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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Justinian the Great and his successors (518-610)

Commerce during the reign of Justinian 


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It is interesting to note that in spite of an almost complete absence of direct trade relations between the Byzantine Empire and India, Byzantine coins from the epoch of Constantine the Great appear in Indian markets, carried there apparently, not by Byzantine merchants, but by the mediating Persians and Abyssinians (Axumites). Coins with the names of the Byzantine emperors of the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries Arcadius, Theodosius, Marcian, Leo I, Zeno, Anastasius I, Justin I have been found in southern and northern India. In the international economic life of the sixth century the Byzantine Empire played a role so important that, according to Cosmas, all the nations carry on their trade in Roman money (the Byzantine gold coin, nomisma or solidus), from one extremity of the earth to the other. This money is regarded with admiration by all men to whatever kingdom they belong, since there is no other country in which the like of it exists.

Cosmas told a very interesting story which shows the profound respect commanded in India by the Byzantine gold coin (nomisma):

The King of Ceylon, having admitted a Byzantine merchant, Sopatrus, and some Persians to an audience and having received their salutations, requested them to be seated. He then asked them; In what state are your countries, and how go things with them? To this they replied: They go well. Afterward, as the conversation proceeded, the King inquired: Which of your kings is the greater and the more powerful? The elderly Persian, snatching the word, answered: Our king is both the more powerful and the greater and richer, and indeed is King of Kings, and whatsoever he desires, that he is able to do. Sopatrus, on the other hand, sat mute. So the King asked: Have you, Roman, nothing to say? What have I to say, he rejoined, when he there has said such things? But if you wish to learn the truth you have the two kings here present. Examine each and you will see which of them is the grander and the more powerful. The King, upon hearing this, was amazed at his words and asked: How say you that I have both kings here? You have, replied Sopatrus, the money of both the nomisma of one, and the drachma, that is, the miliarision of the other. Examine the image of each and you will see the truth. After having examined them, the King said that the Romans were certainly a splendid, powerful, and sagacious people. So he ordered great honor to be paid to Sopatrus, causing him to be mounted on an elephant and conducted round the city with drums beating and high state. These circumstances were told us by Sopatrus himself and his companions, who had accompanied him to that island from Adule; and as they told the story, the Persian was deeply chagrined at what had occurred.

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