This is one of several translated excerpts from Byzantine sources produced and mounted with historical introduction and commentary by Paul Stephenson.



The Powerful and the Poor

Theophanes Continuatus, ed. Bekker, p. 443

The Reign of Constantine VII

10. Since the emperor's ears were ringing with the injustices and hardships inflicted on the pitiful and wretched poor (penetes) by the military governors (strategoi), the chief notaries [in charge of provisioning the armed forces] (protonotarioi), the soldiers (stratiotes) and cavalry during his father-in-law Romanos' reign, he sent devout and fair men to ease the great burdens on the wretched poor (ptochoi), which had been levied regardless of circumstance. To the Anatolikon [theme, or province] he sent the magistros Romanos Saronites, to the Opsikion the magistros Romanos Mousele, to the Thrakesion the patrikios Photios, and to the Armeniakon Leo Agelastos. In due course [good men were sent to] the remaining provinces (themata). The men, on the emperor's instruction, gave the poor a small return (mikran anakochen).(1)


(1) This seems to indicate a cash sum returned to the poor, but might simply mean a break from taxation.]

Compare this with a brief excerpt from an extant law on the poor enacted by Romanos I Lekapenos (920-44). Romanos' laws have been studied by a number of scholars: a useful starting point is the influential article by Rosemary Morris, ' The Powerful and the Poor in Tenth-Century Byzantium: Law and Reality', Past and Present 73 (1976), 3-27.

Zepos & Zepos, Ius Graecoromanum, I, pp. 205-14

Second Law of Romanos I (AD 934)

New law of Emperor Lord Romanos the Elder concerning invasions of the powerful (dynatoi) into communal properties of the poor (penetes)

Lord Romanos has made a new law which he has sent as redemption for those suffering injustice.

In the month of September, 8th indiction, in the year since creation 6443 [AD 934], Romanos, Constantine, Stephen and Constantine, faithful in God, emperors of the Romans.


1. Therefore we command that in every region and province which after God our authority governs, the inhabitants have their appointed dwelling free and undisturbed. If [the property] remains in his posession in his lifetime, let it be the property by inheritance of the children and relatives, or let the possessor's will be executed. But if, in the course of human life and time's reversals, because of necessity or need, or even desire, he partially or totally allows alienation of his lands, let the right of purchase reside with the inhabitants of the same or neighboring fields or villagelands. We do not set out these laws through hatred or jealousy of the more powerful, but we command it out of good will and protection for the poor (penetes), and for common salvation.

Paul Stephenson
28 October 1998; revised January 2012