Tuesday, January 07, 2003

23 - How Landowners Were Ruined

From: “The Secret History” – by Pocopius of Caesarea

23 - How Landowners Were Ruined

I will now tell how he ruined the landowners everywhere; although it were a sufficient indication of their sufferings to refer to what I have just written about the officials who were sent to all the cities, for these men plundered the landowners and did what other violence has been told.

Now it had formerly been the long-established custom that each Roman ruler should, not only once during his reign but often remit to his subjects whatever public debts were in arrears, so that those who were in financial difficulty and had no means of paying their delinquencies would not be too far pressed; and so that the tax collectors would not have the excuse of persecuting, as subject to the tax, those who really owed nothing. But Justinian, during thirty-two years' time, made no such concession to his subjects, and consequently those who were unable to pay had to flee their country and never return. Others, more prosperous, grew weary of trying to answer the continual accusations of the informers that the tax they had always paid was less than required by the present rate on their estates. For these unfortunates feared not so much the imposition of a new tax as that they should be burdened by the unjust weight of additional back taxes for so many years. Many, indeed, preferred to abandon their property to the informers or to the confiscation of the state.

Besides, the Medes and the Saracens had ravaged most of Asia, and the Huns and Slavs all of Europe; captured cities had either been razed to their foundations, or made to pay terrible tribute; men had been carried off into slavery together with all their property, and every district had been deserted by its inhabitants because of the daily raids: yet no tax was remitted, except in the case of cities that had been captured by the enemy, and then only for one year. Yet if, as the Emperor Anastasius had done, he had decided to exempt the captured cities from taxation for seven years, even so I believe, he would not have done as much as he should.

For Cabades retired after doing hardly any damage to the buildings, but Chosroes burned to the foundations everything he took, and left greater ruin in his track. Yet to these remaining sufferers, for whom he made this ridiculous remission of taxes, and to all the others, who had many times been invaded by the army of the Medes, and been continually plundered by the Huns and barbarous Saracens in the East, and to those Romans who had met an equal fate daily from the barbarians in Europe, this Emperor straightway became a more bitter foe than all the barbarians put together. For as soon as the enemy had retreated, the landowners immediately were overwhelmed by new requisitions, imposts and levies.

What these were I will now explain. Those who owned land were compelled to feed the Roman army, according to a special assessment determined by the actual emergency but arbitrarily fixed by law. And if sufficient provisions for the soldiers and horses were not to be found on their estates, these unfortunates had to go out and buy them at an excessive price, wherever they could, even if they had to transport them from a distant country to the place where the army was quartered , and then distribute them to the army officials not at a legal price, but at the whim of the commanders. This requisition, called co-operative buying, took the heart out of the landowners. For it made their annual taxes easily ten times what they had been, as they had not only to feed the army, but often to transport grain from Constantinople. Barsyames was not the only one who dared this outrage, for the Cappadocian before him had done the same, and Barsyames's successors after him. And this is what co-operative buying meant.

The "impost" was an unexpected ruin which suddenly attacked the landowners, pulling up their hope of livelihood by the roots. In the case of estates that had run down and been deserted, whose owners and farmer tenants had either perished or left the country, on account of their misfortunes, and disappeared, a ruthless tax was still laid on those who had already lost all. This was called the impost, levied frequently during this time.

The nature of the third levy was briefly as follows: Many losses, especially at this time, were suffered by the cities, whose causes and extents I refrain from describing now, or the tale would be endless. These losses the landowners had to repair, by special assessment on each individual; and their troubles did not even stop there. The pestilence, which had attacked the inhabited world, did not spare the Roman Empire. Most of its farmers had perished of it, so that their lands were deserted; nevertheless Justinian did not exempt the owners of these properties. Their annual taxes were not remitted, and they had to pay not only their own, but their deceased neighbors' share. And in addition to all of this, these land-poor wretches had to quarter the soldiers in their best rooms, while they themselves during this time existed in the meanest and poorest part of their dwellings.

Such were the constant afflictions of mankind under the rule of Justinian and Theodora; for there was no release from war or any other of these calamities in all their time.

While I am on the subject of quartering, I should not fail to mention that the householders in Constantinople had to quarter seventy thousand barbarians, so that they got no pleasure from their own houses, and were greatly inconvenienced in many ways.

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