Thursday, August 09, 2012

How byzantine was the Byzantine civil service?

Byzantine is a descriptive adjective for a very complicated bureaucracy

Byzantine: Highly complicated; intricate and involved: a bill to simplify the byzantine tax structure.

Byzantine: (of a system or situation) Excessively complicated, typically involving a great deal of administrative detail - Byzantine insurance regulations

John D Cook talks here about how the Roman bureaucracy was less than the size of Heuston's. How does the Roman Empire figure compare to a famously bureaucratic empire?

According to recent historians the Byzantine empire did not have that many beaueacrats '‘In terms of staff numbers the Byzantine bureaucracy was relatively small: a recent estimate for the ninth century central civil service places the number of core staff at five to six hundred men, split between thirteen different bureaux or departments of state’'

This was in an empire of around 7 million people. France has about 90 civil servants to 1000 people. Which by the per capita numbers in more than 1000 times the dictionary definition of bureaucratic.


Séan Billings said...

The Romans needed fewer civil servants for several reasons. First of all, much of the Roman empire was client states, meaning that the Roman bureaucracy really only dealt with a puppet government, which took care of the details in their own way. Another reason is that the Roman government provided far fewer services than modern governments, requiring fewer staff. They had private systems for much of what we expect the government to do, including Taxation Another reason is that much of their society was agrarian. As long as someone keeps track of who owns the land and how much tax has been paid, most people generate very little of a paper trail.

I know less about the Byzantine empire, but I can't see it being very different. Few Byzantine citicens ever needed a driving licence or applied for plannning permission for an extension.

David Curran said...

Good points.

On the other hand they did not have computers and other office efficiency improvements.

I saw a Syrian bank a few years ago where they were doing everything by hand not through computers. There were just lines of clerks flicking through pages.

The Roman army had roughly the same number of soldiers per person as the US currently has. So some branches of government have expanded hugely but others remained the same or decreased.