For Part One go here
Following widespread popular indignation in the aftermath the Mutiny at Nancy in 1790 , the National Assembly decided to completely overhaul the much despised military disciplinary code. This was a drawn-out reform which took over a year to be carried and was further amended between 1792 and 1793, in the wake of the overthrow of the monarchy. The Terror brought further changes in 1794.
These reforms had two aims. First, they broke the absolute power of the officer corps. Second, they attempted to give the soldiers a fairer trial in case of court martial.
For minor breaches of discipline (fautes contre la discipline) like drunkenness and disobedience, corporal punishment was strictly forbidden and to be replaced by extra work and confinement. Officers who attempted the old beating by the flat of the sword were to be stripped of their rank, cashiered with dishonor and sent to jail for three years.
In this short essay I will attempt to chronicle the transformation of the French Republican Army from a volunteer army made up of professional soldiers and willing citizen-soldiers in a large mass of military serfs in the 1789-1794 period.
I know this topic will be highly controversial but I personally believe it provides a useful discussion and reflection topic in the defense debate. Any criticism, as long as it’s constructive, is highly welcome.
The armies of the Ancien Regime were, essentially, volunteer in nature. France had traditionally three sources of recruits.
The first, and most important, were the great cities like Paris, Lyon and Toulouse. Recruiters particularly targeted paupers, easily attracted by a steady, if meager, paycheck and the promise of food and lodge, and the younger sons of artisans and shopkeepers, who could not hope to take over the family business and were usually doomed to a lifetime of perpetual misery.
The second were the country estates of certain noble military families. Members of these families, serving as military officers, were regularly given six-month leaves (semestres) to recruit troops for the army. Military life, as hard as it was, was usually seen as an attractive alternative for the younger sons of peasant families. Moreover these men usually ended up serving under the same noblemen who had recruited them, often in highly regarded cavalry and artillery unit.
The third were the many foreign (Swiss, Bavarian, Irish etc) regiments serving France. These were of very varied quality and each had its own way of finding recruits. 
For Part One go here
For Part Two go here
The ’50s, due to both the end of US meddling in the Japanese economy and improved general conditions in Japan, saw the broken remains of the zaibatsu morph into the keiretsu, the modern day “conglomerates” which have defined Japanese economic life ever since.
The keiretsu is a different institution that the US corporation or the European multinational. It can be defined as a group of firms (ranging from the gigantic to middle-sized family owned enterprises) tied among themselves by cross-shareholding, informal ties and, much more critically, the use of a common main bank and sogo shosha (often translated as trading house) which constitute the true beating heart of the keiretsu. Very much like an onion, a keiretsu is made up of “layers” of companies: however being close to the core does not mean being a huge company. Toyota, for example, belongs to the most external layer of companies of the Mitsui keiretsu despite being one of the world’s largest manufacturing companies. The same can be said for Matsushita Electronics and Sumitomo.
It’s very hard to explain the concept of layers. For a Japanese “it’s just the way it is”. Positioning is affected by a huge number of factors, such as the entity of loans taken from the core bank, cross-shareholding patterns and tradition. In some keiretsu, companies which can directly trace their lineage to the original zaibatsu are held to be “closer to the core” despite not having being major players for decades.
For Part One go here.
1914 saw the outbreak of the Great War. Japan, though part of the Entente, contributed very little to the military side of things, but this doesn’t mean it was a major player in the war.
Japanese weapon factories manufactured millions and millions of artillery shells for the Allies, Japanese rifles were supplied to the Russian and British armies in large quantities and, most importantly, the zaibatsu-owned shipyards churned out freighters at breakneck speed: in just four years Japan doubled its already large mercantile fleet, without taking into account the ships sold to the Allies. Exports rose by 266% in three years and Japan started turning a large trade surplus, helped by the power vacuum left by British and French companies’ commitment to the war effort (Continental Asia was largely unaffected by the war and still needed industrial goods).
In late 1916, after the Battle of Verdun, Mitsui Bussan analysts concluded (correctly as it turned out) that in three years at most the war would be over with an Allied victory. They concluded a recession would hit Japan hard as demand for munitions would drastically drop and French and British competitors would be back in business. Hence Mitsui started to steadily reduce its transaction volumes almost immediately. Other zaibatsu, thinking Mitsui had some serious internal issue, stepped in to seize what they thought was a golden opportunity. Recession hit immediately after the Armistice in November 1918, as France, Italy and Britain cancelled large munitions orders overnight. Many zaibatsu were ruined or barely survived the hit while Mitsui’s dominating position was strengthened.
In July 1853 a four ship US Navy squadron commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry entered Edo Bay. Perry put on a terrifying show to prove the devastating power of Western technology by razing a number of buildings in Edo harbor. As a result Japan, an “isolationist” country, opened up to the world. Or so it’s what school textbooks say.
Starting in 1633 the shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu , issued a number of edicts collectively called sakoku (chained islands) to reduce to the minimum contact between Japan and outside world. Trade was heavily regulated: for example the only Western traders allowed to operate in Japan were Portuguese, replaced in 1641 by the Dutch, and they could only deal with Japanese on the artificial island of Dejima in Nagasaki Bay, Chinese traders could only operate in a specially designated area inside Nagasaki proper, and so on.
For Part One go here
For Part Two go here
For Part Three go here
For Part Four go here
Finally, what conclusions may we gather about Byzantine economy and society?
Byzantium originally started out as a continuation of the Late Roman Empire of Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337), so much her own citizens, despite shunning Latin and practicing forms of Christianity which diverged more and more from Western European Catholicism, called themselves Romaioi, Romans. The Late Roman Empire had nothing of the prosperous realm of Trajan described by Pliny the Younger. It was much poorer, much less secure and much less free. The State was everywhere, meddling in trade, pricing and religion. There was of course an exception to this rule, namely the Middle East: Syria, Palestine, Egypt etc. While Europe descended deeper and deeper into the interminable cycle of civil wars, the Middle East was an area of relative stability.
While the Galliae and Hiberia were ravaged from end to end by marauding armies and robbed of their accumulated wealth by ravenous tax collectors, Syria, Egypt and the other Middle Eastern lands remained relatively peaceful and stable.
The Arabs to the South were usually well disposed towards Rome (mostly thanks to generous “subsidies”) and on this frontier only one power faced the Empire: Sassanid Persia, heir to the ancient and highly advanced Iranic civilization.
For Part One go here
For Part Two go here
For Part Three go here
This penultimate installment will concern a topic which is the source of many debates in the academic community and many myths among laymen: monetary developments.
It has often been written Byzantine coinage was remarkably stable throughout most of the Empire’s history. This is incorrect.
Byzantium followed originally the old Diocletianic pattern of coinage: gold and silver coins were struck in Constantinople and the prefectures of Thessalonika, Rome (later Ravenna) and Carthage, bronze coins in the same places as well as the diocesan capitals (Antioch, Kyzikos, Nikomedia and Alexandria). These were supplemented by a few other for regions deemed important for various reasons (Catania and Syracuse for Sicily, Constantia for Cyprus and Cherson) and by temporary mints which issued coins for military purposes (examples are Isaura, Alexandretta and Seleukia).
This scheme was disrupted by the disasters of the VII century: the Persians and then the Arabs ravaged the Eastern regions and North Africa, the Slavs took the Balkans and the Lombard overrun Italy while the Popes in Rome began to assert their complete independence. In the meantime the plague raged throughout the whole Mediterranean and the Middle East, hitting highly urbanized Byzantium and Persia, already weakened by a decades long war, the hardest.
For part one go here
For part two go here
Trade, just like during the Late Roman Empire, was the lifeblood of the Byzantine Empire, and its importance kept on escalating with time.
Modern historiography identifies three different types of trade in Pre-Industrial Societies.
Local exchange is classified as short distances under 50km (30 miles) on land routes or one day sailing on sea routes.
Regional exchange is classified as trade on distances between 50 and 300km (30 to 185 miles) on land routes or between two and seven days sailing on sea routes.
Anything longer is classified as long distance trade.
For part one of this series go here.
Byzantium inherited from the Late Eastern Roman Empire a diversified but far from efficient industrial system.
During Justinian’s reign (527-565) the Emperor tightly controlled the whole industrial sector*, including the mines.
The Imperial government had the monopoly in weapons and silk manufacturing, gold mining and the murex**, alum and salt trade. Professions were tightly regulated through the guild system, down to the smallest village: bakers, carpenters, fullers, blacksmiths, even undertakers had to belong to a guild in order to ply their trade.
The massive depopulation caused by the Plague and the devastation wrought by the Persian and Muslim Wars meant a complete collapse of the guild system outside of Constantinople. The Emperor still had the strength to collect taxes but lacked the means to enforce the cartelization of the economy outside his capital. Craftsmen started to operate without bothering to apply for guild membership: anybody with the skills (and in some cases, the capital) could take up any job they wished outside Constantinople proper. Sometimes in the early VIII century the guild system outside the capital was officially disbanded except in silk manufacturing (see below) and even weapon manufacturing started to drift away from tight State-control and became a mixed system, with both private entrepreneurs and State-controlled factories manufacturing weapons for the army and the navy.
The last two decades marked the “golden age” of Byzantine historiography. Our knowledge and understanding of this great civilization has improved immensely and has forever changed the way we look at it. The original spur of this amazing development was very simple: how could Byzantium, seen as a stale, decadent and highly inefficient Empire, stand up for so long to the new aggressive powers in Western Europe and the Middle East? How could the Emperor be regarded as one of the richest sovereigns in the world when the dominions he ruled upon were seen as mired in intrigue, bureaucracy and a general economic and social slump?
This overview will be split in sections. In the present one we’ll cover the basis of all pre-Industrial societies: agricultural production and land management. The next installments will cover such topics as monetary and fiscal policies, secondary production and internal and international trade. Given how fast Byzantine historiography is evolving at the moment I cannot assure all my sources will be up to date but I’ll do my best to present the most advanced findings and conclusions. Continue reading