Sunday, November 29, 2009

For those who think bureaucracy is new....

...another extract from The Inheritance of Rome:
Being a tradesman in Constantinople around 900 was by no means a straightforward process. According to the Book of the Eparch (or the Prefect), a set of official regulations from this period, merchants, shopkeepers and many artisans had to be members of a guild (systma) to operate, and had to sell their wares in specific places, the gold- and silver-dealers in the Mese, the merchants of Arab silk in the Embole, the perfumers in the Milion beside Hagia Sophia, the pork butchers in the Tauros. Ambulant sellers were banned; they would be flogged, stripped of guild membership, and expelled from the city. Sellers of silk could not make up clothes as well; leather sellers could not be tanners. Some guilds, such as the merchants of Arab silk or the linen merchants, had to do their buying collectively, with the goods then distributed among guild members according to how much money they had put in, to keep down competitive buying. Sheep butchers had to go a long way into Anatolia to buy their sheep, to keep prices down; pork butchers, by contrast, had to buy pigs in the city, and were prohibited from going out to meet the vendors; so also were fishmongers, who had to buy on shore, not on the sea. The eparch, the city governor, had to be informed if silk merchants (divided into five separate guilds) sold to foreigners, who were prohibited from buying certain grades of silk. He determined all bread prices, by which bakers had to sell, and the price of wine the innkeepers sold; and he also determined the profits that many vendors made - grocers were allowed a 16 per cent profit, but bakers only 4 per cent (with another 16 per cent for the pay of their workmen), over and above the price they paid in the state grain warehouse.

2 comments:

michael redwood said...

I had never realised that guilds were as advanced as this so early. The battle between tanners, curriers and leathersellers was a UK legal battle that did not take place until the early 17th century, when it was the subject of a number of Acts of Parliament.

jens said...

The more things change, the more they stay the same!