Matthias Stern

Fiscalité, Local Politics, and Social Control in Byzantine Egypt 

Advisors: Sabine R. Huebner (University of Basel) and Bernhard Palme (University of Vienna)

In my dissertation I intend to study public control of local communities by focusing on the office of the “pagarchs,” who were in control of the collection of taxes from the rural communities of Byzantine Egypt. Backed by considerable coercive power, these officials appear to have become the central authority on the city level since the early sixth century at the latest. My PhD-project aims to use the pagarchy as a case study in order to elaborate a model that will help illuminate how sociopolitical and administrative factors in the city–country relationship correlate. The pagarchs appear to be a promising subject for the study of public control of local communities as they operated on the edge of both realms: they resided in the urban centers and were part of the political élite of the civitas; at the same time, they owned considerable landholdings, ousiai, even in areas for which they were responsible as pagarchs. In the end we will be able to better comprehend how the network we call the state and its lower-end communities in the countryside influenced each other dialectically.

My dissertation will address several questions in order to gain insight into the pagarchy as a model for the interconnectivity of fiscalité, local politics, and social control in Byzantine Egypt. 1) Fiscal administration: how did the tax regime of the pagarchs work in practice and what were its means of control vis-à-vis rural communities? 2) Hierarchy and integration: how did the pagarchy operate within a network of administrative and ‘private’ institutions? 3) Politics and mentality: how did the pagarchs profit from their control of and relations to rural communities in regard to their social standing in the cultural and administrative centers? Did they strive after promotion and did the empire make use of this? How did the pagarchs’ provincial and imperial ambitions impact local politics? 4) Community agenda: what goals did rural communities pursue in relation to the pagarchs and the ‘great houses,’ and what strategies did they use? How did dealing with public administration shape local communities?

In a second step, the model thoroughly elaborated from the situation in Byzantine Egypt will be transferred synchronically and diachronically. 1) Painting the greater picture: some texts from other regions of the Empire suggest that the pagarchy was not an institution restricted to the Egyptian provinces. Is it possible to trace the characteristics of the Egyptian pagarchy in other parts of the Empire? By comparing selected regions of the Byzantine Empire, the project will help to sharpen regional characteristics of the Egyptian model. 2) Toward transition: finally, the Byzantine model will be tested against the available evidence from ‘post-conquest Egypt.’ Thus, the project will be able to address the question of change and continuity in the Arab period from its unique point of view.

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