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Title:How the Apions became wealthy: finding the money on a late antique estate
Author(s):McConnell, Ryan
Director of Research:Parca, Maryline G.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Parca, Maryline G.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Keenan, James; Sanders, Kirk R.; Dengate, James
Department / Program:Classics
Discipline:Classical Philology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Byzantine Egypt
Oxyrhynchus, estates
economic history
Apion Archive
Apion Dossier
Abstract:The Flavii Apiones, owners of a large estate in Byzantine Egypt (fourth to seventh centuries), appear to become quite wealthy, yet the means by which they acquired that wealth is not always clear. Peter Sarris has argued that profit was derived from a category of land called the autourgia, mentioned only occasionally in the extant papyri. The autourgia, he asserts, generated the great bulk of the surplus, which could then be sold on the open market. In contrast to Sarris, Todd Hickey argues that the estate was autarkic, focusing his argument on viticulture, the agricultural sector most likely to have been exploited commercially. He finds that the Apion estate was barely self-sufficient in wine. On Hickey’s view, estate income was predominantly from lease revenue. Yet receipts and expenditures in the extant accounts documenting collections made by the estate on leased land often balance in grain and only show a small profit in cash. Given the extent of the Apions’ wealth and the affluence of their senatorial peers, Hickey concedes that “...the Apions would have needed significantly more wealth than their estate at Oxyrhynchus could possibly have generated. The source of such income remains to be discovered.”1 The main aim of this dissertation, then, is to examine and evaluate the potential sources of wealth the Apions could have exploited. It offers a critique of Sarris’ description of how the estates made their money, his framing of the relationship between the estate and the state as pitted against one another for control over the wealth-generating land of Egypt, and his view of the estate as large, expanding, and bipartite. In its place is posited a model that accords with Hickey’s picture of the estate as largely autarkic in its production, and with Jean Gascou’s model of Byzantine estates in which aristocratic elites and imperial authority negotiated and cooperated with one another. The argument made here suggests that the Apions acquired their wealth in large part by collecting taxes for the state through tax farming agreements. Such a view aligns with the most important aspect of Gascou’s model, that Byzantine estates performed a semi-public tax collection function. I argue that the tax farming apparatus employed by the Apion estate operated on two tiers. Through the lower tier they were able to draw money upwards from peasant cultivators and through the upper tier they could secure access to collection rights from the state. At the lower tier of the system, the estates additionally levied fees on collectors they employed. These fees extracted some of the wealth their collectors generated through market speculation when transmuting their small denomination collections into gold. Evidence supporting this model can be found in a number of extant papyri, and historical analogues can be found in classical Athens, Ptolemaic Egypt, Republican Rome, and Early Modern France.
Issue Date:2014-01-16
Rights Information:Copyright 2013 Ryan McConnell
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-01-16
Date Deposited:2013-12

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