Average life in the Eastern Roman Empire?

Sep 2015
1
USA
Am 18 year old single male who is Orthodox Christian from a long line of Romans in the eastern Roman Empire during the most glorious reign of Basil I of the Makedon dynasty.

What can I expect my life to be like? How educated would I be? Would I serve in the thematic army? Who would I marry and what would my marriage be like? How would my children's life be like.

I'm curious because I've always read what life would be like in western Europe during medieval times but I never seen someone write about the life of Roman citizen in the Byzantine Empire or any of the other eastern empires for that matter.
 

notgivenaway

Ad Honorem
Jun 2015
5,780
UK
Similar to ancient rome, but updated to the medieval period I'd guess. Morals, institutions, etc. would be adapted to the medieval times, so not exactly like the Western Roman Empire.
 
Oct 2015
4
Earth
I would have to say that it would be much different than life in Ancient Rome. Even though the Eastern part of the Empire saw themselves in the same light as the Western part, by the time of Basil I, this would have certainly changed.

True, the people, including you, would see themselves as "Romans" and in all truth, they were Romans, just in no way similar to their Ancient, pagan cousins. I say "pagan" in this manner because Christianity changed the "roman" way of life, greatly.

The Byzantine empire was at it's time, the most sophisticated and technologically advanced nation. And by it's time I'm not referring to the late medieval period.

So by living in Constantinople (guessing you're asking what your life there would be like) you could expect a chance to be schooled and well taken care of within the city walls. With the possibility of knowing how to read and write (considering that the 11% of the Byzantine Empire was literate, most in Constantinople and perhaps Thessaloniki).

A citizen of Constantinople was also very active in political affairs and all of that would have taken part on the Hippodrome. You would most likely be a part of one of the "demes" groups that were sort of like "political activists" but firstly, young men that were interested in horse racing and having a good time. Read up on "Nika riots".

Outside of Constantinople it would have varied greatly. Perhaps you would have taken part in thematic army, but if you could, as you have said, trace your line back to a respectable noble dynasty, then I don't see you living outside of Constantinople.

As far as marriage goes, I'm not quite sure. Perhaps an arranged marriage if you were considered nobility? All this comes from lectures, so correct me if I'm wrong. I'm sorry if I haven't answered everything.
 

Guaporense

Ad Honorem
Mar 2011
5,050
Brazil
Do you have a source for that 11% statistic?

I think that I read some estimates for the 11th century that the Byzantine empire had a higher level of income per capita than 11th century Western Europe, roughly 1.4-1.5 times higher. So it was a very significant difference considering in those days it was very different from being at near subsistence or 1.5 times above that.

Also, these are not hard estimates but educated guesses.
 
Last edited:
May 2009
1,336
This was a pretty good book on the subject, if you want to delve deeper

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Oct 2015
4
Earth
I would have to say that I don't have a particular source for that statistic, it's rather something I heard during a lecture. However, I forgot to add that being "literate" then was in no way similar to our perception of literacy. I believe that the 11% statistic is associated with the standard of "literacy" then, which did not include the ability to write, only to read. Taking that into account, I believe that the statistic for the Western part of Europe at that time was around 6%, but I could be wrong.

We should also take into account that just like today, these sort of questions don't really have a simple answer as this. Perhaps it's just better to say that the Eastern Empire had more literate people than the West, during it's golden era.

In regards to sources, I believe that these percentages are estimated by the number of people who could sign documents with, I guess, a proper signature. I mean for a period such as the 11th century, it's all quite vague, so don't take my word for it.