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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Empire of Nicaea (1204-1261)

Byzantine feudalism 


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The problem of feudalism in Byzantium has not been much studied; intensive work is still needed, and one must be very cautious in generalizing. But at least it is now quite possible to speak of feudalism and feudalizing processes in Byzantium, whereas not long ago the term Byzantine feudalism would have seemed a paradox.

Since Byzantium is the continuation of the Roman Empire, it may be said a priori that the phenomena analogous to benefice, patronage, and immunity are, of course, to be noted in the internal life of Byzantium. The question is only to what extent these phenomena developed in the modified conditions of the eastern provinces of the Empire, and what forms they took.

In the east the Greek word kharistikion corresponded in meaning to the Latin word beneficium, and the Greek word kharistibkarios corresponded to beneficiarius, i.e. a man granted land on condition of paying military service. But in Byzantium, especially beginning with the tenth century, the system of distribution of land as kharistikia, was usually applied to monasteries, which were granted both to laymen and to clergy. Possibly this peculiarity of Byzantine beneficium (kharistikion) should be connected with the iconoclastic epoch, when the government in its struggle against the monks resorted to the secularization of monastery lands, which gave the Emperor a rich source for land grants. This circumstance, in all probability, is the reason why the original meaning of kharistikon, a grant of land in general not specifically monasterial, was lost and the term kharistikion was used specifically as a monastery grant. A very good authority on the internal life of Byzantium, P. V. Bezobrazov, wrote: The characteristic feature of the system of kharistikion was that the owner of a monastery, whoever he might have been (emperor, bishop, or private individual), gave a monastery for life to someone who thereupon took the name of kharistikarios. The kharistikarios received all the revenues of the monastery and was obliged to maintain the monks and take care of the buildings, in a word to carry on the whole economy of the monastery. It is evident that the surplus of the revenues belonged to the kharistikarios. Another noted Russian Byzantinist, Th. Uspensky, plainly stated that the system of kharistikion as a custom of granting monasteries and church lands was an institution which developed within the church itself and was in complete harmony with the customs and opinions existing among the laity as to the right of disposal of land property. If these definitions of kharistikion, especially Uspenskys, are accepted, it must also be affirmed that all links with the Roman past were lost; this conclusion is incorrect. The kharistikion is a survival of the Roman precarium-beneficium which received a special meaning owing to special conditions in the eastern half of the Empire.

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