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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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When Theodore II ascended the throne, the officeholding aristocracy persecuted by his father looked upon the new Emperor with confidence, hoping to regain their lost wealth and influence. But they were disappointed in their expectations. Theodore's policy was to diminish the influence of the aristocracy, and severe measures were apparently taken against many of its members; a long list of names of high officials who suffered under Theodore II is given by a contemporary writer. The aristocracy was put down under Theodore II, and men of humble origin surrounded his throne; owing everything to Theodore they were obedient tools in his hands. After Theodore's death, under his son, who was only a child, the aristocracy again increased their influence.

In connection with Theodore's military enterprises the taxes were considerably augmented, and in his letter to Nicephorus Blemmydes, who accused the Emperor of extorting too many taxes from the population, Theodore explained that the reason for his policy was his military activities.

The Emperors of Nicaea were also very much interested in the development of commercial relations with other states, and especially with Venice. In August, 1219, Theodore I Lascaris made an alliance and a commercial treaty with the Venetian podesta in Constantinople, which secured to the Venetian merchants the privilege of trading free of dues on land and sea, all over the Empire of Nicaea (per totum Imperium meum et sine aliqua inquisitione).

Western goods imported by the Venetians according to this treaty competed successfully with eastern goods which had to pass through the whole territory of the Sultanate of Iconium. Eastern and Italian stuffs were in special demand, and the population spent enormous amounts of money for their purchase. Seeing this John Vatatzes, under pain of dishonor, that is to say, of losing their social position, forbade his subjects to purchase and wear foreign stuffs and ordered them to be satisfied only with that which the land of the Romans produces and which the hands of the Romans are able to prepare. How long this regulation, which was intended to support local production, remained in force, is not known; probably it was soon forgotten.

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