Selected Papers from the XV Oxford University Byzantine Society International Graduate Conference
Justinian’s Legacy. The Western Byzantine Landscape of Power (VI–VII Century)
It is often said that Justinian overstretched the boundaries of the empire, wasting valuable resources on unneeded wars. Such a judgement overlooks the crucial role played by the western Byzantine provinces in the sixth/seventh century and beyond, underestimating their economic and strategic importance. Africa and Italy were still flourishing at the time of the Byzantine reconquest, and when in the seventh century the empire was deprived of most of its eastern and Balkan provinces, their resources became invaluable. Yet, maintaining imperial authority over these distant domains posed considerable problems. The aim of this paper is, on one hand, to underline the fiscal potential of the Byzantine western provinces during the seventh-century crisis; on the other, to highlight the difficulties which the empire had to face in order to exploit these resources.
In the fourth and fifth centuries, Africa had reached an extraordinary level of prosperity, making the fiscal spine that linked Rome to Carthage the backbone of the imperial economy in the west.1 Far from being destroyed by the Vandals, the African economy continued to prosper through the sixth century. The distribution patterns of African ceramics, table wares and amphorae, show that after the Byzantine reconquest African products not only continued to reach their traditional markets in the western Mediterranean, but also found new customers in the east.2
← 93 | 94 → The agricultural prosperity of Africa was directly exploited to the benefit of the empire: in the sixth and seventh centuries, African supplies sustained the...
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