At The Guardian , Peter Frankopan laments the fact that politicians in Europe are happy to use the term "Byzantine" but seem to know little about Byzantium, the empire that ruled much of Southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East for over 1000 years after the fall of Rome. Frankopan, director of Oxcrord Centre for Byzantine Research, argues there are useful lessons for today's leaders, in both Byzantine successes and failures. There was no question that different parts of the empire could have different rules or different taxation policies: for the state to function with a single currency, there had to be fiscal, economic and political union; taxes had to be paid out from the periphery to the centre; and it was understood that resources had to be diverted from rich regions to those that were less well blessed – even if not everyone was happy about it. Freedom, grumbled one author in the 11th century, meant freedom from taxes. If Eurocrats could learn from the structure of the empire, then so too could they benefit from looking at how it dealt with a chronic recession, brought on by the same deadly combination that has crippled western economies today. In the 1070s, government revenues collapsed, while expenditure continued to rise on essential services (such as the military); these were made worse by a chronic liquidity crisis. So bad did the situation become that the doors of the treasury were flung open: there was no point locking them, wrote one contemporary, because there was nothing there to steal. Those responsible for the crisis were shown no mercy. The Herman Van Rompuy of the time, a eunuch named Nikephoritzes, was lambasted by an angry population faced with price rises and a fall in the standard of living, and was eventually tortured to death. Widespread dissatisfaction led to others being unceremoniously removed from position, often forced to become monks, presumably so they could pray for forgiveness for their sins. The crisis even gave rise to a Nigel Farage figure, whose arguments about why things had gone wrong sounded "so persuasive", according to one contemporary, that people "united in giving him precedence" and welcomed him everywhere with applause. He was a breath of fresh air at a time when the old guard were paralysed by inaction and by a dire shortage of good ideas. His message, that the current crop of leaders was useless, was hard to argue with. Read the full post here .
Filed under: taxes, economic policy, EU, currency, economic history, The Guardian, Europe, Byzantine, Peter Frankopan, Byzantine Empire, Byzantium