Byzantine Social Classes

Throughout human existence, empires have risen, fallen, and risen again. The Byzantine Empire was located the Mediterranean portion Eastern Europe. Just as any other empire, the Byzantine had a system of social classes. The Byzantine broke social classes down into three broad categories: the Upper Class, the Middle Class, and the Lower Class. The structure was loose, not rigid. In other words, there was social mobility. While it was very hard to go from the bottom of the social pyramid to the top, it could be done. The social classes were based on a number of components including education, income, property, and other factors.

The Social Classes

The Upper Class:

The upper class was the highest tier of people. This class began with the emperor and trickled down to other wealthy owning families. If your family was in the upper class, you generally received more respect, more power, and owned most of the land. Top tier citizens enjoyed all of the spoils and benefits the Byzantine Empire had to offer.  

The Middle Class:

The middle class was the second tier of citizens. These citizens had the most potential for upward movement. Middle class citizens were just that, in the middle. They did not have as much wealth as upper class families, but did not have as little wealth as lower class families. Second tier citizens were merchants, artisans, government employees, or other highly skilled workers. Generally, it was easier to move from the middle class to the upper class because middle class citizens were able to get an education and learn other skills necessary to perform at the top of their profession.

The Lower Class:

The lower class is quite self-explanatory; it’s the lowest tier of citizens in the Byzantine Empire. This social category was made up of slaves and other physical laborers. Often, these citizens had little rights, lacked an identity, and were constantly disrespected by members of higher classes. The citizens in this tier were unpaid and they did not own property, but they were given a bunk and food rations from their employer. It was very difficult for citizens of this class to move up as they didn’t have access to education or the apprenticeships necessary to become skilled workers.   

The Byzantine Empire was not the first empire to have social classes and they certainly were not the last. In fact, social classes still exist today. In some countries, it is nearly impossible to increase your social status, while others have a more fluid system in terms of social mobility. At the end of the day, hard work is the best method to increase your social status and wealth.