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7-08-2015, 20:52

Taxation and the provinces

The debate over the arrangements for recruitment of the army is connected with the debate over whether the tax system worked in cash or in kind; and this, in turn, depends on how one believes money circulated. It is unanimously agreed that circulation dwindled between 650 and 850. However, recent studies have drawn attention to the vitality of Sicilian gold coinage, as well as to the role played by the miliar¯esion – the silver coin worth 1 12 of the nomisma, introduced by Leo III in 721. The latter innovation helps explain the great importance of the fortress of Lulon, located on the border with the caliphate at the heart of a mining region. The circulation of copper coins has also been reassessed; this had previously been assumed to be non-existent, as account had not been taken of the many anonymous folleis preserved among archaeological finds in Turkish museums, notably at Ankyra.87 Availability of money was vital for the army, in order to pay the rogai of the officers and men. The enemy waswell aware of this and the ‘Wells Fargo’ wagon of the rogai, accompanied by the strat¯egos, was a key target for attack. In 809 the Bulgars seized the rogai of the army on the Strymon, totalling 1,100 pounds of gold, or 79,200 nomismata. Two years later, the Arabs captured the rogai of the theme of the Armeniakoi, which amounted to 1,300 pounds, or 93,600 nomismata – over three times the annual tribute of 30,000 nomismata paid to the Arabs byNikephoros I in 806.88 It is generally thought that the roga was paid every four years, though no contemporary text declares as much.89 The state also needed to issue allowances in kind to maintain the army on campaign. The system described in the military Treatise compiled under Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, but based on documents of the Isaurian period,90 was probably at least partially in place from the eighth century.Under this system, the pr¯otonotarios of the theme – the highest civilian official in the thematic administration, first mentioned in the ninth century – would supply each military staging-post (apl¯ekton) with barley for the horses and other necessities; these outgoings would be recorded in and deducted from the theme’s account in the eidikon, the central office of the tax administration.91 We can see this supply system at work in 782 under Irene. According to al-Tabari, she supplied Harun al-Rashid ‘with guides and markets’ for his journey back from Bithynia to the caliphate, after he had negotiated a peace treaty in which this featured as one of the clauses.92 The sources do not really allow us to decide between the two interpretations of the tax system currently on offer. Those who argue that taxes were paid in cash do so mainly by reference to the tax on Constantinopolitans for repairs to the City’s walls; they maintain that the hearth tax, the kapnikon, as well as the property tax, described by the Farmer’s law in a village context, were paid in cash from the time of Constantine V.93 This would indeed appear probable for the kapnikon, which Nikephoros I extended to the inhabitants of church lands – those belonging to bishoprics, monasteries and pious foundations – and we even know the rate at which the kapnikon was paid underMichael II: two miliar¯esia per household.94 But it is harder to say the same of the property tax. Two contemporary letters support the idea of a property tax called the syn¯on¯e, paid in kind: both were written between 820 and 843 by Bishop Ignatios of Nicaea to the pr¯otonotarios Nicholas, complaining on behalf of the men of his church. Although these men were theoretically exempted from the syn¯on¯e, as they were from forced labour and other impositions – and despite having already sent the grain of the syn¯on¯e to the public granaries that year – the syn¯on¯e was still being demanded of them, together with an additional six modioi per male inhabitant. Opinions as to whether the property tax was paid in cash or kind depend on whether one interprets the word syn¯on¯e as a property tax or as a requisition; it was originally the Greek translation of the Latin coemptio, the compulsory, fixed-price sale to the state of goods needed for the army.95 One might also take into account the case, under Theodora and Michael III, of the poor who were imprisoned by the dioik¯et¯es of Prousa for non-payment of taxes; the abbot of Agauroi gave them 100 nomismata, which had been earmarked to pay the taxes of his own monastery.96 It is not clear, however, which tax was involved here. This debate is compounded by another concerning the kommerkiarioi, whose numerous seals have been found for the period between 650 and 730, dated by indiction and stamped with the emperor’s effigy. Their legends also mention warehouses (apoth¯ekai) and the names of several provinces. There is general agreement that the kommerkiarioi reported to the central office of finances in Constantinople, the genikon logothesion. Those who believe taxes were paid in kind argue that the kommerkiarioi were responsible for depositing the tax proceeds needed for the year’s campaigns in the apoth¯ekai; and there is undeniably a certain correspondence between the dates and provinces mentioned on the seals and military expeditions.97 On the other hand, those who argue that taxes were paid in cash see the kommerkiarioi as private entrepreneurs who controlled the silk trade for a fixed period in the provinces where they managed the apoth¯ekai for the state.98 After 730 the seals of the kommerkiarioi disappear for about a century and are replaced by impersonal seals ‘of the imperial kommerkia’ from one city or province or another. This implies reform under Leo III, the exact terms of which are unknown.However, this might explain the appearance in our sources of the kommerkion, or indirect tax on transactions. The kommerkion is mentioned under Constantine VI in connection with the fair at Ephesos, and under Irene and Nikephoros I in connection with the customs offices on the Bosporus (Hieron) and the Dardanelles (Abydos).99 At the beginning of the ninth century the kommerkiarioi reappear in the Balkans and even in the Danish port of Hedeby, where seals of the kommerkiarios Theodore have been found.100 This survey of the army and the tax system needed to maintain it, to ensure the empire’s survival, can only be fragmentary and provisional, and our knowledge is constantly being expanded with the publication of new sources, such as seals.However, the most important fact remains the Isaurians’ mobilisation of all the empire’s resources for the army, and the resultant militarisation of society, which also has the effect of obscuring civilian life. We know little about the civil administration of the provinces before a thematic civil administration under the authority of the pr¯otonotarios was installed at the beginning of the ninth century. All we know is that it was carried out by chartoularioi and eparchs, who had a role in the tax system, and by the dioiketai ‘of the provinces’ who were the collectors of taxes.101 Another consequence of this militarisation was the creation of a military aristocracy, whose titles were reward for senior command. The Isaurians surrounded themselves with men who often had their origins outside the empire: for example under Leo III the patrikiosBeser, or Artabasdos, strat¯egos of the Anatolikoi and later brother-in-law of the emperor; and under Leo IV, the five strat¯egoi appointed after the expedition of 778, four of whom were Armenian. Leo V, himself of Armenian origin, was the son of a patrikios named Bardas – perhaps the strat¯egos of the Armeniakoi in 771. Leo married the daughter of the patrikios Arsavir, also an Armenian and probably the nephew of Bardanes Tourkos (i.e. Khazar), the strat¯egos of the Anatolikoi who revolted against Nikephoros I in 803. It is also under the Isaurians that family names first make an appearance – most often as sobriquets applied to the iconoclasts – and aristocratic families were constituted. Several of the latter, such as the Kamoulianoi and the Melissenoi, who appeared under Constantine V, were to have a long history. A good part of the aristocracy of the ninth century owed its standing to the brilliant military career of an ancestor in the previous century.