Why is ‘Byzantine’ used to describe excessive bureaucracy? Was Byzantium really an administrative mess?

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Why is ‘Byzantine’ used to describe excessive bureaucracy? Was Byzantium really an administrative mess?

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Anonymous 0 Comments

The term is more of a metaphor rather than a direct comparison. Byzantine architecture and style were complex and intricate, full of small interconnected details that all came together to create a piece of art. The metaphor is that bureaucracy is similarly complicated and complex, with many forms and documents that have to come together to create the end result.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It wasn’t excessive bureaucracy so much as it was “complex and unwritten”. It’s not simply a matter of navigating the bureaucracy (which was very complex), so much as learning how to “play the game”.

This could mean “following the insane opaque rules”, but it could also mean winning favor of various people, paying them off, horse trading, etc. Plots within plots. You had to have allies, you had to know when to bribe, when to bluster through, etc.

The point is that to an outsider, none of it makes sense. It seems to work. Mostly. But you have no idea why some things happen and others don’t. The “bureaucracy” was an excuse for the complex personal interactions.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Imagine being a Bishop.

You hear that the enemy army is approaching your city.
You want to send plea for help.
Your message reaches the capital and the answer is that the position of army general in your region is empty, and fleet general cannot be issued a land army, so you get no help

That’s a real story from Eastern Rome. Plus-minus some details.

edit : i cannot find the source 🙁

Anonymous 0 Comments

r/AskHistorians has your answer: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/t67mu/whyhow_did_byzantine_come_to_mean_very_complex/

u/byzantinebasileus wrote:
> The Byzantine Empire had a reputation for having a very tangled court full of officials, nobles, relatives, servants and attendants, all competing for favor and power. This would result in constant back-stabbing, schemes, betrayal and plots within plots within plots.

>As such, the term “Byzantine” came be used to represent this idea of something so intertwined it is difficult to comprehend clearly.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Just want to add to the other comments that the Byzantine imperial court also had an extremely complex and strict system of social protocol all focused on the emperor. In similar fashion to how things functioned at Versailles in the 17th and 18th centuries, court life revolved around the emperor and physical access to him. So imagine a system in which those close to the emperor wanted and *needed* to stay close and all jostled to maintain their own access while simultaneously trying to push and keep others out.

Anonymous 0 Comments

isn’t it “futile” or “convoluted” in a way that cannot be proven? The adjective “byzantine” means that in spanish (and romance languages in general), from ecclesiastical discussions of how many angels would fit on a needles head and what not.

Anonymous 0 Comments

By the 14th century, the Byzantine Empire had 30 levels of titles below the rank of Emperor, including a couple previously reserved for Roman Emperors that were now used by court officials. Sort of like if “President of the United States” was just some random mid-level bureaucrat.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Keep in mind that the Byzantine Empire had *way* more state capacity than a typical medieval kingdom.

The King of France in 900AD had limited influence over the land he ostensibly owned. There simply were not many literate, educated men to do all of the normal state things like collect taxes, run courts, write laws, etc. and so he couldn’t just hire 1000 men to go out each year and collect taxes. Especially because he didn’t actually have any tax money to pay them.

The way around this was to find the few literate men outside of the clergy and give them land in exchange for handling administrative stuff within their fiefs.

The Byzantines, on the other hand, actually did have plenty of money and plenty of literate men to serve as bureaucrats, so it was far more feasible for the Emperor to have much more direct control over his land through an extensive bureaucracy. Even if this bureaucracy wouldn’t seem extraordinary by today’s standards, it *was* quite a marvel in comparison to the rest of medieval Europe.

Anonymous 0 Comments

I’ve been an english translator for years now and this is my first encounter with “Byzantine” as “excessively bureaucratic”.

I’m curious as to where this is commonly used. Granted most of my work is re-translating stuff from broken english so I might have missed significant cultural avenues, but I’m impressed that I’ve never even heard of it or seen it in any of the pop-culture I’ve consumed over the last 30 years.