1st Edition

Orthodox Mercantilism Political Economy in the Byzantine Commonwealth

By Alex Feldman Copyright 2024
    310 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book demonstrates how the political economy of mercantilism was not simply a Western invention by various cities and kingdoms during the Renaissance, but was the natural by-product of perpetually limited growth rates and rulers’ relentless pursuits of bullion. It contributes to discussions of the economic history surrounding the so-called “Great Divergence” between East and West, which would consequently lend context and credence to differences of economic thought in the world today. Additionally, it seeks to explain present economic thought as tacitly derived from implicit antique paradigms. This book advances fields of research from numismatics and sigillography to historical materialism and historical political economy.

    Divided into three parts, Orthodox Mercantilism first examines the political theology (the sovereignty) of the œcumene from the early 11th century. Second, it analyzes its peripheral legislation from the customary laws of newly Christianized dynasties up to the Kormčaja Kniga’s adoption (the Nomokanon) by 13th-century Orthodox dynasties across Eastern Europe. Third, it explores how these dynasties (and their own satellite dynasties) hoarded finite bullion to pay for defense, resulting in the 11–14th-century coinless period across Eastern Europe and Western Eurasia.

    Appealing to students and scholars alike, this book will be of interest to those studying and researching economic and mercantile history, particularly in the context of Byzantine and Eastern European societies.

    A Zero-Sum World

    Pronoia: Orthodox feudalism?

    Mercantilism 101

    What was the “Byzantine Commonwealth”?

    1. Byzantium: nation-state or civilization-state?

    2. Did Byzantium generate a “commonwealth”?

    3. How should the œcumene be interpreted?

    The Œcumene

    Chapter 1

    The Byzantine Commonwealth unfolds

    Byzantium and the baptism of Vladimir, 986-989 – the problems of the sources

    The evidence of Cherson’s involvement in the Phokas rebellion, 987-989

    A reassemblage of the revisionist hypothesis, 987-989

    Chapter 2

    The Rus’ian metropolitanate:  “proto-state” or exarchate?

    Beyond Commonwealth

    Byzantine western exarchates of the 6-8th c.

    The loyalty of the thema of Bulgaria after 1019

    The metropolitanate of Rus’ia reconsidered

    The Law

    Chapter 3

    From customary law to Christian law

    The Russkaja Pravda (11-12th centuries)

    Byzantine legal influences in the expanded Russkaja Pravda

    The adoption of the Zakon Sudnyj Ljudem (9-12th c.)

    From the Zakon Sudnyj Ljudem to the Kormčaja Kniga

    Chapter 4

    Overlapping sovereignties: empire, commonwealth and jurisdiction

    Orthodox tax, debt and property law to the 13th century

    Orthodox tax, debt and property law since the 13th century

    The Coin

    Chapter 5

    The hoarding period: Eastern Europe, 11-14th centuries

    Bullion, deniers and debasement

    Barter, debt and law

    Imagined borders

    Chapter 6

    Sovereignty and bullion: 13-17th centuries

    Coins of the Romanía dynasties

    Coins of the Œcumene dynasties

    Cycles of Divergence and Convergence

    Misconceptions of feudalism and mercantilism

    1. The misconception that Roman laws and feudal laws have been different

    2. The misconception that feudalism has been exclusive to Latin Christendom

    3. The misconception that feudalism and mercantilism have been mutually exclusive economic systems

    The contested inheritance of Byzantium’s political economy and rhetoric

    Orthodox ecumenism

    Rex Catholicissimus, the Spains and “The Powerful Mr. Money”

    Pravoslavie, the Russias and “The Artery of War - Money”

    The Great Divergence?

    Ecumenical sovereignty and the national idea

    Liberal interpretations of zero-sum economic history


    Primary Sources

    Secondary Sources



    Alex M. Feldman is the chair of the department of languages and literature at CIS-Endicott International University of Madrid. He received a BA from Roger Williams University of Rhode Island and received an MRes and PhD from the University of Birmingham. He has held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of London’s Warburg Institute and has taught at the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, the State University of New York, Rockland and the University of Birmingham.

    This is an impressive and engaging book: erudite, personal and passionate as it is dense and demanding. Rich rewards await readers as they are asked to follow a path that draws on a multitude of texts from Antiquity to the last couple of years to weave a gripping narrative of how medieval political, economic and theological systems emerged and grew in the Byzantine world writ large. This is a book about political economy and inequality that clearly demonstrates how the latter’s multiple forms can all be traced back to the same principles. Alex Mesibov Feldman guides us confidently through his meticulously collected material to explore the past but without ever losing sight of the present. He proudly follows in the footsteps of writers such as Marcel Mauss and David Graeber whose brilliant scholarship was also ultimately about justice.


    Dionysios Stathakopoulos / Assistant Professor in Byzantine History, University of Cyprus