First of all, I would just like to note that I am not looking for an answer concerning Constantinople, but rather how other cities were governed (e.g. Thessaloniki, Adrianapole, Nicaea, Smyrna, Pergamon... or any other city in Anatolia, Thrace or on the Aegean). Some of those cities might have had a special status at some point in history where there were the seat of a local strategos or doux, but I'm interested what are some of the structures of local administration one could expect in more or less every city, primarily:

  • Was there a city council and who are its members?
  • What powers could that council expect to have?
  • Was there an elected official in charge, i.e. a mayor? What was the name of that official, how long was the term?
  • If not elected, who was the appointed official in charge and who appointed him (I think I can probably assume that it was always a him)?
  • What powers did the official in charge have?

By early Byzantine I was thinking of anything from Justinian until the Macedonian dynasty. I am aware that this period might be scarce on resources and I appreciate any extra details up from Diocletian to the 11th century, since some segments of low level administration probably functioned similarly if not the same.

I have done some googling but couldn't find anything directly related to the subject except maybe a passing reference that the judicial power would be in the hands of a praitores or kritai, and a few stuff how Constantinople was administered focused mostly on titles. Therefore any help is appreciated.

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    Just a few quick leads for now: Pazdernik, C. F. (2012), Zanini, E. (2003) and chapter II.6.1 from The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies.
    – Brian Z
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 20:57
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    I voted to reopen as I don't think that these questions should be considered separately. There is differentiation between Constantinople and the rest, and for a basic overview of the process of city administration, a good overview would cover much of the above questions in any case. Encouraging thoroughness in answers and all that...
    – gktscrk
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 21:21
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    @gktscrk While I would like to be able to agree with you (because it's Byzantine empire and because we have too many closed questions), this one is just too broad with the multiple questions. Commented May 14, 2020 at 0:36
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    I would like to focus on what kind of administrative structure could one expect in an average city. What kind of government would a someone moving form A to B expect to stay more or less similar - Who was "in charge", how did they get there, what would they do. The actual financial aspects of local government is something that I'm less interested in at the moment and might leave for a future question. In that light I've made the previous edit. Do any other questions fall outside of that scope?
    – 5ar
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 13:16
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    Additionally, to know which cities to focus on I would need to have the knowledge of what I'm asking in this question - how those cities were structured. I'm not interested in any city per se, but a general format. I have no idea which cities had a more generic or special situation (other than Constantinople which I excluded for that very reason). The cities that I've mentioned are just examples in case someone has knowledge specific for them that they could share. Basically the best I can do there is just remove all the example cities from the question.
    – 5ar
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 13:21

1 Answer 1


Here are some relevant excerpts from Helen Saradi's chapter "Towns and Cities" in the Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies, outlining the significant changes in the administration of Byzantine cities over time. The bold text is my own emphasis. This first part is referring here primarily to the early Byzantine period:

Bishops as the spiritual leaders of the urban communities naturally rose to positions of power in the cities. They took initiatives in times of war, appealed for imperial intervention to address urgent civic needs, and took care of civic works, the maintenance and construction of civic buildings (Avramea 1987 and 1989; Feissel 1989; Liebeschuetz 2001a: 137-68). The bishop, together with influential members of the local communities (protoi, proteuontes—headmen; ktetores—patrons), formed a group responsible for appointing civic officers, such as the curator, the sitones (in charge of corn supplies), the pater, and the defensor (ekdikos). The appearance of these new leaders in the cities was a response to the decline of the decurions (bouleutai) and of the institution of the boule. Although their role in the cities was sanctioned by imperial legislation, the group of new urban leaders was not defined as an institution, as was the boule: the new administrative system was not uniform everywhere in the empire and lacked the formality of the earlier government by the boule (Liebeschuetz 2001a: 104-36; Saradi 2006:151-85).

This was followed by centuries of urban decline to the point that many cities were effectively abandoned. The theme system took on greater and greater importance until cities re-emerged later on:

From the ninth century, and perhaps already from the late eighth century (Bouras 2002:501), Byzantine cities were marked by an economic revival. New cities and towns are mentioned in the sources. In many cases, this was the result of an imperial initiative. Civil and ecclesiastical administration and a military presence created conditions that encouraged the development of cities and towns. The theme system began slowly to be replaced by the emerging cities as centres of administrative, economic, and social life (Angold 1985: 7-9; Harvey 1989: 207; Dagron 2002; Bouras 2002: 501-4). There was a population increase and expansion of the urban inhabited area on the sites of the ancient agorai. Urban administration was carried on by the administration of the themata, and when the system declined, local powerful persons, the archontes, emerged as leaders of urban communities, together with bishops.

Then in a final phase:

In the eleventh century the cities again became centres of provincial administration with the krites (judge) as head of the civil administration of the theme. The large themes were subdivided into smaller ones and in reoccupied territories small administrative units were created in the district of each city: the Byzantine city was reaffirmed (Dagron 1987:160). [...] In the provinces the weakness of the central government during the eleventh century and at the end of the twelfth, together with fiscal oppression by imperial agents, created a discontent in the cities towards the capital marked by a sense of local solidarity. Local dynasts took power in provincial cities and led rebellions against the emperors.

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