Posted by: ken98 | December 12, 2009

Why the Roman Empire is like the State of California

Day 90 – Ken here (Th)
(DEF v.2, ch.17, pp.590-600)

The Story
Description of Constantinople (cont)

  • Advantage: easily defended (triangle, 2 sides = sea, one side easy to set up walls)
  • Advantage: actually has 2 easily defended sea gates (Hellespont-Dardanelles, Bosporus) leading into the city
  • Advantage: good for trade
  • Advantage: effective road block to barbarian invasions by sea from the Black Sea (see French Pirates in this blog)
  • Founding Constantinople: Gibbon describes the (debatable) dream Constantine maintained (or didn’t maintain) he had divinely guiding him to the spot (townlet of Byzantium)
  • Size of city: about 13 miles in circumference, first surrounded by a wall which the city quickly outgrew – city large, but smaller than Babylon, Thebes, Rome, London, Paris
    Construction of City

  • Gibbon: Constantine allocates 2.5 million pounds Sterling (60,000 lbs gold) – Probable actual buying power in Constantine’s day – more like (60,000 x 150,000 = 9,000,000,000) that’s 9 billion dollars
  • Constantine strips ancient buildings of their sculptures throughout the ancient world to adorn his new capital – why? because by this time, there were too few artisans capable of creating quality sculptures in the empire
    Population of the City

  • The City went from small town to one of the largest cities in the empire in a century. Constantine encouraged leading men from all over the empire to relocate to Constantinople to form the basis of the new Senate of his new city, thus destroying further the ability of other cities in the empire to support local taxes/maintenance/support etc.

    Emblem of the Instanbul Metropolitan Municipality

    Emblem of the Instanbul Metropolitan Municipality

    On the Name Istanbul
    This from Wiki:
    “The modern Turkish name İstanbul (Turkish pronunciation: [isˈtanbul]) is attested (in a range of variants) since the 10th century, at first in Armenian and Arabic and then in Turkish sources. It derives from the Greek phrase “εις την Πόλιν” or “στην Πόλη” [(i)stimboli(n)], both meaning “in the city” or “to the city”. It is thus based on the common Greek usage of referring to Constantinople simply as The City (see above). The incorporation of parts of articles and other particles into Greek placenames was common even before the Ottoman period, Navarino for earlier Avarino, Satines for Athines, etc. Similar examples of modern Turkish placenames derived from Greek in this fashion are İzmit, earlier İznikmit, from Greek Nicomedia, İznik from Greek Nicaea ([iz nikea]), Samsun (s’Amison = “se + Amisos”), and İstanköy for the Greek island Kos (from is tin Ko). The occurrence of the initial i- in these names may partly reflect the old Greek form with is-, or it may partly be an effect of secondary epenthesis, resulting from the phonotactic structure of Turkish.
    İstanbul was the common name for the city in normal speech in Turkish even since before the conquest of 1453, but in official use by the Ottoman authorities, other names such as Kostantiniyye were preferred in certain contexts. Thus, Kostantiniyye was used on coinage up to the late 17th and then again in the 19th century. The Ottoman chancelery and courts used Kostantiniyye as part of intricate formulae in expressing the place of origin of formal documents, such as be-Makam-ı Darü’s-Saltanat-ı Kostantiniyyetü’l-Mahrusâtü’l-Mahmiyye In 19th century Turkish bookprinting it was also used in the impressum of books, in contrast to the foreign use of Constantinople. At the same time, however, İstanbul too was part of the official language, for instance in the titles of the highest Ottoman military commander (İstanbul ağası) and the highest civil magistrate (İstanbul efendisi) of the city. İstanbul and several other variant forms of the same name were also widely used in Ottoman literature and poetry.
    After the creation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, the various alternative names besides İstanbul became obsolete in the Turkish language. With the Turkish Postal Service Law of March 28, 1930, the Turkish authorities officially requested foreigners to cease referring to the city with their traditional non-Turkish names (such as Constantinople, Tsarigrad, etc.) and to adopt Istanbul as the sole name also in their own languages. Letters or packages sent to “Constantinople” instead of “Istanbul” were no longer delivered by Turkey’s PTT, which contributed to the eventual worldwide adoption of the new name.
    In English the name is usually written “Istanbul”. In modern Turkish the name is written “İstanbul” because in the Turkish alphabet dotted i (capital İ) is a different letter from dotless ı (capital I).”

    Nicomedia - Always a bridesmaid, never a bride - modern etching recreating Diocletian's Palace at the old temporary Roman capital of Nicomedia - still used as an imperial palace after Constantinople was built - Constantine died here actually

    Nicomedia - Always a bridesmaid, never a bride - modern etching recreating Diocletian's Palace at the old temporary Roman capital of Nicomedia - still used as an imperial palace after Constantinople was built - Constantine died here actually

    Why Nicomedia (or poor Chalcedon) was’t Chosen
    First – it was Diocletian’s old hangout – definitely NOT a place to make your mark if you want people to remember you. Second – it was at the end of a long bay – defensible, but isolated. Thirdly – Constantine couldn’t readily tear it down and replace it with a NEW TOWN (although he had little difficulty doing that with ancient Greek Byzantium when he razed it to make his own capital).

    Follis, Galerius (early 300's) Bronze overlaid with a smidgeon of silver to make it seem like a real coin  (Follis = trans. leather bag - ie used in transactions probably in sealed bags)

    Follis, Galerius (early 300's) Bronze overlaid with a smidgeon of silver to make it seem like a real coin (Follis = trans. leather bag - ie used in transactions probably in sealed bags)

    Why the Late Roman Empire is like California (or vice versa)

    One way of looking at the Roman Empire is to compare it to modern populations/budgets that are similar – a state that is a similar size to the late Roman Empire is the current state of California – population approx. 33 million, 2009 Budget approx. 120 billion dollars.

    Estimating population for Antiquity is guesswork at best – but many estimates put the empire between 25 and 65 million people. J.B.Bury in History of the Later Roman Empire (see Chapter 1) makes broad estimates as to total revenue inflow/outflow in an average year – maybe at somewhere around 500,000 lbs of gold (nominal, converted often to in-kind/barter for foodstuffs, textiles, etc). This would roughly compare to 75 billion dollars if we use the 150,000 multiplier (The California State Budget was close to 75 billion dollars as recently as 1998/1999).

    The cost of building the new city (Constantinople) was budgeted at (per Gibbon) 60,000 lbs of gold, or approximately $9,000,000,000 (billion) in 2009 dollars.

    So, how would a strapped, late-Roman economy react to a 10% increase in the budget for a year (to construct a city) – California, in its current economic straits would be hard pressed to fold that sum into its budget.
    This is an INCREDIBLY huge number when you begin to multiply out the cost of building/fortifying and running the empire in Constantine’s day. The economy in Diocletian’s day and before had become so chaotic, that money had been pretty much abandoned except in large transactions, and barter and payment in kind was used. Constantine marks the beginning of a return to a money-based economy, but with a switch – it’s now at least a 2-tier economy – one in gold (for mammoth, Mediterranean-wide transactions), and one in kind/in bronze for day to day transactions. The old vibrant trade economy of the Mediterranean world of Antiquity is fading fast, and the new nobility/serf caste economy and local, feudal economic/social relationships are beginning to take their place.

    WARNING WARNING WARNING – Lots of Mathematical Details to Follow WARNING WARNING WARNING
    The Details of the Calculations of the 150,000 multiplier

    How did I get that amount, and what does it mean?

    I would use a multiplier of $150,000 for a pound of gold (using workers wages – comparing US now and 5th century wages)
    (compare to Gibbon, who would use the 1780 exchange rate of $1,200 (416 pounds sterling per pound of gold = approx $1,200 @ 1:3 Lbs Sterling/US$) – money was much more dear in the later empire than under the beginning of the British empire (Gibbon’s day).

    $150,000 / lb of gold = $9,375 / ounce of gold (gold is currently selling at just over $1,000 / ounce. Again, this is to be expected as gold was much more scarce in Late Roman Europe than today due greatly to the famous gold-drain to the East (India/China) that had been going on for a thousand years as Europe imported spices and silk and exported precious metals like gold and silver.

    Per the Roman Economy page this blog )
    (follis = bronze coin)
    5th century = 6 folles/day = wage, approx 200 folles = solidi, approx 75 solidi per lb of gold
    so… wage per day = .0004 lbs of gold
    or 4/100’ths of 1% lb of gold = days wages

    (an unskilled person would earn less than 1/10 lb of gold per year, or it would take 10 years to earn a lb of gold)

    use 15,000 as low unskilled annual US wage average = 60/day (5 day week, 52 week year)
    (NOTE: Obviously a two-tier economy of Gold/Bronze (and probably barter here), unlike the current US economy.
    There is a huge disparity in ancient times between the Gold economy and the silver/bronze economy as a lb of gold today would cost 60/.0004 or $150,000 at bronze Constantine prices)

    but still, shows the cost in money of ancient projects – a multiplier of approximately 150,000

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