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Byzantine Aristocracy

Discussion in 'Research' started by Aldarion, Jul 9, 2019.

  1. Aldarion

    Aldarion Minstrel

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    My world as I am building it includes what would be Middle Byzantine Empire if it survived to 15th century. This, of course, includes aristocracy - the dynatoi. I had managed to find some resources - unfortunately I can't post links - so I have a few questions:
    1) How would have dynatoi developed if Roman Empire didn't fall?
    2) Could thematic military system be utilized still? Are there examples of 15th century states which utilized something similar to Byzantine thematic system?
    3) Does anyone know good articles/research on the topic?
     
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    All the good articles will be in scholarly journals or books. Get thee to a library, preferably a university library. If you aren't a student there you won't be able to check anything out, but you'll still be able to browse the stacks and read on-site.

    That said, no one is going to be able to answer 1 or 2 except you. That's not history, it's speculation, so you're free to do as you please.
     
  3. Aldarion

    Aldarion Minstrel

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    Problem is, I live in Croatia, and Byzantine Empire is not a very popular topic for research here. There is actually more literature than I expected, but nothing I found seems like it would be useful for this particular topic.
     
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    There is a huge literature! Not sure how much of it would be in Croatian, but in German, Greek and English, at the least, there are thousands of books and tens of thousands of articles.

    I think there are two challenges here, and they're not peculiar to any one person. The one challenge comes when one decides to set a story in a real place and time, or closely inspired by a particular place and time, but one does not come to the story with much prior knowledge. The challenge is to add depth to the knowledge which means months and even years of reading, reading, reading. It's daunting. Worse, there's no guarantee any of it is going to be directly useful. The depth merely lets one learn how to judge what is useful.

    If the first challenge concerns general knowledge, the second concerns specifics. We writers often want to know some specific bit of historical information. What sort of shoes would a thirteenth century Cistercian monk wear when traveling (a real question I read on a forum once). Answers to questions like this are not going to be found easily, if they can be found at all. That's why I said your questions 1 and 2 from the OP probably don't have answers.

    That makes the first challenge even more daunting. A person could read for a lifetime and never find the answer to the shoes question. If there is an answer, it's probably known by some scholar of footwear (or of Cistercians), very likely working in another country, to be found only by chance.

    I return to my original comments. Write the book, using what knowledge you have, though you'll keep researching, of course. Once the book is done, give it to some people who have at least some knowledge of the Byzantine empire. And of the 15thc. But also to people who have no such knowledge. They'll have questions. So, in some ways, this liberates you from the challenges. It's not like you have to do all that stuff first.
     
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  5. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Archmage

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    As for how the Byzantine elite would have developed, I think that you'll have to essentially try and research the actual development of the Byzantine elite and then make some educated guesses on how they may have dealt with various developments, either in the real world or in your world for your story/stories. I very much doubt there's any scholarly work on counter-factual history formally published on this subject.

    For myself I would give these answers to your questions.

    1. That is impossible to say without knowing how the world developed with the Byzantines still in it as a political presence. The aristocracy and its form does not, and never did, exist and develop in a bubble but rather as part of the greater society and world around it and in constant interaction with both society and the world. Same with thematic system.

    2. Simply put, no. The thematic system was, as you probably know, a specific system designed to handle a specific set of problems with specific resources at its disposal and if I'm not mistaken, underwent several reforms depending on changing circumstances and needs to meet. And I simply don't know anything that would be directly compatible with it.Now a version of the system could still be utilized, but it would have been reformed beyond recognition since its creation due to changing circumstances.

    3. Not articles or pappers, sorry. I'm no longer studying at the university so I can't get access to that.
     
  6. Aldarion

    Aldarion Minstrel

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    Already doing it, but yeah, quite complex - and interesting - topic.

    My world is fantasy, not alternative history, so I do have some leeway, but I still want to keep it withim realms of possible, and as plausible as possible.

    So what is needed is a way to prevent feudalization of society, or rather, to prevent or limit certain 10th-11th century social processes which led to dissolution of Byzantine thematic system IRL. I do have some idea on how to do that, but I guess I will have to do more reading on why and how did thematic system decline. At the same time, however, there have to be powerful landowners capable of challenging central government. Now, two could and did coexist - Byzantines had very clear idea of private property, unlike Western feudal societies, and thematic lands were formed from imperial estates, they did not touch private property - but finding a balance may be difficult.

    Some authors I had read however are of the opinion that late Byzantine pronoia system is actually quite similar to thematic system as modified by Nikephoros Phokas. That is, instead of farmer-soldiers (or soldier-farmers), you have semi-professional soldier supported by a group of village families. Difference is that thematic system was fundamentally more decentralized, and pronoiaris were under central state command while thematic troops were under command of provincial administration. Smallholding soldiers - which coexisted with pronoiars - might have served under essentially the same system as thematic forces, except also under central command. Overall, so far I have found no reason why thematic system could not be utilized by a state at 15th century technological level - reasons for its decline were social and political (loss of territory and increased centralization of state under Paleologi which transformed entire state into essentially Paleologi private property).

    And the reason why I am so intent on implementing thematic system is, I simply do not see a way for a state that was in position similar to Byzantine Empire to survive as a major power for so long without thematic military system or something akin to it. Thematic system provided very large military manned by capable soldiers and able to fight at multiple fronts at relatively low cost - something that, to my knowledge, neither Western feudal nor later Byzantine systems (fully professional, mercenary, pronoia) were able to provide (one could make a case that pronoia system was actually good, but was too little, too late).

    Also, while I am much less familiar with Ottoman military, it seems to me that timariot system is fundamentally similar to later form of Byzantine thematic system - that is, it is a rather decentralized form of pronoia system (and I believe that timariot system was actually based on the pronoia system).

    If true, then Nikephorian thematic military might make sense for a non-feudal 15th century state.
     
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