Which empire was more powerful circa AD700: the Byzantine Empire or the Tang Dynasty

More powerful Empire in 700 AD?

  • Byzantine

    Votes: 3 12.0%
  • Tang China

    Votes: 22 88.0%

  • Total voters
    25
Feb 2011
6,459
#2
The start of the 8th century was a period of anarchy and weakness for the Byzantine Empire. Unpopular policies like the internal suppression of the Manicheans and the the Slavs really put a dent into Byzantine internal stability, making it a land rife with rebellion. On the other hand the Chinese empire wasn't exactly at its height during this time, but it also wasn't even close to the state of anarchy that the Byzantine Empire was in. I say "Chinese empire", not "Tang", because during this time China was ruled by Wu Zetian who changed the dynasty into the Zhou dynasty. The Tang dynasty wouldn't officially re-exist until after her death. Anyway, due to the massive discrepancy in internal stability, not to mention the discrepancy in sheer size, it's not even a close comparison, so not really a fair comparison either.

Byzantine Empire in 717 AD:

 
Last edited:
Jan 2016
1,139
Victoria, Canada
#3
Yep, I definitely have something of a Byzantine bias in these matters but in the 8th century it really isn't anywhere near close. The population of the Byzantine Empire in 700 ad was probably a little over an 7th or 8th as large as China's, and it was in a period of acute crisis (although that map is pretty exaggerated). Even during the early-mid 11th century apogee the Byzantine Empire was maybe half as powerful as the empire of Wu Zetian, and even that's debatable. A more interesting question might be which empire was more powerful around the mid-9th century or so -- the Tang was definitely larger, with a larger army, but it was also institutionally weaker and beginning to fall apart at the seams. In any case, all but the opposite was true in 700, so here I'm certainly voting for the Tang/Zhou.
 
Likes: Ichon
Nov 2014
1,645
Birmingham, UK
#5
Yep, I definitely have something of a Byzantine bias in these matters but in the 8th century it really isn't anywhere near close. The population of the Byzantine Empire in 700 ad was probably a little over an 7th or 8th as large as China's, and it was in a period of acute crisis (although that map is pretty exaggerated). .
(although that map is pretty exaggerated).

how so? from a quick look, my first instinct was that it showed very very little byzantine control in Greece, which looked a little exaggerated though I'm far from an expert.
 

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,852
Blachernai
#7
Pretty much what the others have said. Byzantium in 700 was engaged in a life-or-death struggle with the Umayyads, with Constantinople already having been besieged twice. Despite major territorial losses, though, Byzantium retained the ability to project military power at this time, but its tax base and population would have been a fraction of what the Tang emperors enjoyed.

As for the map, the Balearics are probably still inside the empire, as is more of a thin strip of the Dalmatian coast. Corsica was not. Thesalonik probably had more of a hingerland. I'd give them a bit more land around Ravenna but take away almost everything north of the Po, while reducing the size of Rome's hinterland. Greece is really unclear and there has been a lot of discussion on what was "in" and or not, but I'm not qualified to really discuss that. The Cherson and Tmutarakan might be half-shaded or something like that - it had a Khazar governor ca. 700 but the elite was still broadly Byzantine. The shading in Anatolia puts major military bases like Amorion and Attaleia almost on the frontier, which is not quite accurate, as the frontier was slightly east of Caesarea. Cyprus is an issue, but a recent book has questioned the whole condominium thing and so it might have to be counted as inside the empire.

Map from Haldon, the Palgrave Atlas of Byzantine History. Note that the map excludes Rhodes and Kos, which were only occupied in 717 in support of the Umayyad attack on Constantinople.

haldonpalgrave717.jpg
 
Jan 2016
1,139
Victoria, Canada
#8
(although that map is pretty exaggerated).

how so? from a quick look, my first instinct was that it showed very very little byzantine control in Greece, which looked a little exaggerated though I'm far from an expert.
Greece isn't actually that bad, although the Romans should control much of the west coast and a bit more of the east, but the Exarchate of Ravenna and Duchy of Rome are way too small and the corridor connecting them isn't shown, Roman control in Thrace is extremely underrepresented, Cherson isn't shown, Dalmatia isn't shown, the southern coast of Anatolia is only shown under Roman control up to Attaleia when it should extent a bit past Seleukia, and Cyprus, while a special case in that it was partially demilitarized and paying protection money to the Arabs, was more under Roman control than not. Here's a more accurate (although by no means perfect) map of the Empire of the period I've been working on (a bit of a peek at a larger project that'll be finished pretty soon):



And with rather cluttered cities:



It is worth noting that there was pretty heavy Slavic settlement in certain regions of Roman Thrace, particularly the north-western part of the area shown under Roman control here, but most major cities and fortresses of the region, most notably Philippopolis, remained under Roman administration (if Google Earth had a shading tool I'd probably use it there).

It should also be said that the Roman Empire of the early 8th century was not a small or weak state, in fact it was the largest and strongest in Europe by far, just far less strong than Wu Zetian's China, a mammoth empire rivaling even 2nd century Rome in size, strength, and wealth. The Empire of 700 ad as shown above stretched some 3,350 km from the Baleares to Pontus, encompassed some 752,000 square kilometers of territory (compare to 551,695 for modern European France, 357,386 for modern Germany, and 248,532 for the modern European UK), and had a population of around 8 million people (compare to perhaps 1 million in contemporary England, 27~ million in the Caliphate, and 55 million in China).
 
Likes: macon

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,852
Blachernai
#10
I was under the impression that the 674-78 siege was not really a classic siege, but more of a blockade.
That siege didn't happen, as Marek Jankowiak has convincingly demonstrated. To summarize a very long article, there were blockades of 667 and 669, with a spring siege of 668. The Arabs wintered in Kyzikos in 670/1 and suffered a defeat at Syllaion in 673/4. The seven years probably refer to the looming Arab threat over Constantinople. The other siege was an attack on the city in 654 by Mu'awiya's naval forces, which is recorded only in contemporary Armenian material.