Meet the People: Officials and Bureaucracy

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Byzantiumís semi-professional administrator class had no direct equivalent in any contemporary western royal court or government. The civil service constituted a distinct and semi-independent element within Byzantine political culture, along with the provincial and military aristocracy, the Orthodox Church and, of course, the Emperor himself.

Belying an image of inflexibility and conservatism the Byzantine bureaucracy, in a similar manner to the Byzantine military, reinvented itself several times in order to cope with the changing circumstances of the Empire. Both institutions, the administration and the military, exacted a considerable burden on state finances which only a centralised tax-gathering state like Byzantium could even begin to cope with. But in return they ensured Byzantiumís survival in the face of formidable external pressure.

The Byzantine civil service can be roughly categorised into three major groupings: the palatine administration, living and working within the emperorís great palace; the provincial government, with strong links to the military Thematic structure; and the subject of this essay: the central civil service, responsible for affairs of state policy and finance.

The Byzantine Civil Service: Staff and Structure

In terms of staff numbers the Byzantine bureaucracy was relatively small: a recent estimate for the ninth century central civil service places the number of core staff at five to six hundred men, split between thirteen different bureaux or departments of state.

The most important distinction within the civil administration was made between Kritai, or judicial officers, and Sekretikoi, or financial officers. The Sekretikoi were overseen, in formal terms at least, by a general controller known as the Sakellarios. Chief amongst the Sekretikoi were departmental directors known by the general term Logothete (literally "Accountant"): The Logothetes tou Genikou, for example, was a finance minister in charge of raising taxes and accounting for revenue from state enterprises, whilst the Logothetes tou Stratiotikou had overall responsibility for army pay and general supplies. In political terms though, the most important departmental head was the Logothetes tou Dromou. The Logothetes tou Dromou supervised the governmentís postal service and diplomatic corps, and acted as foreign minister and personal advisor to the emperor. Unsurprisingly, given it's potential for great power and influence, the holder of this post become known as the Great Logothete.

Other Sekretikoi included supervisors for state factories and the emperorís estates as well as the Orphanotrophos, who administered a large orphanage in Constantinople as well as other social welfare institutions: At least one Orphanotrophos, the eunuch John in the eleventh century, was able to wield political power far beyond the boundaries of his official position.

The highest official amongst the Kritai was the Prefect of Constantinople: the Eparchos. The Eparchos was the head of Constantinople after the emperor himself and comprised one of the few official posts in Byzantium that a eunuch could not hold. The Eparchos was in charge of law and order within the city, with responsibility for the police force and fire brigade as well as the supervision of trade guilds and foreigners engaged in trade within Constantinople. He worked alongside the Quaestor, who drafted legislation, maintained an appeals court and acted as public trustee for wills and guardianship. An office also existed for petitions to the emperor.

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