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7-08-2015, 23:55

Reform of the coinage and taxation

Alexios’ achievement was to rebuild the Byzantine empire. The new and the traditional were mixed in equal measure. He restored the traditional role of the emperor in ecclesiastical affairs, but took it further. Caesaropapism is an apt enough description of his supervision of the church. Politically, Byzantium was organised on a dynastic rather than a hierarchical basis. This is perhaps where Alexios was at his most radical because it had farreaching implications for the organisation of government. It meant that the emperor shared power with members of an extended family. There was, on the other hand, no radical restructuring of government. Alexios was more interested in finding ways of exercising control. His solution was to create coordinating ministries. The civil service was now subordinated to the logothete of the sekr¯eta, later known as the grand logothete; the fiscal services were placed under the control of the grand logariast. Alexios inherited a bankrupt state. The coinage was miserably debased, with the gold coinage’s fineness reduced from twenty-four to eight carats. So desperate was his situation that Alexios had to debase still further, but by 1092 he was able to restore some order to the coinage.He raised the fineness of the standard gold coinage to around twenty carats and kept the debased electrum issues, but stabilising them at around six carats. He also kept the debased silver coinage in the form of a billon coin with a minimal silver content. He issued a new copper coinage. Alexios’ reform of the coinage was typical of the measures he took to restore the empire.He imposed order and stability, but his measures had radical consequences. Michael Hendy contends that ‘the Alexian coinage reform of 1092 attempted and achieved nothing less than a complete reconstruction of the coinage system on an entirely novel basis; . . . only the Diocletianic reform had been on a similar scale.’30 His innovation was to create a regular coinage based on alloys rather than pure metal. It is likely that the existence of both an electrum and a billon coinage, which took the place of the old silver miliar¯esia, made for a more flexible monetary system. But the greatest service that Alexios’ coinage reform did was to re-establish clear equivalences between the different coinages. Their absence had brought chaos to the fiscal system. In the wake of his reform of the coinage Alexios was able to proceed to a thoroughgoing reform of the collection of taxes – the so-called nea logarik¯e. It was essentially an adaptation of the taxation system to the reformed coinage. It has been estimated that it was done in such a way as to quadruple the tax rate. Alexios I Komnenos ended the lax fiscal regime of the eleventh century. There are no signs that theByzantine economy suffered. It quickly recovered from a period of dislocation which lasted for approximately twenty years, from the defeat atManzikert to Alexios’ victory over the Pechenegs in 1091. The manorialisation of the countryside continued with largely beneficial results for the peasantry (see above, pp. 584–5). The towns ofGreece and the southern Balkans prospered. Places such as Corinth, Thebes andHalmyros (in Thessaly) benefited from a growing Italian presence and there was an upsurge of local trade around the shores of the Aegean. Constantinople continued to be the clearing house of the medieval world. The empire was far from being ‘internally played out’. But there had been a decisive shift in its centre of gravity from Asia Minor to Greece and the southern Balkans, which experienced sustained economic growth. It is not clear, however, that this compensated for the loss of the resources of Anatolia. Its recovery was always Alexios’ major task.