Posted by: ken98 | June 3, 2011

Worms, Death, Taxes, and Keeping On Keeping On in the 6th Century

Day 630 – Ken here (F)(6-3-2011)
(DEF II, v.4 Ch.40 pp.580-590)(pages read: 1640)

Keep on Truckin - the attitude a reader/blogger of Gibbon MUST ASSUME in order to even CONTEMPLATE finishing the entire work (esp. when you're just reaching the midpoint - as in MY SITUATION at present) - from R. Crumb Zap Comix 1968

Keep on Truckin - the attitude a reader/blogger of Gibbon MUST ASSUME in order to even CONTEMPLATE finishing the entire work (esp. when you're just reaching the midpoint - as in MY SITUATION at present) - from R. Crumb Zap Comix 1968

Sunny and cool on the coast. I’m kind of blue and low energy, but am plugging along, trucking down the Gibbonian highway,

Its kind of a bland day history-wise, a lot of back-story for the main events coming up – and there’s a LOT OF EVENTS in Justinian’s reign – plague, buildings, wars, riots, etc – but today, as I’ve mentioned, is a work day – getting the basics down.

We continue with silk, then move on to Justinian’s government and various aspects of his government – taxes, revenues, budget, budget cuts, state monopolies etc.

REMEMBER: Gibbon is relying (as are we all) a great deal on the malicious and nasty Mr. Procopius to shed some light on the state of things during Justinian’s reign – and REMEMBER Gibbon is writing from the perspective of the data available to a historian in the 1780’s – today the amt of info avail on the same subjects would be the equivalent of library-fulls of books/articles/archaeological digs/coins/saint lives/etc – so while we can always admire his incredible effort at 1st trying to synthesize in a scholarly way this vast history – pretty much all of it has been made obsolete by recent (last 40 years) discoveries – just a reminder.

The Story
The Silk Road
  • Silk is a monopoly – raw and woven – of the Chinese – it is very valuable, yet weighs little, the perfect long-distance good – esp good for the very exp OVERLAND shipping of the Silk Road from Peking to Syria through Persia, Afghanistan, India, etc
  • A long digression on SILK – trade, importation, manufacturing – it makes me wonder if Gibbon were somehow associated with the silk industry in the 18th cent.
  • Two routes – 1) overland from China through Afghanistan into Persian territory and then Syria (Roman) (243 days by caravan) (very dangerous – esp in the leg thru Afghanistan, very likely to be pirated)
  • 2) Safer route – less piracy – overland over Tibet, down the Ganges or Indus to a port, where Western fleets took the silk to Persian ports (altho it could take 9 months just to reach the Indian ports)
  • Gibbon reports his poor opinion of the Chinese – that THEY could have easily dominated all the coastal commerce with an imperial navy – Gibbon speaks as a Brit in the century of British naval domination as a citizen of a small island that has managed to begin the takeover of the whole world – he wonders what an empire (Chinese) might have done with a British will

    How the Romans Stole Silk From the Chinese (552)
  • Silk is the product of silk-worms, eating the leaves of the white mulberry tree, and producing cocoons, then becoming moths – humans intercept the cocoons after they silk-worms are done with them and weave the fibers into a cloth – silk
  • In Justinian’s time Ethiopians dominating the Red Sea/Indian trade, Ethiopians = Christian, so already missionaries, churches (probably not Catholic, probably Nestorian – ie “heretical” Christian sects driven out of the empire, but allowed to flourish under the more diversity-accepting Persians – Gibbon calls the “persian monks” – odd he doesnt go off on them (as vicious, dirty heretics) like he’s been doing lately on all non-Nicene Christians)
  • Christians in India (Malabar – the St Thomas Christians), and apparently even in the imperial Chinese court (in the early 500’s)
  • Two monks, against the STRICTEST LAWS of China AND of Persia, manage to carry the EGGS of the Silk Worm moth back to Eastern Rome – under Justinian – in 552

    Justinian Govt – Revenues
  • Gibbon’s review of Economics of the Empire – mostly taken from Procopius with a liberal dose of mid-century (18th) English colonial economics overlaid
  • His view – the poverty (low buying power) of the West reduced the wealth of the East by reducing the market for luxury goods – TAX REVENUES were thereby LOWERED in the general DECLINE
  • Emperor Anastasius (predec of Justin and Justinian) known for BOTH HIS Reduction in Taxes, and the Great Amount of Treasure he left in the treasury after 27 years 370,000 pounds of gold (approx 22 billion dollars – see curr conv tab – using about $US 60,000 (2008) to lb of gold purch power) (roughly if annual revenues were about 7 million ($420 billion /year) lbs gold over 27 years this is less than 2/10 of a percent saved – a likely amount – for the 7 million see fn 1 p.552 JBBury v.2 Hist of Lat Rm Emp)
  • Numbers like these – a budget of 420 billion per year in only the Eastern Half of the empire shows why all the world was eagerly attacking Rome and how incredibly richer the HAVES of the Eastern Empire were compared with the new barbarian HAVE-NOTS kingdoms of the West and North

    Justinian Govt – Budget Cuts
  • Per Gibbon, Proc – Justinian spent a great deal on buildings, and the court, but was stingy when it came to the armed forces

    Justinian Govt – Tax Cuts
  • Roman tax collectors were RUTHLESS, regardless of famine, war, plague, you owed the same tax based on the census (Indiction) – YOU OWED IT ABS UNDER LAW, but frequently emperors FORGAVE it – Procopius would have it that while Anastasius forgave often in “National Disaster Areas”, Justinian did not – he was ruthless – probly more anti-Just Procopius HYSTERIA – Gibbon mentions the ex of the Samaritans – where we KNOW they were given an INDULGENCE, but Proc says they were not

    Justinian Govt – Taxes, Monopolies
  • Different taxes – Anona – orig food for the army, converted off and on to money, the tax called AERIAL (JB BURY supposes this was a tax on skyscrapers – like the one in Rome – Proc would have us believe Just taxed the very air – he must be counting on the fact that his readers will NEVER be able to verify his facts
  • Often the govt (read govt officials) would step in on a thriving business and declare it a govt monopoly – thereby destroying the industry and gathering all the profits up for the govt – presumably NOT for Constantinople, but for themselves – as they kept most of their profits while they were in office – because…
  • often they had to PAY A HIGH PRICE to gain their office – you were appointed IF you could PAY and so you HAD TO GET YOUR MONEY BACK SOMEHOW – thus the corruption of govt officials that plagued the empire

    Justinian Govt – Wills, Inheritance
  • Proc says OFTEN the govt would set aside wills of incredibly wealthy men and confiscate their estates for the govt – esp so under JUst
  • <li>What should we think? As in all things, its more complicated and more simple I think than it 1st appears – in the empire – the wealthy and powerful often paid little or no tax (maybe like the US today) – it was the lower classes who paid thru the nose, enriching the wealthier classes and supporting the machinery of the state – the diff between poor and rich were like 2 separate races of men living together – so, to say the rich were deprived of their inher is to say sometimes, that ALL THE CORRUPTION AND UNPAID TAXES that the RICH DID NOT PAY to the govt were TAKEN AT ONCE so to speak in confiscating the VAST RICHES of a noble INHERITANCE – a kind of all-or-nothing capricious RICH MANS TAX – so really not SUCH A BAD THING after all – Proc – being a member of the upper classes naturally resented paying ANY TAXES AT ALL – thus the anti-JUst talk here




    Last Word…
    On the Wonders of Silk

    I guess there is something fascinating about making expensive clothes from insect excretions – maybe that’s why Gibbon spent 7 pages on the Silk Industry in 6th century Rome.

    I guess the current way of making a large piece of silk cloth (like a silk Indian Sari) is to throw 50,000 live worms (and their cocoons) into boiling water – an Indian is starting to make a “Green-er” silk by NOT KILLING the worms, but letting them escape and using the now-empty cocoons – ahimsa silk – or Respect-For-Life silk – roughly doubling the price of the silk.

    Akimsa Silk factory - NO WORMS WERE HARMED IN THE PRODUCTION OF THIS SILK - for the Green Silk Admirer

    Ahimsa Silk factory - NO WORMS WERE HARMED IN THE PRODUCTION OF THIS SILK - for the Green Silk Admirer

    Silk worms happily nomming a pile of mulberry leaves

    Silk worms happily nomming a pile of mulberry leaves

    Silk Worm moths, who make silk worms (and silk) possible

    Silk Worm moths, who make silk worms (and silk) possible - they look too cute and rotund to be real, like anime moths - just what you'd expect a SILK moth to look like




    1. Actually, in the US the wealthy do pay taxes, granted their is some tax shelters which lowers what they pay. In Justinian’s time a lot of the Wealthier landowners were involved in the tax collecting process since they were appointed to those posts. Hence, tax evasion and poking the money for themselves. Read Peter Sarris on this. As for property from the wealthy probably both Procopius and Evagrius exaggerated this. Justinian even after taking the wealth of Hyperius and Pompeius did allow this heirs to have their inheritance. Granted, Justinian like most rulers did use the power of the state to take property away and not always compensate for this. Justinian in a way as you reported spent a lot on defense in the form of bribery to Persia and northern barbarian tribes and fortifications instead of troops and weapons. Justinian himself in his 30th novel complain about the wealthier landowners taking his property in Cappidocia so it worked both ways. As for Silk, it didn’t have to be a state monopoly because Justinian placed price controls which destroyed private industry in silk. Justinian gave few arrears only one major one while Anastasius seven. According to Malalas Justinian gave one to Syria during the great Earthquake that took placed during the end of the 520’s. As for the sky tax it could have been one for apartment buildings this would effective the lower classes rather than the wealthy since the wealthy tended to live in their own houses. But this edict has never been found, so maybe Procopius made it up.

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