mounted lancers displayed small pennons or streamers near the points of their weapons, but these were removed as an encumbrance on the eve of battle. Full armor was worn, in some troops even by the horses. Besides the weapons adapted for close conflict, much reliance was placed on missiles, javelins and slings, but especially bows and arrows in the hands of mounted archers.

In replenishing the ranks great discrimination was exercised; and not only the physical fitness of the recruit, but the social atmosphere in which he had sprung up was made the subject of strict inquiry. No slave was accepted as a soldier, nor any youth whose mind had been debased by menial employment or by traffic for petty gains in the slums of a city. The sons of veterans were impressed into the service, and the landowners had periodically either to provide from their own family or to pay a computed sum for the purchase of a substitute among such as were not liable to conscription. Many of the turbulent barbarian tribes on being subdued were obliged by the articles of a treaty to pay an annual tribute of their choicest youths to the armies of the Empire. In addition to the regular forces, barbarian contingents, called foederati, obeying their own leaders, were often bound by a league to serve under the Imperial government. In Europe the Goths, in Asia the Saracens, were usually the most important of such allies. Of the former nation Constantine at one time attached to himself as many as 40,000, an effort in which he was afterwards emulated by the great Theodosius. The warships of the period were mostly long, low galleys impelled by one bank of oars from twenty to thirty in number, built entirely with a view to swiftness and hence called drornons or 'runners'. The smaller ones were employed on the rivers, the larger for operations at sea. After a period of service varying from fifteen to twenty-four years the soldier could retire as a veteran with a gratuity, a grant of land, and exemption from taxation on a graduated scale for himself and his family.

Such was the carefully digested scheme of military defence bequeathed to his successors by Constantine, who doubtless anticipated that he had granted a lease of endurance to the regenerated Empire for many centuries to come. But in the course of a hundred and fifty years this fine system fell gradually to pieces; and by the beginning of the sixth century no more than a cento of the original fabric can be discerned in the chronicles of the times. The whole forces were diminished almost to a moiety of their full complement; the great peripheral bulwark of the Limitanei, scarcely discoverable on the Illyrian frontier, in other regions was represented by meager bodies of one or two hundred men; whilst the Palatines and Comitatenses betrayed such an altered character that they could claim merely a nominal existence. The very name of legion, so identified with Roman conquest, but no longer available in the deteriorated military organization, became obsolete. In a Byzantine army at this period three constituents exist officially, but with little practical distinction. They appear as the Numeri, the Foederati, and the Buccellarii.

The Numeri are the regular troops of the Empire, horse and foot, enrolled under the direct command of the Masters of the Forces, but the principle of strict selection has been virtually abandoned, applicants are accepted indiscriminately, and even slaves are enlisted and retained under any plausible pretext.

The Foederafi now consist of bodies of mercenaries raised as a private speculation by soldiers of fortune, with the expectation of obtaining lucrative terms for their services from the Imperial government. Such regiments were formed without regard to nationality, and might be composed mainly, or in part, of subjects of the Empire, or be wholly derived from some tribe of outer barbarians who offered themselves in a body for hire. On being engaged, each band received an optio or adjutant, who formed the connecting link between them and the central authorities, and arranged all matters relating to their annones and stipend. But the tie was so loose that even on a foreign expedition they might arbitrarily dissolve the contract for some trivial reason, and possibly join the enemy's forces.

The Buctellarii are the armed retainers or satellites of the Byzantine magnates, whether civil or military, but especially of the latter. Officially they are reckoned among the Foederati, and are obliged to take an oath of allegiance, not only to their actual chief, but also to the Emperor. Their number varied according to the rank and wealth of their employers, and in the case of the Praetorian Praefects, or the Masters of the Forces, might amount to several thousands. In each company they were divided into two classes, named respectively the lancers and the shieldmen. The former were selected men who formed the personal guard of their leader, the latter the rank and file who were officered by them. The lancers were invariably cavalry, the shieldmen not necessarily so. These satellites were recruited preferably amongst the Isaurians, a hardy race of highlanders, who, though within the Empire, always maintained a quasi-independence in their mountain fastnesses, and devoted themselves openly to brigandage. To check their depredations a military Count was always set over that region, which thus resembled a frontier rather than an interior province. A fleet of warships was not kept up systematically at this epoch, but in view of an expedition, owing to the small size of the vessels, a navy could be created in a few weeks.

From the foregoing specification it will be perceived that the method of enrollment constituted the only practical difference between the three classes of soldiers who marched in the ranks of a Byzantine army. The maintenance of the Empire rested, therefore, on a heterogeneous multitude, trained to the profession of arms no doubt, but without the cohesion of nationality or uniform military discipline. In the multifarious host the word of command was given in Latin, which Greek and barbarian alike were taught to understand.


Every student of ancient history is familiar with the methods of warfare among the Greeks and Romans; with the impenetrable, but inactive, phalanx which subdued the eastern world; and with the less solid, but mobile, legion which ultimately succeeded in mastering it. Such armies consisted mainly of infantry; and the small bodies of cavalry attached to them, amounting to one tenth, or, perhaps, to as little as one twentieth part of the whole, were intended merely to protect the flanks of each division, or to render more effective the pursuit of a flying enemy. In those times, therefore, the horsemen were only an auxiliary force, which never engaged in battle as an independent army. But in the multiple operations against elusive barbarians in the wide circuit of the Roman Empire, experience made it evident that the mobility of cavalry was indispensable in order to deal effectively with such wary and reckless foes. Early in the fourth century the number and importance of the cavalry had increased to such an extent that they were relegated to a separate command; and the Master of the Horse was regarded as of superior rank to his colleague of the infantry. In the East, however, both branches of the service were soon combined under a single commander-in-chief; and henceforward the first military officers are entitled Masters of the Horse and Foot, or, collectively, of the Forces.

At the period I am writing about, the usual routine of a pitched battle is to range the infantry in the centre with large squadrons of cavalry on either flank. Both armies first exhaust their supply of missiles, after which a general engagement at close quarters ensues. By the aid of various evolutions, concealed reserves, and unexpected manceuvres, the opposing generals strive to take each other at a disadvantage, and victory rests with the most skilful or fortunate tactician. Single combats in the interspace between the two armies are not unfrequently initiatory to a battle; and sometimes a campaign is decided by conflicts of cavalry alone.

The various classes of Imperial guards still exist as a fourth division of the army, but, owing to the introduction of a system of purchase, these corps have degenerated into the condition of being mere figures to be mechanically paraded in the course of state pageantry; soldiers apparently, and in resplendent uniforms, but unversed in war, who would sooner buy their release for a large sum than enter on a campaign.


The wars of Anastasius may be reviewed briefly in this section. They were four in number.


At the outset of his reign he found himself opposed within the capital by a strong faction of turbulent Isaurians, the relations and adherents of the late Emperor Zeno. Some of these held high office, and had even aspired to the throne. On their dismissal and banishment from Constantinople the leaders fled to Isauria, where they levied large forces, and raised a rebellion by the aid of arms and treasure which Zeno had seen fit to amass in his native province. The insurgents kept up hostilities for a long period with declining success against the Imperial generals, and the revolt was not fully suppressed till the seventh year (498). In the fourth year of the war, however, the ringleaders were captured and decapitated, and their heads were sent to Constantinople, where they were exhibited to the populace fixed on poles in the suburb of Sycae. The pacification of the province was achieved by this war more effectually than on any previous occasion, and the Isaurians do not again appear in history as refractory subjects of the Empire.


In 502 the Persian king, Cavades, applied to Anastasius for the loan of a large sum of money which he required in order to cement an alliance with the barbarian nation of the Nephthalites or White Huns. For politic reasons this loan was refused, and the exasperated potentate immediately turned his arms against the Empire. He invaded the western portion of Armenia, which was under Roman suzerainty, and took one or two towns of minor importance before an army could be sent against him. The principal feature of this war, which lasted about four years, was the capture and recovery of Amida, a strongly fortified city of considerable size, situated in northern Mesopotamia, on the banks of the Tigris. Although ill-garrisoned, and neither armed nor provisioned to stand a siege, the inhabitants received the Persians with the most insulting defiance and made a very determined resistance for some months. The massive walls withstood the attacking engines, and all the devices of the besiegers were baffled by the ingenuity of those within the city. In despair Cavades had already given orders to raise the siege when the downfall of Amida was brought about by a very singular circumstance, as related by the chief historian of the period. In the excess of popular frenzy at the news of the proposed retreat, the harlots of the town hastened to the battlements in order to jeer at the Persian monarch as he passed on his rounds, by making an indecent exposure of their persons. This obscene conduct so impressed the Magi in attendance that they gave it a mystical signification, and imparted their opinion to the King that "everything hidden and secret in Amida would shortly be laid bare". The departure was countermanded, and ultimately, through the supineness or treachery of some monks, to whom the guard of one of the main towers had been confided, an entry was made. A vengeful massacre of the vanquished then took place, which was only stayed by the wit of a suppliant priest, who, in answer to the irate question of Cavades, "How did you dare to resist me so violently?" replied, "That the city might be won by your valour and not by our cowardice". Two years later, as a result of a protracted but ineffective siege, the Persians agreed to evacuate the town for a payment of one thousand pounds of gold. On entering, the Romans discovered to their chagrin that such a state of destitution prevailed as would have compelled the surrender of the stronghold within a few days. The conclusion of this war was brought about by an invasion of the Huns, who threatened Persia from the north; and hence Cavades was glad to make peace for seven years, on terms which left both parties in the same position as before the commencement of hostilities. The issue of this conflict was, on the whole, favourable to Anastasius, who, in the sense of being the superior power, soon proceeded to infringe the articles of the treaty by erecting commanding fortresses against his late foes along his eastern border. Especially as a counterpoise to the impregnable Nisibis, which had been ceded to the Persians a century and a half previously by the inept Jovian, he raised the insignificant village of Daras to the rank of an important town, and surrounded it with bastions of imposing strength. The impotent protests of the Persians were disregarded, and the two empires did not again come into martial collision for more than twenty years.


In 505 Anastasius and Theodoric, the Gothic king in Italy, by mutual inadvertence, as it may be judged, became involved in a conflict. Simultaneously the Master of the Forces in Illyricum and the Gothic general Petza were engaged in suppressing their several enemies in that region. The antagonist of the Byzantine general was Mundo, a bandit chief of the blood of Attila, who, with a body of Hunnish marauders, was preying on the country. He, on the point of being worsted, craved the assistance of Petza, who, seeing in him a natural ally of kindred race, joined him with his forces. The Goth had, in fact, just achieved the object of his expedition and probably made this move in the heat of success. Together they routed the Imperial army, which was shattered beyond all chance of reparation. To avenge this defeat, Anastasius in 508 fitted out a naval expedition, which conveyed a landing force of 8,000 soldiers to the Italian coast. Making an unforeseen descent on Tarentum, they ravaged the vicinity with piratical ferocity, and returned as hastily as they came. Theodoric, however, did not feel equal to pitting himself against the forces and resources of the East, and decided not to resent these reprisals. He deprecated the wrath of the Emperor in deferential language, and these encounters were soon forgotten as merely fortuitous disi turbances of the peace.'


In 514 the studied economy of Anastasius provoked an upheaval of the incongruous elements of the state, which threatened the immediate collapse of his administration. From the hordes of barbarians massed on the banks of the Danube, troops were continually detached to take service under the Empire as Foederati; and their numbers had increased to such an extent that the annones due to them became an intolerable drain on the revenue. A sweeping reduction of these supplies was, therefore, decreed; a measure judicious in itself, which would probably have been supported in sullen silence by the barbarians had not Count Vitalian, a Goth, and their principal leader, perceived that a specious means of retaliation was to hand. Taking advantage of the religious intractability of Anastasius, which was the bane of his rule and had alienated from him most of his pious subjects, he announced himself as the champion of orthodoxy, and proclaimed a holy war against the heretical Emperor. The cry was taken up universally, and, especially within the capital, all the factious fanatics clamoured for Vitalian as the legitimate occupant of the throne. Art immense host of FoederaTi followed the standard of the rebel; a great battle was fought in Thrace, with the result that the Imperial army was cut to pieces, suffering a loss, it is said, of more than sixty thousand. A fleet was placed at the disposal of the pretender, whereupon Vitalian moved on the capital and blockaded Constantinople by land and sea. Against this attack the Emperor concerted measures within the city with some Athenian philosophers, their chemical knowledge was utilized effectively, galleys which ejected bituminous combustibles were launched against the hostile ships, and the investing fleet retreated precipitately amid volumes of fire and smoke. The diplomacy of the almost nonagenarian monarch during this revolt was marked by much temporizing and duplicity; he disarmed the Foederati by a liberal donative, and by raising their captain to the rank of Master of the Forces in Thrace; he mollified the orthodox ecclesiastics by promises and prepared instruments for the recall of exiled bishops; and he appealed to Pope Hormisdas praying that a synod should meet at Heraclea in order to appease the dissensions of the Church. The synod met after protracted negotiations, but the combination was already dissolved, and the head of rebellion was broken; the concessions offered by the Emperor were presented and found to be illusory, and the futile assembly separated without any tangible result. Anastasius had carried his point; active, yet impotent discontent reigned everywhere, but he had yielded nothing; and soon afterwards, in extreme old age, he sank into the graves amid the familiar waves of sedition which for twenty-seven years had raged ineffectually round his throne.


The commercial activities of the ancient world, as far as they come within the vision of history, were almost confined to these countries which encircle the basin of the Mediterranean; and in the early centuries of our era the varied regions to be measured between the Ganges and Gades were conceived to represent approximately the whole extent of the habitable earth. Although the theory of a globe was held by advanced geographers and astronomers, the fact had not been established by circumnavigation and survey; and the idea was so far from being realized by the masses, that the notion of antipodes seemed to them to be little less than preposterous. In the obscurity of prehistoric times the arts and sciences appear to have originated in the East; and from thence, by the aid of Greece and Rome, civilization extended until it included almost all the known parts of Western Africa and Europe. Before the beginning of the sixth century, however, owing to the incursions and settlements of Goths and Vandals, those western countries had retrograded nearly to the same level of barbarism from which they had been rescued formerly by the civilizing arms of Rome.

In the earliest ages the trade of the Mediterranean was entirely in the hands of the Semitic race; and from their great ports of Tyre and Sidon the Phoenicians penetrated with their well-laden ships even as far as Spain and Britain, disposing of their native manufactures and imported wares on every coast within their reach. But with the rise and spread of Hellenic civilization, commerce became more cosmopolitan; and by the conquests of Alexander the Greeks were made practically cognizant of a Far East teeming with productions which could minister to the needs of increasing wealth and luxury. At the same period, about 330 BC, the foundation of Alexandria by that monarch gave them the command of Egypt, and they began to explore the borders of the Arabian Gulf or Red Sea as far as the Gulf of Aden and the confines of equatorial Africa. Concomitantly the laborious voyage of Nearchus, undertaken at the instigation of the Macedonian conqueror, along inhospitable shores from the mouth of the Indus to the head of the Persian Gulf, revealed to the Greeks the existence of a chain of navigable seas by which the treasures of the Indies might be brought by water to the wharves of the new capital. Through the establishment of this commerce Alexandria became the greatest trading centre of the Mediterranean, and distributed its exports to every civilized community who peopled the extended litoral of that sea.

The first merchants who crossed the Indian ocean, embarking in small ships of light draught, timidly hugged the shore during their whole voyage, dipping into every bight for fear of losing sight of land. But in the reign of Claudius a navigator named Hippalus discovered the monsoons, and noted their stability as to force and direction at certain seasons of the year. Thenceforward the merchants, furnishing themselves with larger vessels, boldly spread their sails to the wind, ventured into mid-ocean, and made a swift and continuous passage from the southern coast of Arabia to some chosen port in the vicinity of Bombay. Such was the southern, and, within the Christian era, most frequented trade route between the Roman Empire and the Indies. There were, however, two other avenues, more ancient, but less safe and less constant, by which merchandise from the far East, mainly by inland transit, could enter the Empire. By the first of these, which traversed many barbarous nations, the eastern shores of the Euxine were brought into communication with northern India through the Oxus, the Caspian Sea, and the Cyrus. From a bend in the latter river, the emporium of the trade, the town of Phasis, was easily attainable. The second, intermediately situated, was the most direct and facile of the three, but, as it lay through the Persian dominions, the activity of commerce by this route depended on the maintenance of peace between the two empires. The Byzantine government, jealous of the intercourse of its subjects with their hereditary enemies, fixed Artaxata, Nisibis, and Callinicus as marts beyond which it was illegal for Roman merchants to advance for the purposes of trade on this frontier.

In the sixth century the Ethiopian kingdom of Axume, nearly corresponding with Abyssinia, became the southern centre of international trade; and its great port of Adule was frequented by ships and traders from all parts of the East. Ethiopian, Persian, and Indian merchants scoured the Gangetic Gulf, and, having loaded their vessels with aloes, cloves, and sandalwood, obtained at Tranquebar and other ports, returned to Siedeliba or Ceylon to dispose of their goods. There transhipments were effected, and sapphires, pearls, and tortoise-shell, the chief exports of that island, were added to the cargoes of ships westward bound. In the same market a limited supply of silk was obtained from such Chinese merchants as were venturesome enough to sail so far. From Ceylon such vessels voyaged along the Malabar coast between Cape Comorin and Sindu, near the mouth of the Indus, receiving on board at various places supplies of cotton and linen fabrics for clothing, copper and rare woods, together with spices and aromatics, musk, castor, and especially pepper. In the harbors of that seaboard they also met with the merchants from Adule, most of whom sailed no farther, and provided them with the freight for their homeward voyage.

The traders of Axume were not, however, wholly dependent for supplies on their intercourse with the Indies. Adjacent to their own borders lay wide tracts of country which were to them a fruitful source of the most valuable commodities; and with such their ships were laden when outward bound for the further East. Journeying to the southeast they entered an extensive but wild region called Barbaria, part of which was known as the Land of Frankincense, from its peculiar fecundity in that odoriferous balsam. In this region cinnamon and tortoise-shell were also obtained; black slaves were purchased from various savage tribes; elephants were hunted by the natives for food; and ivory was supplied in greatest quantity to the markets of the world. Every other year a caravan of several hundred merchants set out from Axume, well armed and equipped for a distant expedition. For six months continuously they travelled southward until they had penetrated far into the interior of the African continent. Gold was the object of their journey, and they took with them a heard of oxen as well as a quantity of salt and iron to barter for the precious metal. On arriving at the auriferous region they slaughtered the oxen and cut up the flesh into joints which they arranged along with the other objects of trade on the top of a specially erected barrier formed of thorn bushes. They then retreated to some distance, upon which the inhabitants, who had been watching their proceedings, came forward and placed pellets of gold on such lots as they wished to purchase. On the savages retreating the traders again advanced and removed or left the gold, according as they accepted or refused the amount offered. In this way, after various advances and retreats, bargains were satisfactorily concluded. In the southern parts of Arabia bordering on the ocean, myrrh and frankincense were gathered in considerable quantity, whence the country acquired the epithet of Felix or Happy. The richest source of emeralds lay in the uncivilized territory between Egypt and Axume, where the mines were worked by a ferocious tribe of nomads called Blemmyes. From them the Axumite merchants obtained the gems, which they exported chiefly to northern India. Amongst the White Huns, the dominant race in that region, they were esteemed so highly that the traders were enabled to load their ships with the proceeds of a few of these precious stones.

Down the Red Sea to Adule resorted the Byzantine merchants, engaged in the home trade, in great numbers. After loading their vessels they again sailed northward, a proportion of them to the small island of Jotabe, situated near the apex of the peninsula of Mount Sinai, which separated the Elanitic from the Heroopolitan gulf. At a station there they were awaited by the officials of the excise, who collected from them a tenth part of the value of their merchandise. Some of these ships proceeded up the eastern arm of the sea to Elath; the rest of them chose the western inlet and cast anchor at Clysma. The wares landed at these ports were intended chiefly for the markets of Palestine and Syria. By far the greater portion of the fleet, however, terminated their northward voyage at Berenice, the last port of Egypt, on the same parallel with Syene. Here they discharged their cargoes and transferred the goods to the backs of camels, who bore them swiftly to the emporium of Coptos on the Nile. A crowd of small boats then received the merchandise and made a rapid transit down stream to the Canopic arm of the river, from which by canal they emerged on lake Mareotis, the inland and busiest harbour of Alexandria. The maritime traffic between the Egyptian capital and all other parts of the Empire, Constantinople especially, was constant and extensive, so that commodities could be dispersed from thence in every direction with the greatest facility.

Within the Eastern Empire itself there were manufactories for the fabrication of everything essential to the requirements of civilized life, but production was much restricted by the establishment universally of a system of monopolies. Several of these were held by the government, who employed both men and women in the manufacture of whatever was necessary to the Court and the army. At Adrianople, Thessalonica, Antioch, Damascus, and other towns, arms and armor were forged, inlaid with gold when for the use of officers of rank; the costly purple robes of the Imperial household emanated from Tyre, where dye-works and a fleet of fishing-boats for collecting the murex were maintained; these industries were strictly forbidden to the subject. There were, besides, at Cyzicus and Scythopolis, official factories for the weaving of cloth and linen. The military workshops were under the direction of the Master of the Offices, the arts of peace under that of the Count of the Sacred Largesses. Public manufacturers or traders were incorporated in a college or guild controlled by the latter Count, the privileges of which were limited to some five or six hundred members. Among the staple productions of the Empire we find that Miletus and Laodicea were famous for woollen fabrics, Sardes especially for carpets, Cos for cotton materials, Tyreand Berytus for silks, Attica and Samos for pottery, Sidon for glass, Cibyra for chased iron, Thessaly for cabinet furniture, Pergamus for parchment, and Alexandria for paper. The fields of Elis were given over to the cultivation of flax, and all the women at Patrae were engaged in spinning and weaving it. Hierapolis in Phrygia was noted for its vegetable dyes; and Hierapolis in Syria was the great rendezvous for the hunters of the desert, who captured wild animals for the man and beast fights of the public shows. Slave dealers, held to be an infamous class, infested the verge of the Empire along the Danube, but at this date Romans and barbarians mutually enslaved each other. On this frontier, also, consignments of amber and furs were received from the shores of the Baltic and the Far North. With respect to articles of diet, almost every district produced wine, but Lesbian and Pramnian were most esteemed. A wide tract at Cyrene was reserved for the growth of a savoury pot­herb, hence called the Land of Silphium. Egypt was the granary of the whole Orient. Dardania and Dalmatia were rich in cheese, Rhodes exported raisins and figs, Phoenicia dates, and the capital itself had a large trade in preserved tunnies.

China was always topographically unknown to the ancients, and about the sixth century only did they begin to discern clearly that an ocean existed beyond it. The country was regarded as unapproachable by the Greek and Roman merchants, but nevertheless became recognized at a very early period as the source of silk. Fully four hundred years before the Christian era the cocoons were carried westward, and the art of unwinding them was discovered by Pamphile of Cos, one of the women engaged in weaving the diaphanous textiles for which that island was celebrated. Owing to the comparative vicinity of the Persian and Chinese frontiers, the silk exported by the Celestial Empire always tended to accumulate in Persia, so that the merchants of that nation enjoyed almost a monopoly of the trade. Hence Byzantine commerce suffered severely during a Persian war, and strenuous efforts would be made to supply the deficiency of silk by stimulating its importation along the circuitous routes. Such attempts, however, invariably proved ineffective until the invention of the compass and the discovery of the south­east passage opened the navigation of the globe between the nations of the East and West.


In general condition the Byzantine people exhibit, almost uniformly in every age, a picture of oppressed humanity, devoid of either spirit or cohesion to nerve them for a struggle to be free. With the experience of a thousand years, the wisdom of Roman statesmen and jurists failed to evolve a political system which could insure stability to the throne or prosperity to the nation. Seditious in the cities, abject in the country, ill-disciplined in the camp, unfaithful in office, the subjects of the Empire never rose in the social scale, but languished through many centuries to extinction, the common grave of Grecian culture and Roman prowess.

In the rural districts almost all the inhabitants, except the actual landowners, were in a state of virtual slavery. The laborers who tilled the soil were usually attached, with their offspring, to each particular estate in the condition of slaves or serfs. They could neither quit the land of their own free will, nor could they be alienated from it by the owner, but, if the demesne were sold, they were forced to pass with it to the new master. The position of a serf was nominally superior to that of a slave, but the distinction was so little practical that the lawyers of the period were unable to discriminate the difference. Any freeman who settled in a neighbourhood to work for hire on an estate lost his liberty and became a serf bound to the soil, unless he migrated again before the expiration of thirty years. The use and possession of arms was interdicted to private persons throughout the Empire, and only such small knives as were useless for weapons of war were allowed to be exposed for sale.

In every department of the State the same principle of hereditary bondage was applied to the lower grades of the service, and even in some cases to officials of considerable rank. Here, however, a release was conceded to those who could provide an acceptable substitute, a condition but rarely possible to fulfil. Armorers, mintmen, weavers, dyers, purple-gatherers, miners, and muleteers, in government employ could neither resign their posts nor even intermarry with associates on a different staff, or the general public, unless under restrictions which were almost prohibitive. Within the same category were ruled the masters or owners of freight-ships, chartered to convey the annones and tributes, of which the Alexandrian corn-fleet constituted the main section. Those addicted to this vocation in the public interest were necessarily men of some private means, as they were obliged to build and maintain the vessels at their own expense; but they were rewarded by liberal allowances, and were almost exempt in respect of the laws affecting the persons and property of ordinary citizens. The lot of this class of the community appears to have been tolerable, and was even, perhaps, desirable, but that of the Decurions, the members of the local senates, was absolutely unbearable. In relation to their fellow townsmen their duties do not seem to have been onerous, but as collectors of the revenue they were made responsible for the full precept levied four-monthly on each district, and had to make good any deficiency from their own resources. As natives of the locality to which their activities were constrained, their intimate knowledge of the inhabitants was invaluable to the government in its inquisitorial and compulsive efforts to gather in the imposts; and, subordinated to the Imperial officials resident in, or on special missions to, the provinces, they became consequently the prime object of their assaults when dealing with the defaulting tributaries. In view of such hardships, municipal dignities and immunities were illusory; and, as the local senates were very numerous, there were few families among the middle classes, from whom those bodies were regularly replenished, whose members did not live in dread of a hereditary obligation to become a Decurion. In every ordinary sphere of exertion, not excepting the Court, the Church, or the army, men, long embarked on their career, were liable to receive a mandate enjoining them to return to their native town or village in order to spend the rest of their lives in the management of local affairs. Occupation of the highest offices of State, or many years' service in some official post, could alone free them from the municipal bond.

Life under accustomed conditions, though with restricted liberty, may be supportable or even pleasant, but the Byzantine subject could seldom realize the extent of his obligations or foresee to what exactions he might have to submit. He might review with satisfaction a series of admirable laws which seemed to promise him tranquillity and freedom from oppression, but experience soon taught him that it was against the interest of the authorities to administer them with equity. By an ineradicable tradition, dating from the first centuries of the expansion of the Empire, it was presumed that the control of a province offered a fair field to a placeman for enriching himself. Hence the prevalence of a universal corruption and a guilty collusion between the Rector and all the lesser officials, who afforded him essential aid in his devices for despoiling the provincials. While the fisc never scrupled to aggravate the prescribed imposts by superindictions, its agents were insatiate in their efforts at harvesting for themselves. The tyranny of the first emperors was local and transient, but under the rule of the Byzantine princes the vitals of the whole Empire were persistently sapped. In the adaeratio of the annones a value was set upon the produce far above the market price; taxes paid were redemanded, and receipts in proper form repudiated because the tabellio who had signed them, purposely removed, was not present to acknowledge his signature; unexpected local rates were levied, to which the assent of the Decurions was forced, with the avowed object of executing public works which were never undertaken; sales of property at a vile estimate were pressed on owners who dared not provoke the officials by a refusal; decisions in the law courts were ruled by bribery, and suitors were overawed into not appealing against unjust judgements; forfeitures of estates to the crown were proclaimed under pretence of lapse of ownership or questionable right of inheritance, and their release had to be negotiated for the payment of a sufficient ransom; even special grants from the Imperial treasury for reinstatement of fortifications or other purposes were sometimes embezzled without apprehension of more serious trouble, if detected, than disgorgement. In all these cases the excess extorted was appropriated by the rapacious officials. Such were the hardships inflicted systematically on the small proprietors who, if unable to pay or considered to be recalcitrant, were not seldom subjected to bodily tortures. For hours together they were suspended by the thumbs, or had to undergo the application of finger-crushers or foot-racks, or were beaten on the nape of the neck with cords loaded with lead. Nevertheless, remainders accumulated constantly, and a remission of hopeless arrears for a decade or more was often made the instance of Imperial indulgence. But the old vouchers were habitually secreted and preserved by the collectors so that the ignorant rustics might be harassed persistently for debts which they no longer owed. The existence of such frauds was patent even to the exalted perceptions of the Court; and hence Anastasius, in order to render his abolition of the chrysargyron effective, resorted to an artifice which appealed to the avarice of his financial delegates throughout the country. But an emperor, however well-intentioned, could rarely attempt to lighten the burdens of even the humblest of his subjects. His immediate ministers had sold the chief posts in the provinces, and were under a tacit convention to shield their nominees unless in the case of some rash and flagrant delinquent who abandoned all discretion. The public good was ignored in practice; to keep the treasury full was the simple and narrow policy of the Byzantine financier, who never fostered any enlightened measure for making the Empire rich. Zeno essayed to remedy the widespread evil of venality, but his effort was futile; although his constitution was re-enacted more than once and permanently adorned the statute-book. According to this legislator every governor was bound to abide within his province in some public and accessible place for fifty days after the expiration of his term of office. Thus detained within the reach of his late constituents when divested of his authority, it was hoped that they would be emboldened to come forward and call him to account for his misdeeds. The reiteration of the law at no great intervals of time sufficiently proves that it was promulgated only to be disregarded.

Without legitimate protectors from whom they might seek redress, the wretched tributaries either tried to match their oppressors in craft, or yielded abjectly to all their demands. Some parted with whatever they possessed, and finally sold their sons and daughters into slavery or prostitution; others posted their holdings against the visits of the surveyors with notices designating them as the property of some influential neighbor. Such local magnates, who maintained, perhaps, a guard of Isaurian bandits, were wont to bid defiance to the law as well as to the lawlessness of the Rector and his satellites. To their protection, in many instances, the lesser owners were impelled to consign themselves unconditionally, hoping to find with them a haven of refuge against merciless exaction. The patron implored readily accepted the trust, but the suppliant soon discovered that his condition was assimilated to that of a serf. The web of social order was strained or ruptured in every grade of life; traders joined the ranks of the clergy in order to abuse the facilities for commerce conceded to ministers of religion; the proceedings of the Irenarchs among the rustic population were so vexatious, that they were accounted disturbers, instead of guardians of the peace, and the simple pastor had to be denied the use of a horse, lest it should enable him to rob with too much security on the public highways.