The Economic History of Byzantium: From the Seventh through the Fifteenth Century (VI)


Food of Animal Origin

Livestock, both large and small, held an important place in the Mediterranean world.
Its character varied considerably according to the importance of pasturage. Thessaly,
Epiros, Thrace, and the plains and plateaus of Asia Minor have produced livestock
from time immemorial. Texts provide many references to the consumption of beef,
notably the Life of St. Nicholas of Sion, which traces the saint’s rounds and his slaughtering
of cattle in the villages of Lycia. The monks of Theodore of Sykeon distributed
beef to the inhabitants of the village. Beef was consumed at Dehes and Hesban.163
Cattle were also valued for the production of milk and cheese, as well as for their hides.
Hump-backed cattle, closely related to present-day zebus, must have been numerous,
particularly in marshy regions (Apameia). Farms and village houses kept ranks of feeding
stalls on the ground floor of their main buildings, separated by pillars that supported
the second floor. These features are common in northern Syria, the Hauran,
and the Negev. Pillars have been found in the Golan (notably at Meiron), but an interpretation
of these finds as evidence for feeding stables does not seem to have been
adopted by site excavators, although it would seem the most plausible. While cattle
must often have been lodged in these stables, it is also likely that horses and mules
had similar shelters. There are no clear, published criteria, however, that permit us to
distinguish horse stables from cattle stables.
Goats, sheep, and other flock animals were lodged in the courtyards of village houses
or, on farms, within enclosures, which have been found in a number of cases near
water troughs. Their existence is attested in the cadasters of Thera and Lesbos. At
Hesban, there is a noticeable increase in the number of goats, undoubtedly after the
early Byzantine period; this may indicate an impoverishment in the condition of the
pastures, as grass gave way to low shrubs and bushes.164 In North Africa, where evidence
of meat consumption varies by location, sheep exceeded large livestock by a
wide margin.165 In addition to meat, they provided milk, cheese, and wool.
Pork was highly valued in Rome; it was distributed in annonary rations, and the
guild of pork butchers (corpus suariorum) seems to have been more important than that
of the pecuariorum (butchers of small livestock) and the boarii (beef butchers).166 It was
equally so in Italy and North Africa, as instanced by a miracle from the first half of the
fourth century that portrays a butcher from Uzalis and his son.167 The cadaster of Hypaipa (Lydia) mentions pigs.

Remains of them have been found at Dehes, Nessana,168
and Hesban, where they were most in abundance during the early Byzantine period.
In Egypt, pork was the most common meat.169 Chickens and pigeons were equally a
source of meat; dovecotes were numerous in the countryside of the Near East, and
there is abundant evidence for the consumption of chicken in the early Byzantine levels
at Apameia, Pella, and Carthage.
In fifth- and sixth-century Carthage, pork (pigs were in many cases slaughtered for
meat at under a year in age) and sheep or goats (generally slaughtered prior to their
twenty-eighth month; only rarely at under a year) were the most widely consumed
meats. In one sector of the city, horses and camels were also consumed.170 At Apameia,
changes in diet took place following the Sasanian conquest. The consumption of small
livestock (sheep and goats) increased, while that of large livestock decreased appreciably.
Pork consumption also dropped significantly, particularly in contexts dating
to the seventh and eighth centuries, that is, in the time of Islamic rule (whereas consumption
during the same period at Pella remained high).171 The consumption of
fowl doubled.172
Fish constituted a significant portion of the diet in large cities such as Constantinople173
and Antioch, in which, as Libanios notes with pride, both salt- and freshwater
fish were to be found. At Dehes and Apameia, numerous remains of silurids and catfish
have been identified. At Carthage, fish remains have been found in great variety;174 at
the end of the sixth century, fish was consumed far in excess of fowl, which had not
been the case earlier. Shellfish played a role in the diet, but were particularly valued
for their purple dye, which was used to dye cloth.175 The consumption of meat, while
variable, was more common among laypeople than is suggested by our sources, which
describe the diet of monks.
Donkeys seem to have been more important than horses as draft animals. The use
of mules increased to a certain extent during the early Byzantine period. Camels were

widespread as far west as Asia Minor, and essential in the Near East. Both camels and
horses could be used as food when necessary. Crises notwithstanding,176 the supply of
food seems to have been adequate to the needs of the population throughout the empire.
There were significant surpluses in the sixth century that facilitated the provisioning
of cities (Constantinople most importantly) and the army. With the loss of important
wheat-growing land during the seventh century, however, changes in the diet
of the empire followed; the role of bread diminished, while that of meat and fish grew.
Artisanal Production and Small-Scale Trade
References to trades hold an important place in epitaphs from the fourth century on.
The cause may have been the strengthening of the guilds, which gave each artisan the
sense of belonging to a profession that was to be protected, or it may be linked to
the system of tomb purchases, although we have no proof that guilds participated in
the purchase of a sepulcher, either in Korykos177 or in Tyre,178 which provide the two
largest groups of such epitaphs. Pride in one’s craftsmanship, and its assertion in the
tombs’ inscriptions, were perhaps accentuated by rivalry between social groups. The
strength of the trades in any event gave rise to a great diversification of subtrades
within certain branches of activity.179 While there were, as we have seen, artisans in the
larger villages, these small trades were, for the most part, an urban phenomenon.
Provisioning and the hardware trades were particularly well represented, the first
undoubtedly implicating rural inhabitants as well. The place in which commercial activity
took place is often specified: a baker in Nicaea had his shop near the stone tetrapylon;
180 at Nea Anchialos, a salt meat or fish merchant sold his produce at the agora.181
Fine examples of taverns have been found at Sardis (Fig. 6).182
Construction flourished during this period, as indicated above, developing as much
in the city as it did in the countryside, and calling into play a large number of village
inhabitants and, in some cases, seasonal workers.183 The trade included marble workers
(who may be linked with the epitaphs of the “Proconnesians”),184 stonecutters (whose  activities ranged from quarrying to sculpture), brickmakers,185 masons, specialists in
stone facing and opus sectile, and mosaicists (whose signatures often appear in the Near
East in paving inscriptions),186 specialists in surfacing (plasterers), and, at the head of
all these trades, entrepreneurs and architects.187 The famous agreement of 459 ratified
at Sardis between the guild of masons and their employers demonstrates the ability of
the guild to negotiate with its employers (in particular through recourse to strikes)
and to represent the profession as a whole, as well as the existence of a strained labor
market in which specialized personnel were sought after.188
Pottery held an exceptional place in the economy of the sixth century;189 it has been
recovered in large quantity by archaeologists, and it functioned, in the case of amphoras,
as packaging. The typology of Byzantine pottery has long been established, and
the determination of its various places of origin has made great progress, as has its
dating, permitting us to evaluate the level of commercial exchanges.190 The quantities
recovered represent but a small proportion of the quantities produced. Significant production
areas were North Africa, Attica and Corinth, Moesia, the western coast of Asia
Minor (the areas around Pergamon, Phokaia, the peninsula of Cnidus), Sagalassos, the
Cilician coasts, the regions of Antioch and Cyprus, Galilee and the northern part of
Samaria, the regions of Gaza and of Ascalon, and Egypt.191 The production of tableware,
like that of amphoras, took place on a regional scale and was rarely concentrated
in a specific site. The presence of kilns maintained this production outside cities, as
did, undoubtedly, the need for easy access to combustible materials. The manufacture
of amphoras, for reasons of profitability, must have occurred near locations at which
foodstuffs were produced (principally wine, oil, and garum).192 In North Africa, it seems
to have been associated with large landholdings and allied to the production of tableware and lamps. Such was the case in any event, according to Michael Mackensen, at El-Mahrine and Henchir el Biar: the workshops were probably owned by a possessor
fundi, while the potters were the conductores of their workshops.193

There is evidence  for such an arrangement in third-century Egypt, where contracts between large landowners
and amphora manufacturers have been preserved,194 and where large factories
dating from the second to the fourth centuries have been found, together with associated
presses and kilns near Lake Maryut.195 Nonetheless, the production of tableware
could be a separate activity. In the region of Gaza and Ascalon, workshops located
around villages and hamlets produced amphoras exclusively.196 The most impressive
kilns are those that have been found in the agricultural complex located to the north
of Ascalon: the relation in this case between large estate and amphora production was
very close.197 At Sagalassos, the potters’ quarter was located northeast of the city; its
production was diversified (cups, bowls, plates, but also open and covered vessels).198
Secondary centers appeared around the sixth century, producing a painted tableware
(in Gerasa, possibly Nea Anchialos, Gortyna, and Egypt).
Greek molded lamps have a curious history. Corinth launched a spectacular production
in the second century, with potters who signed their pieces. It was quickly imitated
by Athens, which dominated the market in the fourth century. By the middle of the
fifth century, the rivalry between the two centers came into resurgence; neither was a
producer strictly speaking, but rather thrived in creating counterfeits and systematic
adaptations of cast pieces, in particular lamps from North Africa. These phenomena
multiplied in secondary centers.199 In the course of the sixth century, pottery workshops
with small facilities proliferated within the centers of abandoned cities (Delphi,
Utina), but we are not able to fathom the reasons for this phenomenon. The same
holds true at Gerasa and at Aqaba under Umayyad domination.
The work of potters from this period, except for certain Attic lamps (from the workshops
of Chione and Sotiria until the beginning of the 6th century) and lamps from
the Near East (6th and 7th centuries), is anonymous or marked by a few plain stamps.
Amphoras tend to bear indications of the contents, the quantity of products transported, and the name of their owner. Only one signature is known, on a jar; it seems  to be humoristic, the potter being designated by the surname Pulofa´go” (clay-eater).200
Glassmaking grew rapidly as the result of the dissemination of the technique of glassblowing
during the early Byzantine period.201 It played a role in fenestration, which  developed in churches in particular, in lighting (the hanging lamps or bowls of the  polykandela and standing lamps), and in dishes, where it inspired certain types of ceramics.
The major regions in which glass has been found, and undoubtedly was produced,
are Egypt,202 the provinces of Palestine (where two glass factories have been
found),203 Transjordan and the Hauran,204 undoubtedly Phoenicia (Tyre in particular),
the Syrian coast (?), Cilicia,205 the region of Sardis,206 Constantinople,207 and the Crimea.
208 Glassworking developed in parallel between Mediterranean Europe and the
Near East, although the precise relations between the two regions remain unclear.
Textile work was one of the most important commercial activities of antiquity.209 It
was carried out in both imperial and private workshops. With respect to the first, notable
factories included the linen mills (liniphia) of Scythopolis, wool mills ( gynaecea) in
Herakleia of Thrace, Kyzikos, and Caesarea in Cappadocia, and dyeworks in Cyprus
and Phoenicia (at Tyre one-fifth of the trade names relate to purple dye). The English
excavation team at Carthage has recently proposed an identification of the imperial
gynaeceum of Carthage known to us through the Notitia Dignitatum and the Theodosian
Code with buildings discovered in the circular harbor;210 the concentration of artisanal
workshops is, in any event, testimony to the importance of textile work in this region.







Cecile Morrisson and Jean-Pierre Sodini


163 Dehes: Syria 57 (1980): 300; Hesban: see note 164.
164 J. Boessneck and A. van den Driesch, “Preliminary Analysis of the Animal Bones from Tell
Hesban,” in R. S. Boraas and L. T. Geraty, Heshbon, 1976: The Fifth Campaign at Tell Hesban. A Preliminary
Report (Berrien Springs, Mich., 1978), 259–87.
165 See the summary table on bovine, ovine, and swine remains compiled by D. J. Mattingly and
R. B. Hitchner, “Roman Africa: An Archaeological Review,” JRS 85 (1995): 197, table 1.
166 Durliat, De la ville antique, 74–80, 94–107; B. Sirks, Food for Rome: The Legal Structure of the Transportation
and Processing of Supplies for the Imperial Distributions in Rome and Constantinople (Amsterdam,
1991), chap. 13.
167 J.-M. Lasse`re, “Miracles et vie e´conomique en Afrique au Ve s.: A propos d’un troupeau de
cochons (De miraculis Sancti Stephani protomartyris libri duo, I.14),” L’Africa Romana 8 (1991): 305–15.

168 Colt, Nessana, 1:69.
169 Bagnall, Egypt, 28–29: numerous pig bones found in excavations at Karanis.
170 J. H. Schwarz, “The (Primarily) Mammalian Fauna,” in Excavations at Carthage: The British Mission,
vol. 1.1 (Sheffield, 1984), 229–65; D. E. Reese, “Faunal Remains from Three Cisterns,” in Humphrey,
Carthage 1977 (as above, note 135), 191–258; M. A. Levine, “The Analysis of Mammal and Bird
Remains,” in Hurst, Excavations at Carthage (as above, note 9), 314–24; A King, “Diet in the Roman
World: A Regional Inter-site Comparison of the Mammal Bones,” JRA 12 (1999): 168–202.
171 R. H. Smith, Pella of the Decapolis, 2 vols. (Wooster, Ohio, 1973), 1:162.
172 A. Gautier, “La faune de quelques maisons d’Apame´e,” in Apame´e de Syrie: Bilan des recherches
arche´ologiques, 1973–1979. Aspects de l’architecture domestique d’Apame´e, ed. J. Balty (Brussels, 1984),
305–58; idem, Les restes de verte´bre´s de la Maison aux Consoles (Brussels, 1977).
173 References to 6th-century sources in G. Dagron, “Poissons, peˆcheurs et poissonniers de Constantinople,”
in Mango and Dagron, Constantinople and Its Hinterland (as above, note 148), 57–73.
174 A. Wheeler, “The Fish Remains,” in Humphrey, Carthage 1977 (as above, note 135), 231–41 and
249. Tuna, absent in this sampling, has been found in the surveys of the circular harbor, Hurst,
Excavations at Carthage (as above, note 9), 319.
175 See, for Carthage, J. Zaouali, “Marine and Land Molluscs,” in Hurst, Excavations at Carthage (as  above, note 9), 320–24.

176 For a good inventory of the crises in large early-Byzantine cities, see Durliat, De la ville antique,
177 MAMA 3: nos. 200–788; Patlagean, Pauvrete´ e´conomique, 158–63.
178 J.-P. Rey-Coquais, “Inscriptions de la ne´cropole (Tyr),” BMBeyr 29 (Paris, 1977); cf. J. and
L. Robert, “Bulletin e´pigraphique,” REG 89 (1978): 522.
179 K. P. Mentzou, Sumbolai´ eij” th`n mele´thn tou’ oijkonomikou’ kai` koinwnikou’ bi´ou th'” prwi?mou buzantinh'”
perio´dou (Athens, 1975); Sodini, “Artisanat urbain”; H. von Petrikovitz, “Die Spezialisierung des
ro¨mischen Handwerks II (Spa¨tantike),” ZpapEpig 43 (1981): 285–306; Bagnall, Egypt, 78–92.
180 C. Foss, Nicaea: A Byzantine Capital and Its Praises (Brookline, Mass., 1996), 16 n. 17.
181 A. Ntina, “Epitu´mbie” enepi´grafe” sth´le” palaiocristianikh´” epoch´” apo´ ti” Fqiw´ tide” Qh´be”
(Ne´a” Agcia´lou),” Dieqne´” Sune´drio gia thn Arcai´a Qessali´a sth mnh´mh tou D. P. Qeoca´rh (Athens,
1992), 452.
182 J. S. Crawford, The Byzantine Shops at Sardis (Cambridge, Mass., 1990), W1–W3, E1–2.
183 For Cilicia and northern Syria, Sodini, “Artisanat urbain,” 76; Tate, Campagnes, 249–51, and
G. Tate, “Les me´tiers dans les villages de Syrie du Nord,” Ktema 16 (1995): 73–78; Feissel and Fourdrin,
“Une porte urbaine.”
184 Regarding quarries, see Sodini, “Marble and Stoneworking in Byzantium,” 125–31.

185 The bibliography in Sodini, “Artisanat urbain,” 73–75, should be supplemented with that of
J. Bardill, “A Catalogue of Stamped Bricks,” Anatolian Archaeology 1 (1995): 28–29.
186 P. Asemakopoulou-Atzaka, To` ejpa´ggelma tou’yhfoqe´th kata` th`n o“yimh ajrcaio´thta (3o”–7o” aijw´ na”
(Athens, 1993); see also F. Alpi, “Les inscriptions de l’e´glise d’ ‘Ain Fattir,” RevBibl 99 (1992): 435–39
(the mosaicists Klaudianos and Immanouel), and D. Feissel, “Bulletin e´pigraphique,” REG 105
(1992): no. 644 (the mosaicist Thomas).
187 K. Kretikekou, “Mnei´e” oikodomikw´ n epaggelma´twn sti” epigrafe´” th” rwmai¨kh´”-palaiocristianikh
´” Palaisti´nh” kai Arabi´a”,” Meleth´mata 10 Poiki´la (Athens, 1990): 373–94.
188 Foss, Sardis, 19–20, inscription 14 (lines 110–13); P. Garnsey, “Les travailleurs du baˆtiment de
Sardes et l’e´conomie urbaine du Bas-Empire,” in L’origine des richesses de´pense´es dans la ville antique, ed.
P. Leveau (Aix-en-Provence, 1988), 147–60.
189 J. W. Hayes, Excavations at Sarac¸hane in Istanbul, vol. 2 (Princeton, N.J.–Washington, D.C., 1992),
3–212, is the basic text; for supplementary bibliography, see Sodini, “Artisanat urbain,” 80–85; idem,
“La contribution de l’arche´ologie,” 173–79.
190 See V. Franc¸ois and J.-M. Spieser, “Pottery and Glass in Byzantium,” EHB 586–97.
191 C. Panella, “Merci e scambi nel Mediterraneo tardoantico,” in Carandini, Cracco Ruggini, and
Giardina, Storia di Roma (as above, note 10) 3.2:613–97; for North Africa, see S. Tortorella, “La ceramica
africana: Un bilancio dell’ultimo decennio di richerche,” in Productions et exportations africaines:
Actualite´s arche´ologiques, ed. P. Trousset (Paris, 1995), 79–102.
192 On the importance of garum in the economy of North Africa during late antiquity, see N. Ben
Lazreg et al., “Production et commercialisation des salsamenta de l’Afrique Ancienne,” in Trousset,
Productions et exportations africaines (as above, note 191), 103–42.

193 M. Mackensen, Die Spa¨tantiken Sigillata- und Lampento¨pfereien von el Mahrine (Nordtunesien) (Munich,
194 H. Cockle, “Pottery Manufacture in Roman Egypt,” JRS 71 (1981): 87–97.
195 J.-Y. Empereur, “La production viticole en E´gypte,” in Amouretti and Brun, La production du vin
et de l’huile (as above, note 142), 39–47.
196 Y. Israel, “Survey of Pottery Workshops, Nahal Lakhish-Nahal Besor,” Excavations and Surveys in
Israel 13 (1993 [1995]): 106–7. Somewhat more to the north of Ascalon, an early Byzantine kiln has
also been found, although its specific products have not been determined: Y. Levy, “Tel Yavne
(South), Kiln,” Excavations and Surveys in Israel 12 (1993 [1994]) (references provided by Y. Hirschfeld).
197 Y. Israel, “Ashqelon,” Excavations and Surveys in Israel 13 (1993 [1995]): 100–105.
198 Waelkens, Sagalassos I (as above, note 115), 113–69; Waelkens and Poblome, Sagalassos II, 149–
227; idem, Sagalassos III, 177–270; J. Poblome, Sagalassos Red Slip Ware (Turnhout, 1998).
199 B. Lindros Wohl, “Lamps from the Excavations at Isthmia by UCLA,” in The Corinthia in the
Roman Period, ed. T. E. Gregory, (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1993), 130–38; A. Karivieri, The Athenian Lamp
Industry in Late Antiquity (Helsinki, 1996).

200 Plotinopolis (Didymoticho): M. Se`ve, “Bulletin e´pigraphique,” REG 107 (1994): 502 (no. 166)
(Pulofa´go” kuqropla´sth” e“grasen [sic]).
201 Sodini, “Artisanat urbain,” 92–94; idem, “La contribution de l’arche´ologie,” 179–80.
202 Bagnall, Egypt, 85; E. L. Higashi, “Conical Glass Vessels from Karanis: Function and Meaning
in a Pagan/Christian Context in Rural Egypt” (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1990).
Regarding glass in Alexandria, C. Haas, Alexandria in Late Antiquity: Topography and Social Conflict (Baltimore,
Md., 1997), 33–34, 193, 198.
203 Jalame: G. Davidson Weinberg, Excavations at Jalame, Site of a Glass Factory in Late Roman Palestine
(Columbia, Mo., 1988); Hadera (near the coast, to the south of Dor): Y. Gorin-Roser, “Hadera, Bet
Eli‘ezer,” Excavations and Surveys in Israel 13 (1993 [1995]): 42–43. Others have been previously identified
in Sodini, “Artisanat urbain,” 167 n. 205.
204 O. Dussart, “Les verres de Jordanie et de Syrie du Sud du IVe au VIIe sie`cle,” in Le verre
de l’Antiquite´ tardive et du Haut Moyen Age: Typologie chronologie, diffusion, ed. D. Foy (Guiry-en-Vexin,
1995), 343–59.
205 E. M. P. Stern, “The Production of Glass Vessels in Roman Cilicia,” Ko¨lner Jahrbuch zu Vor- und
Fru¨hgeschichte 22 (1989): 121–28, mistakenly confounds itrarius (pastrycook) with vetrarius. For glassmakers’
kilns at Anamur, Sodini, “Artisanat urbain,” 167 n. 204.
206 Crawford, Shops, E12–E13 (the inventory yields 10% window glass; 90% glass vessels); A. von
Saldern, Ancient and Byzantine Glass from Sardis (Cambridge, Mass., 1980).
207 Hayes, Sarac¸hane, 399–402.
208 Y. Ivachenko, “Le verre proto-byzantin, recherches en Russie (1980–1990),” in Foy, Le verre de
l’Antiquite´ tardive (as above, note 204), 319–30, and A. Sazanov, “Verres a` de´cor de pastilles bleues
provenant des fouilles de la Mer Noire: Typologie et chronologie,” ibid., 331–41.
209 Sodini, “Artisanat urbain,” 90–92 and 103; A. Avrame´a, “Artisanat et commerce du textile dans
le Bas-Empire oriental (IVe–VIIe sie`cles),” in Cultural and Commercial Exchanges between the Orient and
the Greek World (Athens, 1991), 23–29.
210 Hurst, Excavations at Carthage, 64–98.


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