Had the Byzantine Empire survived, just how much could it have expanded in the industrial era?

Jan 2016
1,137
Victoria, Canada
#11
Apologies for the late response, I've been quite busy and there's a lot which deserves addressing here (the length of this response may, in retrospect, have gotten a bit out of hand, but I'd hate to hand out speculation and criticism and not support it).

Was there actually any realistic possibility of a reconciliation with Rome before 1204? I mean, the Byzantines weren't actually desperate before 1204--and even when they became desperate later on, they still refused to reconcile with Rome (even though the Fourth Crusade was no longer in living memory by then).
Union was unrealistic at certain times, namely when the Germans were in a position to exert authority in Central Italy, or during a Papal-Sicilian entente, but in others I think i was quite possible -- it was definitely worked towards on both sides at certain times, particularly in the mid-late 12th century, even if to no permanent resolution. Any reconciliation would, of course, likely take the form of a return to something like the pre-1050's status quo, with a more nominal recognition of union (and probably a form of Papal primacy), some kind of solution to the question of Patriarchs, and the working out of some other issues of compatibility, not the imposition on the east of the kind of authority wielded by the Papacy in the west.

Also, didn't the Byzantines have ethnic diversity in the Balkans due to their rule over the Bulgarians, Serbs, Albanians, and Croats? Granted, the Byzantines became more homogeneous shortly before 1204, but still.
The central-eastern Balkans were the most diverse permanent possessions of the 12th century Empire, yes (although there were barely any Croats in the Empire), but the Serbs, Albanians, and Bulgarians were ruled (at least above the village level) by Roman, not native, administrators (although many or most Serbs west of the Branicevo-Nis corridor were ruled by largely autonomous vassals), never rose up into the imperial administration in significant numbers, and, despite the size of the region, were a relatively small minority (probably making up less than 20% of the 12th-century Empire's total long-term population, or at most just slightly above that). The 12th century Roman state thus had a broadly mono-ethnic (Roman) population, and Anthony Kaldellis (as well as scholars like Leonara Neville) have convincingly argued for its pretty much exactly fitting the established definition of a nation-state -- see, both in particular and in general, Kaldellis's recent Romanland: Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium.

In addition, wasn't one factor that prevented full Byzantine-Western European scientific interactions and exchanges the fact that Byzantines wrote in Greek while Western Europeans wrote in Latin? I mean, it's kind of hard to share one's research if one doesn't even speak a common language.
It was a factor at the time in a lack of direct high literary exchange (I wouldn't really, with few exceptions, call anything produced in the high medieval period "research" in the scientific sense), but by the mid-12th century translation schools in Venice and Sicily were in full swing, bringing Greek-language texts both ancient and more recent west, and Italian-Greek bilingualism was common among relatively large numbers of people on both sides (the Italian John Italos, slightly earlier, managed to become Consul of the Philosophers, for a high-level example). Additionally, a bit later, the works of contemporary (as well as earlier) Byzantine doctors were increasingly imported west and translated, with the Dynameron of Nicholas Myrepsos (c. mid-late 13th century) even serving as the main pharmaceutical code of the Parisian medical faculty until 1651. Furthermore, elements of culture and technology not related to high literature were transmitted at a very fast rate, particularly in the 12th century -- the 1120's Pantokrator Monastery in Constantinople, for instance, featured figural stained glass very similar to and as sophisticated as roughly contemporary western examples (an exchange so fast we're not even sure which direction it originally went); the Byzantine Bowed Lyra was imported into Italy and other parts of Southern Europe around 1100, eventually spawning the Violin; lance couching, experimented with in certain Roman cavalry units since the late-11th century, became standard in the mid-12th; kite shields and maille chausses, a bit earlier, spread very rapidly through Europe and the Mediterranean in the mid-11th century, again to the point that we don't actually know where they originated with any certainty; Western European art continued to be heavily influenced by contemporary Byzantine work on a number of levels; and flying buttresses, long a preserve of Byzantine architecture, were noted by 12th century French travellers and incorporated into what would become the first Gothic churches.

Maybe I'm naive, but this doesn't sound like that much of an accomplishment. After all, Russia wasn't hurt by it failing to convert to the Gregorian calendar until 1918, was it?
I meant "important" more in the sense of requiring a large amount of systematic observation/innovation (i.e. being an academic/scientific achievement instead of a random invention) and significantly effecting many people's lives as well as general cultural and even geopolitical trends, less than being extraordinarily useful in and of itself. My point is simply that such historical shifts in culture, technology, and geopolitics would unavoidably be altered on an immense scale had a nation-state of 13+ million Christian Greco-Romans at the main crossroads of the Old World, including the two largest cities in Christendom (and likely the largest city on Earth), remained a major, independent player on the European/Mediterranean scene -- and, conversely, an Islamic, Turko-Persianate, multi-ethnic dynastic empire not risen to take its place and expand far beyond its former borders -- resulting, through innumerable butterfly effects, in an almost unrecognizable modern world. In this case, a Gregorian-style calendar reform originating in 14th century Constantinople could have, among other possibilities, brought Orthodox and Catholic states closer together in comparison to other peoples -- had it been adopted earlier by both -- or, alternatively, driven a deeper wedge between Orthodox Christians and everyone else -- had it been exclusive to the Orthodox -- and that's just a single more obscure example drawn from real history, to which thousands of equivalents would exist in the scenario in the OP.
 
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Jan 2016
1,137
Victoria, Canada
#12
BTW, I find it interesting that the Byzantines might have experienced a decline in their intellectual and scientific output in per capita terms in the centuries before 1204:

Intellectual Production in the Byzantine Empire
I haven't looked at the subject of manuscript production by volume in the Empire in quite a while, but that article is extremely dubious, making a downright impressive amount of completely untenable, or simply unfounded, statements and assumptions (about what I would expect from a self-proclaimed "alternative media selection", to be honest). First of all, the author (writer of such great articles as "Race Realism in the Ancient World", "The Russian Empire: Too Nice For Its Own Good", and "The Puzzle of Indian IQ: a Country of Gypsies and Jews"), at the very start admits his lack of familiarity with anything medieval, and immediately goes on to make a series of unfounded guesses about the nature of medieval manuscripts and their production:

What is the length of the average medieval manuscript? (10K words? Might be more, after all, some manuscripts were huge, e.g. the complete Summa Theologica has about one million words. Though I assume those were split off into several manuscripts. But I don’t know, I’m not a medievalist). And what percentage were originals? Probably a small one – <1%?. The article notes that the average print run in the earliest days of the printing press was 100 books, increasing to 700 by 1500. The earliest printers were heavily influenced by their scribal traditions, so let’s assume that the standard “print run” of any one unique manuscript was 25 (after all, the great boon of printing is that it collapses the price of copying, while producing the original is if anything more laborious than with a manuscript).
It's difficult to even describe how much of a mess this paragraph is, for something of its length. The author introduces several vague, baseless numbers and percentages as the foundation of his entire article; assumes those numbers and percentages somehow apply in equal measures to dozens of millions of diverse peoples over a millennium; makes no distinctions between genres, across time and space, and the differing contexts in which works within them were produced, consumed and preserved (or, most importantly, not); completely ignores the existence of commentaries on earlier works (the bread and butter of medieval scholarship), only allowing for the existence of "original" and 'non-original' manuscripts; and assumes data from late-15th century printing shops in Germany is in any way, shape, or form applicable to manuscript production at all (because they were "influenced by scribal traditions", which apparently means identical but on a larger scale), never mind across a thousand years and thousands of miles. The worst, though, is yet to come:

How much writing from ancient Greece is preserved? Is it a finite amount that someone could potentially read?
Nick Nicholas answers:
'While there are 105 million words in the TLG, most of them are Byzantine. I did a count of the words in the corpus in Lerna VIc: A correction of word form counts in 2009; because there is not massive growth in the number of known ancient texts, the counts still apply.​
If we define ancient Greece as up to the fourth century AD, and we exclude Christian works and technical works (so just literature, as opposed to writing), it’s 16 million words. If a novel is around 100,000 words, that corresponds to 160 books; so yes, someone could potentially read it. If we cut it down to strictly Ancient times (down to the fourth century BC), it’s 5 million words.'​
So that’s 90 million words.
Using the above assumptions for Western Europe, that translates into 90 million total words / 10,000 words per manuscript = 9,000 unique manuscripts over the millennial history of the Byzantine Empire.
9,000 * 25 copies = 225,000 over one thousand years. Let’s say 25,000 during a typical century.
Broadly speaking, the Byzantine Empire’s core population was around 10 million from 7C to the Crusader sacking of Constantinople, or ~10% that of Western Europe and about equal to that of Italy. Unfortunately, its socio-demographic collapse happened at just the time when Western Europe began to experience a surge in intellectual production that continues to this day. Indeed, for most of its history, the Byzantine Empire was in unremitting decline (even as Europe gained on practically all dimensions). Assuming those two factors would cancel each other out, let’s make the further assumption that Byzantine manuscript production was basically flat throughout its existence.
Aside from the issue of the author building assumptions upon assumptions upon assumptions into the stratosphere by this point, there are two central claims here, implicit and explicit, both of them completely untenable and reflective, on the writer's part, of a basic ignorance of Byzantine literary history.
 
Jan 2016
1,137
Victoria, Canada
#13
The first, implicit, and perhaps more understandable claim is that Byzantine manuscripts, as included in modern databases such as the TLG, were preserved and are published on a scale and in a fashion which makes them a comparable dataset to contemporary Western European manuscripts, which simply isn't anywhere near the case. There were and are a huge number of factors which strongly differentiate the two, almost all of them working, in many cases very strongly, against the relative preservation of Byzantine vis-a-vis Western European examples. The most obvious and important of these relate to the effects of war and conquest. The libraries of medieval Western Europe were, from at least the 11th century on, almost completely untouched, on the whole, by war or occupation, being broadly protected by the region's relative stability and shared religion, cultural traits and values, and non- or super-national religious and educational institutions -- in Romania, on the other hand, the situation was essentially the exact opposite. The Turks sacked almost every major Anatolian city in the mid-late 11th century, and, in the areas of Asia Minor they permanently occupied from the 12th through the 14th, the institutions responsible for the production and preservation of Greek-language manuscripts -- monasteries, church schools, aristocratic libraries, provincial bureaucracies and courts -- rapidly unravelled and decayed, unable to maintain themselves independent of Roman aristocratic and state support. Huge tracts of Constantinople itself were, further, burnt down, and the rest of it thoroughly looted, over the course of the Fourth Crusade, and even Thessalonica, the Empire's second city (and for centuries the second largest in Christian Europe), suffered a brutal Norman sack in 1185. To give an idea of the likely scale of the destruction/deterioration of records and works there are many Middle Byzantine towns, complete with fortifications and monuments, such as the Dere Agzi complex, which aren't even mentioned in any of the surviving sources. The early 9th century church (carbon-dated by wood) of Dere Agzi and the town's wall:





In addition to these issues, there are a number of other factors less directly related to the effects of war which negatively affected comparative Byzantine manuscript preservation. Just as with most western manuscripts of the period, Byzantine manuscripts came down to Early Modern Europeans almost exclusively as preserved by religious institutions -- most notably the Patriarchate of Constantinople -- but, even ignoring the destruction or abandonment of the vast majority of such institutions in Anatolia, this was of far greater consequence in the Roman than Western European case. In Western Europe, up to at least the 13th century, religious institutions -- in the absence of state bureaucracies, non-religious educational institutions, and literature-focused aristocracies -- were responsible for producing/commissioning, storing, and preserving the vast, vast majority of manuscripts produced in the region. This was still true to a significant extent in the Roman east, with religious institutions likely being responsible for producing and storing most manuscripts produced, but, unlike in Western Europe, both central and provincial bureaucracies and courts were responsible for producing, updating, and storing enormous amounts of working and archival data -- concerning, among other things, the decisions produced in thousands of legal cases, the registration and payment of tens of thousands of state functionaries, the registration, payment, and provisioning of tens or hundreds of thousands of soldiers and military assets, the assessment of the ownership status, inhabitants, and productivity of hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of land, and the collection of several varieties of tax from millions of people, all over the course of more than half a millennium -- only a tiny, tiny portion of which religious institutions, out of those that remained, had any interest in maintaining, even of the part to survive the myriad disasters to befall Romania and its capital (essentially everything we have left concerns disputes between European/Aegean monasteries and secular parties over various properties and rights).

Further, the Roman aristocracy of service employed in the above mentioned bureaucracy and legal system maintained a strong literary focus, requiring a working knowledge of Koine and a familiarity with classical literature and rhetoric to advance in their profession (even in the middle-upper levels of the military), a cultural imposition leading in many cases (as in the Renaissance Italy) to the ignition among functionaries of a personal passion for literature (nearly all of the secular histories we possess from this period, for an example, emerge from this class), and as such aristocrats maintained often quite extensive private libraries, not uncommonly contributed to by the works of themselves and their peers. It's telling that an 11th century provincial military man like Kekaumenos would write a military manual with an attached mirror for princes, claim therein not to have an advanced education, and recommend within it that one read the multi-volume History of Cassius Dio, as is it that Dio's History, so well read in 11th-12th century Byzantium, barely survives today, with large sections being reconstructed from the 11th century Epitome of Xiphillinos and 12th century History of Zonaras. This aristocracy was completely wiped away in successive waves over the course of the high-late medieval period, and the domus and villas in which their collections were held fell at best, without exception, into ruin, or even more frequently were razed to the ground entirely. A fair number of the works stored within them would have been preserved in some fashion elsewhere due to their value, particularly from the houses of 13th-15th century aristocrats in Europe and the Aegean (who often donated them to monasteries or sold them off to Italians), but overall only a very small portion of this major sector of manuscript consumption and preservation, without a comparable equivalent in the contemporary west, survived down to the present day.

The second, explicit, more egregious claim is that Byzantine manuscript production was consistent century by century, from the 5th century to the 15th, which is completely incorrect, to no less an extent than in Western Europe, and as much as the assertion that "for most of its history, the Byzantine Empire was in unremitting decline", a justification disconnected on a basic level from any historical reality. In a broad sense, Roman literary output (not necessarily synonymous with bulk production, but in line with the article's subject) remained consistent at a high level over the 5th century, spiked in the 6th, began to ramp down in the early 7th, and fell through the floor in the mid-7th to early-9th (a period sometimes called the "Byzantine Dark Age" for its lack of written source material), only to begin to ramp up again over the mid-late 9th century, expand to a moderately high level in the 10th (especially the mid-century, in which there was an explosion of state-sponsored production), enter a high level in the 11th, and spike again in the 12th, with more ups and downs over the 13th-15th (harder to account for and categorize given the political situation). Far from being the point where Byzantine literary production "fell by the wayside", the 12th century was nothing less than a literary golden age -- Aristotelian philosophy came back into fashion, with many relevant commentaries being produced; the classical novel was revived in a big way, decades earlier than in the west and on a far greater scale (Rhodanthe and Dosikles, Hysmine and Hysminias, Drosilla and Charikles, etc.); demotic Romaic literature made its first appearance, with the novelization of Digenis Akritis and performance poetry of Theodore Prodromos; increasingly innovative and boundary-pushing satires were written (including works like the Timarion, in which a Christian traveller dies, finds out the Pagans were right about the afterlife all along after ending up in Hades, and eventually has his soul sent back to his body due to a legal technicality); several major medical works were composed; the production of poetic and rhetorical works of all kinds exploded (mostly written by a new class of literati patronized by the new Komnenian aristocracy); and, continuing a trend started in the late-11th century, a number of sophisticated works of secular history were produced, including Anna Komnene's Alexiad, the History of Bryennios, History of Zonaras (with its scathing republican reproach of the Komnenian regime), and History of Kinnamos, as well, very nearly, as the magisterial History of Niketas Choniates (finished in the early 13th century but very much a product of the 12th), a history among the most sophisticated of the entire period.

In conclusion, the article is thus, to put it frankly, almost as incompetent (or simply wrong) as it could possibly be on almost every possible level. It lays a foundation of ignorant assumptions, misinterpreted and misapplied data, and incorrect information and builds upon it an increasingly untenable tower of "intuitive" assumptions and assertions, reaching a peak of absurd, circular conclusions ("the empire was in unremitting decline, therefore its manuscript production wouldn't have ever increased as in Western Europe, therefore it was in unremitting literary decline"). There may well have been more manuscripts produced per capita in 11th-12th century Western Europe than contemporary Romania, but if that's possible to calculate with reasonable accuracy this article definitely isn't the place to look.
 
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Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,815
Blachernai
#14
There's no need to reiterate Jean's excellent posts, but this Unz Review answer is so completely bonkers it justifies further criticism. The venue of publication is pretty sketchy, too. I won't link it, but you don't have to dig very deep to find Holocaust denial, blatant racism, Islamophobia, conspiracy mongering, etc.

Nick Nicholas answers:

'While there are 105 million words in the TLG, most of them are Byzantine. I did a count of the words in the corpus in Lerna VIc: A correction of word form counts in 2009; because there is not massive growth in the number of known ancient texts, the counts still apply.
If we define ancient Greece as up to the fourth century AD, and we exclude Christian works and technical works (so just literature, as opposed to writing), it’s 16 million words. If a novel is around 100,000 words, that corresponds to 160 books; so yes, someone could potentially read it. If we cut it down to strictly Ancient times (down to the fourth century BC), it’s 5 million words.'
So that’s 90 million words.
Using the above assumptions for Western Europe, that translates into 90 million total words / 10,000 words per manuscript = 9,000 unique manuscripts over the millennial history of the Byzantine Empire.
9,000 * 25 copies = 225,000 over one thousand years. Let’s say 25,000 during a typical century.
Broadly speaking, the Byzantine Empire’s core population was around 10 million from 7C to the Crusader sacking of Constantinople, or ~10% that of Western Europe and about equal to that of Italy. Unfortunately, its socio-demographic collapse happened at just the time when Western Europe began to experience a surge in intellectual production that continues to this day. Indeed, for most of its history, the Byzantine Empire was in unremitting decline (even as Europe gained on practically all dimensions). Assuming those two factors would cancel each other out, let’s make the further assumption that Byzantine manuscript production was basically flat throughout its existence.
Word count in the TLG is a completely wrong way to approach this. The TLG is not an index of manuscripts (that would be Pinakes); it's a lexical tool of editions. Those editions are typically produced from many manuscripts. In some cases, like the works of John Chrysostom, editors may have hundreds of manuscripts to work with. Given the popularity of these texts, thousands of manuscripts of these works would have been used, damaged, worn out, and destroyed over the centuries. The TLG is also far, far from complete. It takes editions, which means that a modern scholar has gone through the manuscripts and produced a text. Hence these numbers exclude the texts that don't have editions, which are legion.

This number also excludes the seals. We have no total count, but there are probably some 80,000 known specimens. Every one of those seals once closed up a document, and it was normal practice that when a document's seal was no longer needed, it was recycled. Such documents were usually produced in duplicate, too, and given the relative estimated find locations of seals (huge numbers from Istanbul, scattered remains from the rest of Byzantine lands) it is probably safe to assume that our figure here is a bit one-sided.

Broadly speaking, the Byzantine Empire’s core population was around 10 million from 7C to the Crusader sacking of Constantinople,
I banish thee back to the library! Take up thy copies of Harvey and Hendy and Laiou and read!

9,000 * 25 copies = 225,000 over one thousand years. Let’s say 25,000 during a typical century.
Completely bogus, invented figures.

the Byzantine Empire was in unremitting decline
I just can't square "unremitting decline" and "survived for a thousand years" in my head. Help me out, people.