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



Laodicaea in  Syria, Tyre, Dor, and Gaza, and especially Caesarea, restored, according to Prokopios,
by Anastasios I (491–518), were still active export centers. Alexandria—the annonary  port for Constantinople and the outlet for the eastern spice trade—seems to have  maintained two large docks dating from Hellenistic times. The fate of Carthage’s port
was altogether different; recent excavations have confirmed the abandonment of the  circular harbor during the Vandal period, as well as Prokopios’ description of buildings,already mentioned above (stoai, linked perhaps with the annona or the imperial
gynaeceum), reconstructed on the Island of the Admiralty under Justinian (De aedificiis 6.5.10). The harbor was subsequently put back into service, although on a reduced  scale, and new, smaller quays were probably constructed on either side. The quay of
the hexagonal port was raised during the fifth and sixth centuries because of the rising  sea level; it had ceased to function by the end of the sixth century.227 Of Rome’s two  ports, Ostia declined to the benefit of Portus, which was subsequently fortified, but
much diminished relative to what it had been during the second century. According to  Prokopios, merchandise was transported to Rome from Portus, either by road or along  the Tiber on barges towed by oxen (Bell. Goth. 1.26).228 The harbor of Naples was also  fortified through its inclusion in the surrounding walls of the enlarged city around the  year 440 and again around 556, a fact that does not allow us necessarily to conclude  that the city’s population grew. At Ravenna,229 the silting and shifting of the mouth of   the lagoon led to the construction of the novus portus of Classe, from which Belisarios  sent ships loaded with grain and other foodstuffs (Bell. Goth. 2.29.311).230


With the exception of Constantinople, Byzantine harbors were universally of smaller  capacity than harbors of the early Roman Empire, even of those of the fourth century;ships as well were built on a more modest scale. The decline was substantial. In the
course of the fifth century, ships of increasingly small tonnage were requisitioned:
2,000 modioi (approximately 12 tons burden) in 439 in a novel repeated in the Justinianic  Code and even 1,000 modioi (8 metric tons or 6 tons burden) in a novel of Valentinian  III, as opposed to 50,000 modioi in the second century. The limit undoubtedly
sought also to stem the flight from fiscal duties and was precisely equivalent to that  assigned to the curiosi of Seleucia for the payment of sportulae. This capacity is a fifth  of that of the Yassı Ada shipwreck (40 tons). Although a few large-capacity vessels
continued to sail in the eastern portion of the empire (the shipwreck of Marzamemi  transporting 200–400 tons of Proconnesian marble and the Alexandrian vessels with  a capacity of 70,000 and 20,000 modioi [560 and 160 tons]), ships of small or medium
tonnage were the rule in the West, such as the ships of 2,800-modioi capacity sent by  Theodoric in search of wheat and vectigal in Spain.231
Constantinople was clearly the crux of most of the empire’s trade relations, and the  sixth century marked the endpoint of an evolution that was set into motion by the  creation of a new capital, to the detriment of Rome. The provisioning of an abundant
population,232 on the order of a half million inhabitants, depended not only on a  nearby hinterland for fish or fresh vegetables, or a somewhat more distant one for  meat, but also on sources that were at a far greater remove for other basic foodstuffs.
The 8 million artabas of wheat that came from Egypt met the city’s basic grain requirements  and were supplemented by supplies from Thrace and, after 533 or even earlier,wheat from Africa, as demonstrated by the famine that arose in Constantinople as a
result of the blockage of “African ships” during Herakleios’ revolt in 608. Sicily also  played a role in provisioning, as suggested by the episode of the ships diverted toward  Thessalonike by the miraculous intervention of St. Demetrios and by the fact that the  prefect of Illyricum vainly sought help from the island at the beginning of the seventh  century.233
Oil and wine came for the most part from Syria or Palestine, a fact evidenced by the  pottery of Sarac¸hane, where LRA (Late Roman Amphora) 1 amphoras produced on  the Cilician coast, probably in northern Syria, and also in Cyprus, constitute three  quarters  of the amphora fragments. Grain, oil, and wine—the only products mentioned  in the decree of Abydos, together with dried legumes and salt pork234—constituted  a large portion of the south-to-north exchanges of the eastern Mediterranean
and represented the backbone of the Byzantine empire’s domestic commerce during  the sixth century. The role of the annona and the public distributions remains difficult  to state precisely; it was determinative according to some(JeanDurliat), less so according
to others (V. Sirks and J.-M. Carrie´), a position that appears more plausible, all the more  since the essential foodstuffs were supplemented by textiles, perfumes, unguents, papyrus,and metal, or wood—raw material for the artisanal industry of the capital.235


The second commercial route was not entirely secondary: it united Constantinople  with “Libya and Italy”—the places of origin of the ships mentioned by Prokopios in  connection with the customs stations erected on the Straits (Anecdota 25.7–10). The  eastern amphoras discovered in excavations at Carthage (Fig. 9) confirm the persistence  of these ties. The African route is marked out by finds of high-quality tableware  (African Red Slip) made in Africa Proconsularis and lamps from Byzacena. This cargo was shipped together with heavy products and was distributed throughout the East,not only in Constantinople, but also in Asia Minor, in southern Greece, and, possibly  to a lesser degree, in the Black Sea region (Fig. 10). While it competed against Phokaian
Sigillata ware, which clearly dominated the market in the northern Aegean (80% at Demetrias), in Constantinople, and in Asia Minor, African Red Slip ware assumed  an increased importance over the years 500–550 in Argos (in which it constituted 40%
of high-quality ware), as well as in Athens, Kenchreai, and Sparta. The distribution of  African Red Slip ware also emphasizes the existence of lively east-west relations that,by way of Crete, directly united Africa with the urban centers of Syria-Palestine, Antioch  and Caesarea. Phokaian Sigillata ware, by contrast, had a “capillary” distribution,
reaching interior territories in Asia Minor, Greece, and the East, a fact that suggests “a  small trade in peddling.”236
Archaeological and numismatic material also maps out the western routes of trade  beyond the empire’s limits.237 The Mediterranean was, despite the occasional raids by  Vandal pirates, Byzantium’s inner sea, and Byzantine trade extended to the west as far  as England, and, to the east, reached India by way of the Red Sea, and Central Asia  (albeit with greater difficulty) by land. The French shipwrecks at La Palud (Port-Cros)  and Saint-Gervais (Fos),238 like the pottery finds at Marseilles, testify to relations between  Gaul and the Byzantine East and Africa. In the excavations at Marseilles, the  abundant presence of eastern amphoras declines to 25% at the end of the sixth century  and disappears altogether at the end of the seventh, whereas African amphoras, abundant  in the fourth century, in the minority in the fifth (20–30%), predominate again  (46%) at the end of the sixth century.239 The distribution of LRA 1 and LRA 4, used in  particular for the transport of wine from Laodicaea and Gaza, often mentioned by  Gregory of Tours, reaches as far as the southwest coast of England and indirectly confirms  the famous anecdote of the boat from Alexandria reaching Britain in the Life of  St. John the Almsgiver.240


To the east, the Sasanians dominated the gulf 241 and thus a portion of trade in the  Indian Ocean, as well as the principal land itineraries of the Silk Route. We know  that exchanges were prohibited outside the customs posts of Nisibis, Callinicum, and
Artaxata; this affected trade in silk and other luxury products, such as pearls brought  by the son of a wealthy Persian merchant from Rev Ardashir to Nisibis, where he converted  and became a monk.242 The maritime route was not entirely controlled, however,and Byzantine, Axumite, or Himyarite merchants reached as far as Taprobane  (Ceylon), as Cosmas Indicopleustes recalls in an often cited text, or southern India as  attested by the finds of solidi spanning the reigns of Theodosios II to Herakleios. Together  with the shipping lanes of the Red Sea, caravan routes uniting southern Arabia  with Syria flourished in the sixth century; this trade contributed to the prosperity of  all the way stations of the Mediterranean, but in particular Clysma “ubi etiam et de  India naves veniunt,”243 and Adulis, a fact that explains in part at least the conflicts  and battles for influence that unfolded during this period between the Axumites, who  were supported by Byzantium, and the pro-Sasanian Himyarites.244 The evidence of  known texts (Prokopios, Cosmas) is confirmed by archaeological and numismatic data:
the presence of amphoras from Aqaba throughout the Red Sea region and at Axum,and finds of Axumite coins in Jerusalem, testify to relations that were not exclusively  religious.245
The picture of commerce as a whole that we have briefly sketched was transformed  in the second half of the sixth century. Trading volume dropped; the trade routes  themselves are more difficult to unravel, a reflection, perhaps, of political upheavals.
The Byzantine empire now maintained scarcely any contacts with western Europe beyond  southern Italy (Otranto), Sicily, Ravenna, Venice, and certain points along the  Adriatic, as well as Naples, Rome, and the ports of the Ligurian coast.246 Globular
amphoras closely related to the Carthaginian LRA 2 amphoras, possibly produced simultaneously  in both East and West, were distributed throughout the Mediterranean  basin and the Black Sea,247 but they represented little more than the persistence of a
commerce that at the start of the sixth century had been substantial and differentiated.


Cecile Morrisson and Jean-Pierre Sodini


227 Caesarea: A. Raban, “The Inner Harbour Basin of Caesarea: Archeological Evidence for Its  Gradual Demise,” in Caesarea Maritima: A Retrospective after Two Millennia, ed. A. Raban and K. Holum  (Leiden–New York, 1996), 628–66; Prokopios of Gaza, Panegyricus in Imperatorem Anastasium, PG  87.3:2817; Dor: S. A. Kingsley and K. Raveh, “Stone Anchors from Byzantine Contexts in Dor Harbour,Israe¨l,” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 233.1 (1994): 1–12; Carthage: Hurst, Excavations
at Carthage, and idem in Pour sauver Carthage: Exploration et conservation de la cite´ punique, romaine  et byzantine, ed. A. Ennabli (Paris, 1992), 76–78, 88–89.

228 See the very recent contributions of Paroli et al., La storia economica di Roma nell’alto medioevo.
229 P. Arthur, “Naples: Note on the Economy of a Dark Age City,” in Papers in Italian Archaeology IV:
The Cambridge Conference, ed. C. Malone and S. Stoddart (Oxford, 1985), 4:247–59.
230 M. G. Maioli in Ravenna e il porto di Classe: Venti anni di ricerche archeologiche tra Ravenna e Classe,
ed. G. Bermond Montanari (Bologna, 1983), 65–78.
231 Cassiodorus, Variae, 5.36 cited by J. Rouge´, “Quelques aspects de la navigation en Me´diterrane´e
au Ve s. et dans la premie`re moitie´ du VIe s.,” CahHist 6 (1961): 129–54, at 144–46.
232 On provisioning, see herein Dagron, “Urban Economy,” 437ff, and the bibliography cited. See  also Sirks, Food for Rome; idem, “The Size of the Grain Distribution in Imperial Rome and Constantinople,”Athaeneum 79 (1991): 215–37.

233 Theophanes, Chronographia, ed. C. de Boor, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1883–85; repr. Hildesheim, 1963),
1:296; Lemerle, Miracles de Saint De´me´trius, 1: miracle 9, §§ 74–78, pp. 106–7.
234 Text, translation, and commentary by G. Dagron, in G. Dagron and D. Feissel, “Inscriptions  ine´dites du Muse´e d’Antioche,” TM 9 (1985): 421–61 (app. at 451–55). Analyses of the contents of the  amphoras reveal a similar diversity: cereals, wine, oil, honey, dates, and pulses (Hayes, Sarac¸hane, 434).
235 See the survey of the question and Carrie´’s own position in J.-M. Carrie´ and A. Roussel, L’empire  romain en mutation des Se´ve`res a` Constantin, 192–337 (Paris, 1999), 687–91.
236 C. Abadie-Reynal, “Ce´ramique et commerce dans le bassin e´ge´en du IVe au VIIe sie`cle,” in  Hommes et Richesses (as above, note 15), 1:143–62.
237 J.-P. Callu, “I commerci oltre i confini dell’impero,” in Schiavone, Storia di Roma (as above, note 68), 487–524.

238 See F. van Doorninck, Jr., “Byzantine Shipwrecks,” EHB; L. Long and G. Volpe, “Le chargement  de l’e´pave 1 de la Palud (VIe s.) a` Port-Cros (Var): Note Pre´liminaire”, in Fouilles a` Marseille, Les  mobiliers (Ier–VIIe sie`cles ap. J.-C.) (Aix-en Provence, 1998), 317–342; M.-P. Je´ze´gou, “Le mobilier de  l’e´spave Saint-Gervais 2 (VIIIe s.) a` Fos-sur-Mer (B.-du Rh.), ibid., 343–51.
239 Loseby, “Marseille,” recalculating the data published by M. Bonifay, “Observations sur les amphores  tardives de Marseille d’apre`s les fouilles de la Bourse, 1980–1984,” Revue arche´ologique de Narbonnaise  19 (1986): 269–305.
240 C. Thomas, “Tintagel Castle,” Antiquity 62 (1988): 421–34; S. Lebecq, “Gre´goire de Tours et la  vie d’e´changes dans la Gaule du VI sie`cle” in Gre´goire de Tours et l’espace gaulois, ed. N. Gauthier and  H. Galinie´ (Tours, 1997), 169–76.
241 The warehouse of Kane (Bir Ali) on the Strait of Hormuz shipped continuous series of pottery  dating from the 1st century C.E. to the 7th century: P. Ballet, “L’E´gypte et le commerce de longue  distance: Les donne´es ce´ramiques,” Topoi 6 (1996): 826–28. Amphoras of type LRA 1 and 4 have  been identified, as well as cylindrical African amphoras associated with LRA Sigillata. Amphoras from  Ayla (present-day Aqaba) support the argument that it was active as a port until the mid-7th century.
242 J.-B. Chabot, “Le Livre de la chastete´ compose´ par Je´susdenah e´veˆque,” Me´lRome 16 (1896): 27, 248.
243 Antoninus Piacentinus (ca. 570), Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 175, A 41, 6, 151.
244 For the details, see Callu, “I commerci,” 511–520.

245 S. C. Munro-Hay, “The Foreign Trade of Adulis,” AntJ 69 (1989): 43–52.
246 P. Arthur, “Anfore dall’alto Adriatico e il problema del Samos Cistern Type,” Aquileia Nostra 61 (1990): 282–95.
247 Hayes, Sarac¸hane, 61–79 (types 9, 10, 28, 29, 30, corresponding to several productions from the  6th to the early 8th century; G. Murialdo, “Anfore tardoantiche nel Finale (VI–VII secolo),” Rivista  di studi liguri 59/60 (1993–94): 213–46; L. Sagui, M. Ricci, D. Romei, “Nuovi dati ceramologici per la  storia economica di Roma tra VII e VIII secolo,” in La ce´ramique me´die´vale en Me´diterrane´e (Aix-en-Provence, 1997), 35–48.


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