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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Empire of Nicaea (1204-1261)

Social and economic conditions in the empire of Nicaea 


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The Emperors of Nicaea were always concerned with the problems of the internal life of their state. Economic prosperity was one of their very important aims. In this respect John Vatatzes is especially noticeable; his varied and strenuous external activity did not prevent him from paying adequate attention to the economic wealth of his country. He encouraged agriculture, vineyards, and stock-breeding. To quote a source, in a short time, all the warehouses have been filled to overflowing with fruits; roads, streets, all stalls, and enclosures have been filled with flocks of cattle and fowls. The famine which at that time befell the adjacent Sultanate of Rum compelled the Turks to crowd into the Nicene dominions to buy, at a high price, the means of subsistence. Turkish gold, silver, Oriental stuffs, jewels, and other articles of luxury poured in abundance into the hands of the Nicene Greeks and filled the imperial treasury. By diminishing taxes Vatatzes succeeded in raising the economic prosperity of the Empire. In times of dearth the large supplies of corn collected in granaries were distributed among the people. Having at his disposal considerable amounts of money Vatatzes erected all over the country forts, and such buildings as hospitals, almshouses, and poorhouses. John Vatatzes was anxious that, having everything at home he needed, no one should be induced to lay a grasping hand on simple and poor men, and that thereby the state of the Romans might be completely purified from injustice.

Vatatzes himself was a large landowner and many of his nobles also possessed considerable tracts of land, and derived a sufficient living from their estates. These estates seem to have been granted by the Emperor to the members of his officeholding nobility, and resemble the western European beneficium or Byzantine pronoia, that is to say, land granted by the emperors or, in their name, by their ministers, to subjects for their services to the state on condition that they furnish military service. Perhaps the large landowners were sometimes discontented with Vatatzes' regime and renounced allegiance to him. Towards the close of his reign some confiscations by the Emperor of movable and immovable property took place, and this very interesting phenomenon may be explained by an antagonism between the throne and the large landowners, on which there is no information. A recent historian even judged it possible to aver that such risings of the aristocracy against Vatatzes actually took place. From the social standpoint, Vatatzes may be regarded as a protector of the peasantry and urban class; he endeavored, first of all, to raise their wealth and prosperity; and this circumstance might have evoked the dissatisfaction of the landed aristocracy, which brought about severe measures in retaliation against them.

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