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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

Egypt and the Byzantine Empire             337
their private armies, their prisons, their banks and counting-
houses, their baths, their hierarchy of secretaries and account-
ants, stewards, tax-collectors, guards, and police, they founded
monasteries and endowed churches. They possessed, too, the
right (known as autopragia) of paying their taxes not through
the local officials but direct to the provincial treasurers, some-
times even, like the great Apion family of Oxyrhynchus, to the
central authorities at Alexandria. To call these estates feudal
is a misnomer, for the tenures were not military, the estates were
not held in great self-contained fiefs but were scattered among
lands of other ownership, and they never quite broke through
the framework of the imperial bureaucratic system; but they
can at least be termed semi-feudal, and it is not the least part
of the debt we owe to the papyri from Egypt that they enable
us to follow, in considerable detail, the process by which, under
the pressure of similar forces but in very different conditions,,
there grew up in the East a state of society in some way resembling
Western feudalism, in others diverging from it. In each case the
environment determined the phenomenon; and as the feudal
fief of the West, with its tenant-in-chief and its sub-tenants,
each holding his lands on a military tenure and owing allegiance
to his lord, was a replica in little of the feudal State to which
it belonged, so the great estate of Byzantine Egypt reproduced
in its smaller compass the bureaucratic despotism within which
it existed.
The estates of churches and monasteries sometimes enjoyed
the same right of autopragia-, and it was further granted to
certain villages of free landowners, perhaps in the unjustified
hope of creating some counterpoise to the dangerous power of
the nobility. The emperors and their wives also possessed ex-
tensive properties, which, however, played a much smaller part
in the rural economy of Byzantine Egypt than had the old
domain lands in that of the Roman period. The remaining land
was held as private property by smaller landowners subject to.