The "Secret Sauce" Of The Byzantine Empire: Stable Currency, Social Mobility

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Charles Hugh-Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,

How did Byzantium endure for 1,000 years after the fall of Rome?

One of my reading projects over the past year is to learn more about empires: how they are established, why they endure and why they crumble.

To this end, I've recently read seven books on a wide variety of empires. The literature on empires is vast, so this is only a tiny slice of the available books. Nonetheless I think these 7 titles offer a fairly comprehensive spectrum:

How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower (Adrian Goldsworthy)

War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires (Peter Turchin)

The Rise of Rome: The Making of the World's Greatest Empire (Anthony Everitt)

428 AD: An Ordinary Year at the End of the Roman Empire (Giusto Traina)

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (Jack Weatherford)

Venice: A New History (Thomas F. Madden)

Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire (Judith Herrin)

I was not exposed to much history of the Byzantine Empire in high school or college, so I found the last book of particular interest, despite its dry academic style.

The Byzantine Empire, based in Constantinople (now Istanbul), began as the Eastern Roman Empire when the Roman Empire was split into East and West to facilitate defense.

In the original conception, the two halves would be jointly ruled by two emperors. But as the Western Roman Empire frayed and devolved, power shifted to the still-vibrant Eastern Roman Empire, which spoke Greek rather than Latin and was Orthodox Christian rather than Catholic.

The Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire endured from the western empire's fall in 476 A.D.  to 1453 A.D., when Constantinople fell to invading Turkish forces. 

Thus the Byzantine Empire endured for roughly 1,000 years after the Fall of Rome (977 years, to be exact).  It was an Empire that spanned the Medieval ages, that reached its zenith around 1025 A.D., and lasted right up to the dawn of the Renaissance.

How did Byzantium endure for 1,000 years after the fall of Rome? There are many factors, of course, but I think these four elements are the "secret sauce" of the Eastern Roman Imperial longevity:

1. A stable currency. When the Empire devalued its currency for the first time in the 13th century, it triggered a long-lasting loss of faith in the currency. This devaluation was the beginning of the end, as the Empire never recovered its financial footing.


Lesson: you cannot devalue your way to stability, influence, power or prosperity.


2. Multiple pathways of social mobility via the church, military and civil bureaucracy. Men from poor provincial villages and towns could make their mark and rise to positions of wealth and power via joining the church or military hierarchies, or by serving ably in the Imperial bureaucracy.  Women could rise to positions of wealth and influence via marrying well.


3. Pervasive tax collection to fund defense. Empires and states were under essentially constant attack for much of this 1,000 year period of history, and the empire collected land and other taxes via a vast bureaucracy of tax records and collections. Interestingly, it is estimated that the Imperial taxes absorbed about 20% of all income--roughly the same percentage the U.S. government absorbs.


When the tax system fell into disrepair, revenues sagged and defenses almost failed.  Competent leadership restored the tax system and defenses, giving the Empire another few hundred years of life.


4. Safe trading routes and markets. The Empire provided protected sea and land routes for traders from everywhere, and Constantinople offered a vast depot for trading and manufacture. Much of the Empire's wealth and tax revenues flowed from trade, and the Empire maintained a long history of offering lucrative trade deals with allies such as Venice.

I see these dynamics as being just as critical in the present age. If a nation's currency loses value, the ladders of social mobility are broken, the tax system is corrupt and/or unfair and trade is restricted or suppressed, the nation/empire is doomed to erosion and collapse.

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nope-1004's picture

If a nation's currency loses value, the ladders of social mobility are broken, the tax system is corrupt and/or unfair and trade is restricted or suppressed, the nation/empire is doomed to erosion and collapse.

You forgot "and is run by insider crony capitalists".

Here2Go's picture
Here2Go (not verified) nope-1004 Sep 1, 2016 12:58 PM

Dual Passports

eforce's picture

Crony capitalists? I think you mean socialists.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder's picture

Democrat or republican. Left or right. What is a name if it's all the same?


glenlloyd's picture

It would be a big stretch to say that 1025AD was the 'dawn' of the Renaissance. The title of Eastern Roman Empire was passed on way further east long before the Renaissance came calling. It was around 800 that the title of Holy Roman Emperor was granted to Charlemagne.

Here2Go's picture
Here2Go (not verified) nope-1004 Sep 1, 2016 12:58 PM

IOW ~ Dual Passports

TBT or not TBT's picture

Capricious enforcement of laws and unpredictable regulation must have helped them out too.  That's how we do it so....

Canadien françcais's picture

The reason our money stinks is the government bubble. The rest, including finance or crony capitalism, ensues.

To pretend that they hold absurd political promises of stolen money made to their electorate, politicians use all sorts of tricks. #1 is money printing. #2 is regualtion, obliging private companies to implement policies with their own resources. But regulation is vain when money is rotten, and useless when money is sound.

Raymond K Hessel's picture

You're an asshole, nope. Stop using the term 'crony capitalist'


There's no such thing. What you're talking about already has a term for it. It's called fascism and you are referring to fascists.


'Crony capitalists' is a term used by the left to push their marxist agenda on dick holes like you.

KickIce's picture

A little harsh, we actually practice both.  The shadow government rules by fascism while our "representatives", both federal and local, screw their countrymen via lobbyists, outright bribes and pork.  All perpetuated to buy votes and line their own pockets.

NuYawkFrankie's picture

5. A certain "ethnic group" was not allowed to parisitise and also forbidden to hold public office.

aaarealdeal's picture

...and we have a winner!!!

Good job, Frankie.

flaminratzazz's picture

and kicked to the curb from 100+ nations through out history.


curb kicking time coming in 3-2-1

ExplodingEntropy's picture

Carthage will always be strategically important in trade

KickIce's picture

I’ve been reading “The 13th Tribe”, and about this time there were 4 powers / empires constantly jockeying for position.   You had the Vikings / Rhus (Pagan) in Russia, the Khazars (Jews) in what is now modern day Ukraine / Kazakhstan, the Byzantine empire (Christian) in Turkey and of course the Muslims in Persia.

Initially, the Vikings raided Constantinople , however, since the Khazars controlled Crimea they had to gain permission to traverse the Black Sea.  The Khazars would charge a 10% tribute coming and going.  This, and a Khazar double-cross that cost 1,000s of Viking lives caused friction between those two powers.  Of course the real tipping point came when the Vikings began to convert to Christianity. 

These bastards have a long memory and I think this goes a long ways toward explaining why these modern day Khazars despise Russians and Christians and why Soros is so interested in Ukraine

PrometeyBezkrilov's picture

As far as I remember it came from the book of Eustace Munllins. According to his research the mentioned "ethnic group" was not allowes to have 3 jobs:

-hold public office

-teach children

-hold positions in financial institutions

this is why the empire lasted for over a thousand  years and we are not tought about it in schools.

Smerf's picture

They didn't have Ivy League PHD's centrally managing their economy.

the.ghost.of.22wmr's picture
the.ghost.of.22wmr (not verified) Smerf Sep 1, 2016 1:18 PM

At least Larry Summers is right about one thing.


Women belong pregnant and barefoot it in the kitchen and the bedroon, not in the boardroom or laboratory!

TBT or not TBT's picture

His point was more subtle and deft than involved math though, and regarded math intensive academic disciplines at the loftiest institutions.   It turns out the distributions of math competency of all male humans, and all female humans, have different shapes.  The middle of the two curves is almost in the same place, but the male distribution has fatter tails on BOTH sides.   Which is to say their are far more really dumb males(in math abilities) than really dumb females, and far more really smart males than really smart females, out in the tales of the distributions, out where princeton and harvard recruit for math intensive disciplines.  

CheapBastard's picture

George Washington University hires a former al-Qaeda recruiter

"Hey Mom, maybe our community college isn't so bad after all...."

Treason Season's picture
In all of recorded history, there was only one civilization which the Jews could not destroy. Because of this, they have given it the silent treatment. Few American college graduates with a Ph.D degree could tell you what the Byzantine Empire was. It was the Empire of East Rome, set up by Roman leaders after the Jews had destroyed Rome. This empire functioned in Constan- tinople for twelve hundred years, the longest duration of any empire in the history of the world. Throughout the history of Byzantium, as it was known, by imperial edict, no Jew was al- lowed to hold any post in the Empire, nor was he allowed to edu- cate the young. The Byzantine Empire finally fell to the Turks after twelve centuries of prosperity, and the Jews have attempted to wipe out all traces of its history
Mullins' New History of the Jews (1968)"
TBT or not TBT's picture

Wait.  It sounds like Muslims/Islam ended this particular Empire, pretty clearly.   

Doom Porn Star's picture

Jews/Muslims = descendents of Abraham.

Any questions?

GRDguy's picture

Ecclesiastes 9:18 "Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good."  

Sadly, that was Abraham.

ikhan's picture

could you not say that about Christians as well?

Doom Porn Star's picture

You don't seem to understand the difference between progeny/descendents and congregation members.

Try a dictionary.

ikhan's picture

try explaining your point.


Jews, Christians, and Muslims call Abraham their father.  I would love to read your explaination.

TBT or not TBT's picture

Ideas are not passed in DNA, dipshit.  Islam=ideas.   Christianity=ideas.   The first one of these damages the gene pool though, by encouraging marriage between relatives and awarding more mates and resources to the most sociopathic males.  Murderous warlord pedophiles for example do well, as the ideal man in that religion was exactly that.  

ParkAveFlasher's picture

Christ told the Jews that He would take the rejected teachings to the Gentiles and then to the entire world.

The task was first assigned to Peter the apostle.

Paul, who assumed the title of "apostle" although he was not one, conflicted with Peter and muddied that trail.

So no, Christians are not the ascendants of Abraham.  Christians were first converted Jews, then converted Gentiles and pagans.  As the Jews absorbed much of Babylonian and Egyptian law into their culture, so do Christians assume the essentials of Mosaic Law as co-opted from Abrahamic peoples.

Doom Porn Star's picture

Proclaiming someone is your father doesn't make it so.  

Assertions are not necessarily facts.

Of course you either know that, are too stupid to understand it, or too ideologically compromised to admit it.


Who's your daddy?

roddy6667's picture

The eclipse of the sun is not caused by a dragon eating it.

Disease is not caused by evil spirits.

There is no Magic Sky Daddy.

ikhan's picture

also be specific, it was Ottoman Turk Muslims. That particular sect had an agenda. One was to drive a wedge between two natural allies, another was the bury the history of Constantinople and change the name ot Istanbul. They wanted the history of that society/city to be forgotten.



TBT or not TBT's picture

All civilisations bordering with Islamic infected ones have had to either repel the infectees and their infection or else be ended by the jihadist conquering intolerant DNA of that dehumanizing sect.   This continues today as it has since Mo and descendants hit the warpath 13 centuries ago.   

duo's picture

There were Turks, but Turkey as a country didn't exist until after the Great War.

GeezerGeek's picture

Genghis Khan was the leader of the  Golden Horde. Does that mean Genghis was a stacker?

VWAndy's picture

 Society is held together by honest labor doing real organic work. IE Real production and services. If that stops for any reason it crumbles pretty fast and turns to dust.

  The stall and bartering. Then some real justice.  

Lost in translation's picture

Western Empire (and Rome) succumbed to barbarian invasion owing to weakness caused by internal rot (mutiple sources).  Barbarians meaning Visogoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, et al...

Eastern Empire finally succumbed in 1453 (Constantinople), though the Empire had been under pressure and shrinking for some time, already.

What I wonder is: who is it that is going to do to American cities what was done to Rome, and to Constantinople?

A serious and sincere question...

Stuck on Zero's picture

Q: What I wonder is: who is it that is going to do to American cities what was done to Rome, and to Constantinople?

     A serious and sincere question...

A: Democrats.

VWAndy's picture

 I was gonna say the progressives. Sorta the same thing.

GeezerGeek's picture

I wonder if Bill and Hill will be home when Chappaqua is sacked by the barbarians.

Nex's picture

East Rome, or Rome, they never call themselfs Byzantines, that is modern name from German side of history. They have hellenic(ancient greek) and rome roots and base.

They fall because west stole from them. Read about crusades. Even today in Venetia are oldest churches and building have parts from Constantinoples stolen during crusades. That is root  why orthodox christian, mostly Moscow world don't trust west. And why muslims steal poses holy orhodox churches like Saint Sophia(holy wisdom) in Constantinoples, or how slavs call it Carigrad(City of the Czars). For example, west several times stoped Russians to take the city, like during Crimea war when France, UK and muslim Turks toghethet fight against orthodox christians.
All  Renaissance come from East Rome, and first western banks in Italy will not exist without trade which controls Constantinoples in East Mediterranean and Black sea.
West allow muslims to enter Europe because so weak East Rome and some Empires in Balkan like Serbian and Bulgarian.

ikhan's picture

there are those Muslims today who can see historically how the Orthodox were abused and ill treated. Orthodox Christians have many reasons to habour resentment against Muslims. However, truth will always triumph over falsehood. There will be a patching up of relations between the Muslims (the orthodox muslims so to speak) and Orthodox Christianity.

aardvarkk's picture

"truth will always triumph over falsehood."

My belief in that is hanging by a thread.  If Hillary gets in the White House (again)...I will no longer believe it.

ikhan's picture

things are going to get worse before they get better. But if you believe that the Universe has an order, soon that order will be restored.

Raymond K Hessel's picture

What the fuck language was that?

I got wade through anti-semitic ravings of lunatics who think they're the John Connor during the WTSHTF epic, and now I have to crack the code behind some kind of verbal semafore clucking from some East European nicotine stained troll on a coin-operated  desktop chained to the dryer in the local laundromat.

LoveTruth's picture

Despite its popularity, English is not the native language of the world. Some are still learning it. ..... Looking into what you typed, my guess is I just wasted 5 min of my life trying to explain you the obvious.

ikhan's picture

Unfortunately,  the Ottoman Turks broke this empire under the guise of Islam. There is nothing Islamic about desicrating the holiest of Churches for our Orthodox Christian brothers, Hagia Sophia was the center of Orthodoxy for 1000 years, that was wrong, and must be returned to the Orthodox Christians with an apology.  stealing their women and boys are other examples of institutionalized criminal behaviour. The remnaints or Orthodoxy went to Russia, where they were savaged by the Bolsheveik revolution until Russia pulled herself out of a death spiral. Now you see the return of Orthodoxy in Russia, and you will begin to see an alliance between them and those members of various sects who fight for truth and justice. To see more on the subkect, check out Sheikh Imran Hosein on youtube