Byzantines do not belong in the cold

During the winter of 927-928, the Byzantine’s experienced an extremely harsh cold winter, resulting in a famine. Frigid temperatures caused many of farmer’s animals and crops to freeze resulting in many people starving to death. The famine lasted up until the next harvest, which would not have been until the spring.

The Byzantine Empire lived very simply; they didn’t eat or cook different types of foods. Social class divided their diet up between bread, cheese, fish and meat. Their diet couldn’t be preserved; it was hard to store food during the winter. Because food was scarce, the prices in the market rose to high numbers, which made it very hard for the middle and lower class to get nourishment. Typically, citizens would kill pigs right before the winter so they could have sausage, lard, and salt pork, sources of protein.

The demographic of the Byzantine Empire is closely related with that of agricultural process. The event of a famine put a huge hole in how the Byzantine’s operated. Without farms, markets wouldn’t exist and without markets to sell the food to people, people would starve or the civilization would disappear. The Emperor stepped in during the time of the famine in an attempt to aid the lower and middle class. People worked hard to earn their food and live the way they lived, by having the emperor assist, it helped improve the stability of the Empire into the future.

The Byzantine Empire’s resources of food was based a majority on social class. Wealthy families typically ate three course meals for lunch and dinner while the lower class would mostly just eat salt pork and cabbage. There were other types of food such as dairy, seafood, and bread. One problem with all these foods is the preservation life, which is short. Bakers would make Voukellon, a type of bread that is baked twice to make it really dry for preserving it over a long period of time. Another technique used was the salting of meats and also sun-drying or smoking them to get the moisture out. Pork was popular meat in the Byzantine Empire, in Constantinople. Families would raise a pig indoors and save them during the winter months, which technically, also preserved meats. Once the harsh winter came in, it froze the ground for one hundred and twenty days, which prevented crops from being able to be grown or animals to eat.

In order to try and help failing lower class, Emperor Romanus put together make shift shelters for the homeless in Constantinople. He was also able to distribute wealth among people and families to help pay for food with the high prices in the markets. Small farmers couldn’t afford to sell their crops. Many had to feed themselves, which forced them to sell the land they lived to wealthy officials and military leaders. Farmers still continued to live on the land but had to pay rent each month to their new landlords. The Emperor established the “Kouratoreia of Melitene”, an area just south of Constantinople, which was known to have good soil. The area acted as a new resource and land asset to farmers who would supply food for the empire. The empire was described as having an abundant amount of food in into the twelfth century. Emperor Romanos was able to establish a way of trading goods through the country and made food more accessible across a wider social class.

One thing people tend to forget today is availability of food we have and security around it. There are so many different sources of nourishment that we sometimes ignore the fact how easy we have it. Preservation of food has become so easy in todays society, we have modified it to have a shelf life of sometimes more than double its original expectance. Food sits around so long we end up just throwing it away. We could feed another country with the amount of food we throw away each year.

From being enrolled in the Istanbul class and taking a look at the history of Constantinople, it’s amazing how few “hiccups” the empire had. Only one major famine ever existed and it was also mainly due to the Byzantine culture not being suitable for the cold. The empire was well established across a large area and different cultures, it allowed many different crops and goods to be traded.

2 thoughts on “Byzantines do not belong in the cold

  1. Morgen Hooley

    Your mention of different types of meals for people based on their social class reminds me of a similar concept I learned about in my class about the Amazon. I researched the ancient Aztecs and both the human sacrifice they performed as well as the cannibalism they took part in. There are several aspects to it, but the relevant part is who actually might’ve eaten a sacrificed human. Part of this tradition was that the limbs of the body were sometimes cut off and offered to the notable families in the town for them to eat. Human meat wasn’t exactly a staple food for them so this wasn’t really denying food for the lower class. Either way, the Aztecs didn’t have as much of an issue with food as the Byzantine Empire had (partly thanks to their stable climate), but it’s interesting how these two completely separate cultures still had different food for different social classes.

  2. Timothy Chartier

    I had never considered the reality that ancient cultures had no way to preserve food other than salted meat. I’m further impressed that the Byzantine’s were able to curve the starvation and continue as an empire. The most obvious parallel I can draw is to my Life in the Amazon class. The Amazon rain forest is considered to have an abundance of food, yet the civilizations within the Amazon have had many famines due to climate hazards such as floods, fires, and and natural disasters that drive away animal populations. It would appear that the Byzantine’s were the same way, they had security of way of life until the climate destroyed their food supply. However, the Byzantine’s seem to have sustained themselves through hardship better than Amazonian ancient cultures. Also, excellent title!


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