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7-08-2015, 20:44

Civil administration

In the civil administration inherited from the reforms of Diocletian and Constantine, alongside the administration of the empire through the prefectures, there were also departments called res privata and sacrae largitiones, administered by counts (comites), who belonged to the imperial court (the comitatus). The comes rei privatae was responsible for all land and property belonging to the state, including the collection of rents and claiming for the state all property that lapsed to it.Originally the comes rei privatae had been concerned with the emperor’s private property, as the name suggests, but the distinction between that and state property had long been elided. The comes sacrarum largitionum controlled the mints, the gold (and probably silver) mines and the state factories in which arms and armour were decorated with precious metals.He was also responsible for paying periodic donatives in gold and silver to the troops, and dealt with the collection or production of clothing and its distribution to the court, the army and the civil service. The praetorian prefects were responsible for the fiscal administration of the prefectures into which the empire was divided. These prefectures consisted of provinces, governed by governors (with various titles), and were themselves grouped into dioceses, governed by vicarii. The praetorian prefects were responsible for the rations, or ration allowances (annonae), which formed the bulk of the emoluments of the army and the civil service, and also for the fodder, or fodder allowances, of officers, troopers and civil servants of equivalent grades. They had to maintain the public post, and were responsible for public works, roads, bridges, post-houses and granaries which did not come under the care of the urban prefects in Rome and Constantinople, the city authorities in the provinces, or the army on the frontiers. In order to do all this, the praetorian prefects had to estimate the annual needs of their prefecture and raise the money through a general levy, or tax, called the indiction. The whole operation of raising this tax and servicing the running of the empire was overseen by the praetorian prefects, who delegated it to their vicarii and governors. Only the praetorian prefect in whose prefecture the emperor and his court were located was attached to the court; once the court was permanently settled in Constantinople, this meant the praetorian prefect for the east (Oriens). Also influential in the comitatus were senior officials of the sacrum cubiculum, the eunuch chamberlains (cubicularii). By the end of the eighth century, the fiscal administration was organised rather differently. The distinction between the public and the ‘sacred’ (i.e. pertaining to the person of the emperor) had gone, and instead of the res privata, the sacrae largitiones and the prefectures, there were a number of departments, or sekr¯eta, of more or less equal status. Besides the sakellarios and the heads of the three great departments – the logothete of the Drome (tou dromou), the general logothete (tou genikou) and the military logothete (tou strati ¯otikou)20 – there were several other senior administrators. Among these were two treasurers, the chartoularios of the sakellion, in charge of cash and most charitable institutions, and the chartoularios of the vestiarion, in charge of the mint and the arsenal. Other heads of state establishments included the great curator (megas kourat¯or), in charge of the palaces and imperial estates, and the orphanotrophos, in charge of orphanages. In addition there was an official called the pr¯otasekr¯etis, in charge of records.Directly responsible to the emperor were the principal magistrates, the City prefect (responsible for Constantinople), the quaestor (in charge of the judiciary) and the minister for petitions (who dealt with petitions to the emperor). A rather obvious, and superficial, change is that of language: whereas the older system used Latin titles, the new system used predominantly Greek titles. This reflects the change in the official language of the empire from Latin, traditional language of the Roman empire, to Greek, language of Constantinople and the Hellenistic east; a change dating from the time of Justinian.More deeply, it can be seen that the change involved a reshuffling of tasks, so that they all became subject to a fundamentally civil administration based on the court. The genikon and strati¯otikon derived from the general and military departments of the prefectures (in fact, the prefecture of the East, as we shall see); the sakellion from the sacellum, the personal treasury of the emperor within the sacrum cubiculum; and the vestiarion from the department of the sacrum vestiarium within the sacrae largitiones. The position of the sakellarios perhaps gives a clue to the nature of the changes. In charge of the emperor’s personal treasury, this official’s eventual rise to pre-eminence was a function of his closeness to the emperor and suggests a shift from an essentially public administration, its structure determined by the need to administer a far-flung empire, to an administration focused on the court, in which the empire is almost reduced to the extent of an imperial command. The background to this is the dramatic shrinking of the empire in the first half of the seventh century. The loss of the eastern provinces followed byNorth Africa and, by the end of the eighth century, Italy too, together with the Slavs’ occupation of the Balkans and the emergence of the Bulgar realm south of theDanube, meant that the Byzantine empire had shrunk to the rumps of two prefectures, of the East and Illyricum. Reorganisation of the civil administration took the form of Constantinople incorporating the administrative offices of the empire into a court structure. The growing power of the sakellarios can be traced back to the time of Justinian; by the mid-seventh century, judging from the role he played in the trial ofMaximus the Confessor, he was a powerful courtier who took personal charge of matters of supreme importance to the emperor. Logothetes also feature in the sources from the early years of the seventh century, but officials bearing traditional titles, such as praetorian prefect, not to mention civil governors of provinces, continue to appear in the sources well into the eighth century. This would suggest that there was a substantial period of overlap, with the new administration emerging while the old administration still retained some of its functions. However, the full picture only emerges when we consider the changes in the military administration.

 

 

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