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General characteristics of the Byzantine city

he role of the cities in the late Byzantine period differs from that of the previous periods, because the last centuries saw a marked administrational decentralisation of the state as well as a relative autonomy of the cities due to the new capabilities for defence they now possessed.

An important characteristic of the organisation of the cities is that most of them were enclosed within walls. In fact, two circuits of walls were frequently built, as in the case of Mistra, the areas between each line of walls sometimes corresponding to a particular social class. The cities were small, with the exception of certain large administrative and trading centers, such as Constantinople, Thessalonike, Adrianople, Serres, Mistra and Ioannina. Most of the cities were directly dependent on agricultural production both because the inhabitants were mainly occupied with agriculture and because the bulk of the agricultural produce was brought there. The market was usually situated outside the walls, where most of the commercial activities took place. The administration of the city was in the hands of the nobles, and despite the existence of certain bourgeois elements, one cannot speak of a bourgeoisie in Byzantine society in the form in which we encounter it in the West.

Social life appears to have been very limited. However, a characteristic scene from everyday life in the city is illustrated in a wall painting at the Blacherna monastery in Arta. The scene depicts a gathering in Constantinople, on the occasion of the procession of the icon of the Panagia ton Hodegon (Virgin Hodegetria), which took place every Tuesday and which was combined with a trade fair. It would seem that the precinct of a church or monastery was a free public area, where the people could gather whenever an occasion such as the celebration of a saint's day, arose. Besides, it was around the church that the various neighbourhoods grew and took shape, as much during the earlier as during the latter period of Byzantine history.

See also: Monuments-Despotate of Epiros
Mistra-13th c. in general