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8-08-2015, 00:35


The economy, social structure and political orientation of the Byzantine state were all transformed through the crises of the fourteenth century. The decision to recover Constantinople in 1261 led, on the one hand, to a chimeric dream of reconstituting the old empire, thus negating the reality that, since the late twelfth century, the strongest forces in that area favoured decentralisation, which would have led to smaller, more homogeneous political entities with, perhaps, strong economic and cultural links with each other. The recapture of Constantinople led to another important choice: the orientation toward western Europe which Michael VIII followed almost single-mindedly. This choice, however, could not be retained at the political level. At the economic level, the Byzantine economy of exchange and manufacturing became inextricably connected with the Italian economy. Close cultural contacts with Italy also existed. Internally, there were, in the course of the century, profound changes in the structure of the dominant classes, of the cities, the merchant class. Many of these developments were advantageous to new social groups and new structures just as they harmed old ones; the great civil war resulted from such conflicts, but failed to resolve them. The most serious problem of the Byzantine empire in this period was that its internal development was thwarted and shaped under intense pressure from foreign and hostile powers, the Serbs for a short while, and the Ottomans. As a result, no viable units could coalesce from the process of decentralisation, for surely individual cities, even with their hinterland, were not viable units. The despotate of the Morea was an exception, but its fate followed inexorably that of the rest of the empire and indeed of the Balkans, which eventually were reunited under a new imperial power, the Ottoman state.