14.04.04, Bartusis, Land and Privilege in Byzantium

Main Article Content

Walter E. Kaegi

The Medieval Review 14.04.04

Bartusis, Mark C.. Land and Privilege in Byzantium: The Institution of Pronoia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. xliv, 697. ISBN: 9781107009622.

Reviewed by:
Walter E. Kaegi
The University of Chicago

This is a major discussion of and contribution to institutional history in our present era in which institutional history is not very fashionable. The principal focus of Land and Privilege is on Byzantine history between the late eleventh and middle of the fifteenth centuries. Indeed it is a credit to author and publisher that it was possible to conceive, complete, and publish such a massive yet polished book on a very difficult subject. It includes ten hefty chapters in addition to an Introduction and Conclusion. The organization and subsections of contents are reasonable. Bartusis distills an enormous amount of research from sifting records. The geographical scope includes Southeastern Europe, including parts of today's Greece, Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia, FYR Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Turkey. He also investigates relevant cases in Turkish Anatolia, but gives greater weight to the southeastern European conditions, probably because of more citations in the sources. Much documentation comes from the general vicinity of Thessaloniki and especially lands with records that survived on Mt. Athos. Some documents come from Greek islands such as Lemnos and Patmos. Documents include praktika, chrysobulls, typika, and letters. Historians must work with the actual extant documentation. We can discuss whether these form a representative good sample. Fortunately Bartusis' investigations profited from the efforts of generations of French Byzantinists and other scholars who had conduced preliminary searches of records. This is a propitious time for undertaking a major evaluation of the problem and related subjects.

The well planned and well constructed chapters include respectively: Chapter 1 "The non-technical senses of the word pronoia;" Chapter 2 "Paranoia during the twelfth century;" Chapter 3 "'Choniates' gifts of paroikoi;" Chapter 4 "Origins;" Chapter 5 "Pronoia during the period of exile (1204-1261);" Chapter 6 Pronoia during the era of Michael VIII Palaiologos;" Chapter 7 "Terminology, late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries;" Chapter 8 "The Nature of Pronoia, ca. 1282-ca. 1371: A Handbook in Three Parts," Part I Receiving the Grant, Part II Holding the Grant, Part III Relinquishing the Grant;" Chapter 9 "Pronoia in the later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries;" Chapter 10 "Pronoia and timar." There also are five appendices, 22 tables and 5 maps. Bartusis explains that he "tried to incorporate every piece of evidence ever cited by anyone as a reference to the Byzantine institution of pronoia, either to use it to increase our knowledge of the institution, or to dismiss it as irrelevant or too ambiguous to be of much use" (10). All of the above-listed chapters are intelligent but to this reader the most important ones are Chapter 4 and Chapter 8, as well as the polished and tight Conclusion. Each chapter builds on its predecessor and leads to the following one in intelligent order and sequence.

The author was a student of the late Angeliki Laiou, and of course the resulting product owes much to her earlier research and guidance. But Bartusis developed and brought this book to fruition on his own. He overcame difficult challenges of his working conditions to gain time and access to satisfactory research facilities in pursuit of his objective of completing this excellent book. The author took the initiative to win several major competitive post-doctoral fellowships that assisted his research and write-up. He won and used a Fulbright to Greece to the maximum, as well as pursuing research at Dumbarton Oaks. His book is a result of decades of research here in the United States as well as in Greece and Serbia. A thorough study of pronoia has been a long-term desideratum for Byzantine studies. But this book does more than fill a gap. It is a very original piece of historical scholarship. There is no comparable study.

This is an ambitious investigation of the vexed question of the institution of pronoia. It represents an enormous amount of research, cross-checking, and synthesization. The author has rigorously investigated the historical background of the scholarship in multiple languages, including Serbian and Bulgarian. He also investigates land taxes whether or not pronoia. The bibliography is thorough. Study of pronoia necessarily involves probing the old and somewhat misguided question of feudalism. The author handles that topic very sensitively and intelligently. His historical analysis is careful. Bartusis offers good explanations of his train of thought and how he arrived at his reasoned conclusions. He does not attempt to force the sources. Where he cannot arrive at a definitive conclusion he candidly identifies limits. He explains the multiple meanings of pronoia. He helps to clarify many issues. He readily points out blurry usages in primary texts.

Bartusis explains difference between technical and "non-technical" citations of pronoia. His analysis makes sense.

Posotesand its meanings are defined on pp. 245-251 for quantifying the value of a property: amount of money that represented the tax that was normally levied on a taxable item or collection of items if not subject to tax exemption the basic property tax normally levied on, or the sum of taxes normally levied on collections of items (245).

Bartusis traces the origins of pronoia to the eleventh century. But he really begins his intensive analysis with the twelfth century. He reviews important evidence from the Komnenian dynasty. He offers valuable insights on the crucial situation under thirteenth-century Emperor Michael VIII Paleologus. He extends the chronological scope of his analysis to the middle of the fifteenth century. His investigation involves a lot of critical reasoning. He cannot always come to a definitive simple conclusion. He illuminates important aspects of institutional and fiscal history of southeastern Europe (not exclusively Byzantium) between the eleventh and fifteenth century.

Bartusis' book of course concentrates on pronoia, as it should, but it also provides a substantially improved synthesized study of internal conditions between the twelfth and early fifteenth centuries. Readers derive a different picture of late Byzantium from reading Bartusis than from the reading narrative accounts and surveys of Donald M. Nicol or Jonathan Harris on late Byzantium. Despite the mass of information, the author has organized material so that the reader can more easily follow his line of thought.

A word about the relationship of the Byzantine pronoia institution to another institution, that of the Ottoman timars. It seems to be very tenuous and uncertain. It deserves scholarly investigation but may require more consultation with Ottoman institutional specialists. The problem is that the timar system as we think we know it is not systematized until the sixteenth century, but everyone, the eminent Ottoman historian Halil Inalcik included, assumes that it stretches back at least to the fourteenth century. This may not be the case, or, rather, the entire land regime that emerges in the sixteenth century--when Ottomanists begin to get tax registers in abundance and with some regularity--seems in important ways significantly different from that of at least the early fourteenth century, which looks distinctly "feudal" to some, especially when one examines documents of endowment. Sultan Suleyman I was transforming practically everything into imperial (miri) domain on which the developed timar system was based. But it would have been awkward for the author of Land and Privilege to develop part of Land and Privilege as a multi- author study. Bartusis admittedly and prudentially limits himself on Ottoman institutions, especially the Ottoman timar system. This is a wise decision, because Byzantinists too often have sought to explain too many Ottoman institutions in terms of alleged Byzantine origins. But the issue remains tantalizing, especially because the timar system is also pretty specific to Rumelia and much of Anatolia, which were former Byzantine imperial territories; it is never really successfully implemented any great distance south of Aleppo in Ottoman domains. At present the relationship of pronoia to timar remains open. There is no consensus. Nevertheless, Land and Privilege will make a significant contribution not so much by explicit examination of the relationship of pronoia to timar, but by providing a thorough and searching review of known documentation and discussion of pronoia in its southeastern European historical context. Land and Privilege has provided much difficult and valuable spadework for the Ottomanists, who may now use this evidence as they see best and on their own terms for reaching their own conclusions concerning the background for Ottoman timars.

Land and Privilege will not solve every controversy and doubt with respect to late Byzantine rural taxes and land tenure, but it sets out good categories for more focus. This book is an enormous step forward. Bartusis previously wrote an excellent book on the Late Byzantine Army. However this is a different book. Concentrating on pronoia Bartusis explicitly avoids intensive scrutiny of problems of military finance and military service. This is not a study of Late Byzantine war-making. It is essential to understanding fiscal, social, and agrarian structures in late medieval southeastern Europe irrespective of the borders of the Byzantine Empire. It probably will be a landmark standard work of reference. This book should be standard for a long time. This is an achievement. Other positive features of this book: learned and accurate extensive footnotes. The type fonts are superb. Land and Privilege is handsomely printed. It contains a very clear and useful glossary, and it is well indexed. He reviews extant documentation but does not claim to publish any new primary sources with one exception.

Land and Privilege belongs in libraries of medieval, Byzantine, Early Modern, Ottoman, southeastern European history, comparative history, including comparative agrarian and fiscal history. This is a basic work of reference. It is a fundamental contribution to late Byzantine history and institutions. The conclusions could be used in college and university survey courses, but it is too large and too expensive for classroom use except in the form of excerpts.

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Walter E. Kaegi

The University of Chicago