Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Greek Commerce Ruined

Featuring an excerpt from A History of Greece from the Roman Conquest to the Present Time by George Finlay published in 1877.

Previously in Roger Ravages the Byzantine Empire. And now George Finlay

Time: 1146
Place: Constantinople

The city of Constantinople during this time.
Public domain image from Wikipedia.
The Sicilian admiral, after landing the Norman garrison at Corfu, sailed to Monembasia, then one of the principal commercial cities in the East, hoping to gain possession of it without difficulty; but the maritime population of this impregnable fortress gave him a warm reception and easily repulsed his attack. After plundering the coasts of Euboea and Attica, the Sicilian fleet returned to the West, and laid waste Acarnania and Etolia; it then entered the Gulf of Corinth, and debarked a body of troops at Crissa. This force marched through the country to Thebes, plundering every town and village on the way. Thebes offered no resistance and was plundered in the most deliberate and barbarous manner. The inhabitants were numerous and wealthy. The soil of Boeotia is extremely productive, and numerous manufactures established in the city of Thebes gave additional value to the abundant produce of agricultural industry.

A century had elapsed since the citizens of Thebes had gone out valiantly to fight the army of Slavonian rebels in the reign of Michael IV (the Paphlagonian), and that defeat had long been forgotten. But all military spirit was now dead, and the Thebans had so long lived without any fear of invasion that they had forgotten the use of arms. The Sicilians found them not only unprepared to offer any resistance, but so surprised that they had not even adopted any effectual measures to secure or conceal their movable property. The conquerors, secure against all danger of interruption, plundered Thebes at their leisure. Not only gold, silver, jewels, and church plate were carried off, but even the goods found in the warehouses, and the rarest articles of furniture in private houses, were transported to the ships. Bales of silk and dyed leather were sent off to the fleet as deliberately as if they had been legally purchased in time of peace. When all ordinary means of collecting booty were exhausted, the citizens were compelled to take an oath on the Holy Scriptures that they had not concealed any portion of their property; yet many of the wealthiest were dragged away captive, in order to profit by their ransom; and many of the most skilful workmen in the silk manufactories, for which Thebes had long been famous, were pressed on board the fleet to labor at the oar.

From Boeotia the army passed to Corinth. Nicephorus Caluphes, the governor, retired into the Acro-Corinth, but the garrison appeared to his cowardly heart not strong enough to defend this impregnable fortress, and he surrendered it to George Antiochenus, the Sicilian admiral, on the first summons. On examining the fortress of which he had thus unexpectedly gained possession, the admiral could not help exclaiming that he fought under the protection of heaven, for if Caluphes had not been more timid than a virgin, Corinth should have repulsed every attack.

Corinth was sacked as cruelly as Thebes; men of rank, beautiful women, and skilful artisans, with their wives and families, were carried away into captivity. Even the relics of St. Theodore were taken from the church in which they were preserved; and it was not until the whole Sicilian fleet was laden with as much of the wealth of Greece as it was capable of transporting that the admiral ordered it to sail. The Sicilians did not venture to retain possession of the impregnable citadel of Corinth, as it would have been extremely difficult for them to keep up their communications with the garrison. This invasion of Greece was conducted entirely as a plundering expedition, having for its object to inflict the greatest possible injury on the Byzantine empire, while it collected the largest possible quantity of booty for the Sicilian troops. Corfu was the only conquest of which Roger retained possession.

The ruin of the Greek commerce and manufactures has been ascribed to the transference of the silk trade from Thebes and Corinth to Palermo, under the judicious protection it received from Roger; but it would be more correct to say that the injudicious and oppressive financial administration of the Byzantine emperors destroyed the commercial prosperity and manufacturing industry of the Greeks; while the wise liberality and intelligent protection of the Norman kings extended the commerce and increased the industry of the Sicilians.

When the Sicilian fleet returned to Palermo, Roger determined to employ all the silk manufacturers in their original occupations. He consequently collected all their families together, and settled them at Palermo, supplying them with the means of exercising their industry with profit to themselves, and inducing them to teach his own subjects to manufacture the richest brocades and to rival the rarest productions of the East.

Roger, unlike most of the monarchs of his age, paid particular attention to improving the wealth of his dominions by increasing the prosperity of his subjects. During his reign the cultivation of the sugar-cane was introduced into Sicily. The conduct of Manuel was very different; when he concluded peace with William, the son and successor of Roger, in 1158, he paid no attention to the commercial interests of his Greek subjects; the silk manufactures of Thebes and Corinth were not reclaimed and reinstated in their native seats; they were left to exercise their industry for the profit of their new prince, while their old sovereign would have abandoned them to perish from want. Under such circumstances it is not remarkable that the commerce and the manufactures of Greece were transferred in the course of another century to Sicily and Italy.

This ends our series of passages on Roger Ravages the Byzantine Empire by George Finlay from his book A History of Greece from the Roman Conquest to the Present Time published in 1877. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.

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