The office of "epeiktes" and its duties in the late Roman and Byzantine times (3rd-11th c.A.D.)

GEORGIOS A. LEVENIOTIS

Abstract


 

Τhe so-called epeiktes (in Greek ἐπείκτης, in papyri and seals οccurs often as ἐπίκτης or even ἐπήκτης) has not yet been sufficiently studied by modern research, although it was apparently a quite common and active Byzantine office. The word ἐπείκτης derives from the verb ἐπείγω (= be urgent, press). The epeiktes occurs, not rather frequently though, in the late Roman and subsequent Byzantine sources from Late Antiquity (especially in Roman Egypt from the 3rd to the 7th c.) until the 11th c. A.D. Τhe later (?) use of epei­ktes as a Greek or Armenian family name or surname (πίκτης, πείκτης, Pext, Bekhd or maybe Πήκτης;), as some modern researchers suggest, is not easy to establish with certainty. Our information on the specific problem is based on references from funerary inscriptions, narrative texts and seals; these, though, are rather sparse, vague and, in some cases, extremely controversial.
In late Roman Egypt, the epeiktes was quite often a supervisor of various tasks, a person in charge; he was “an overseer who presses work on” as the etymology of the word suggests anyway (alsο called ἐπιστάτης τῶν ἔργων, ἐργοδιώκτης and ἐργεπείκτης in Greek or, in other words, πρωτομάστωρ and ἐργάτης μηχανῶν). From the reign of the emperor Aurelian (270-275 A.D.) and, especially, Diocletian (284-305) the holders of the status of epeiktes were subjected to the general regime of compulsory public service (λειτουργίαι / liturgiae); perhaps they received a financial compensation as a salary (i.e. ὑπὲρ μισθοῦ). The vast increase of references in the papyri during the late 3rdc. and early 4th c. Α.D. probably indicates that they were related with the inten­si­fication of the effort to increase productivity in order to meet the needs of an expanding State; this was one of the main objectives of Diocletian and his successors. The epeiktes had assistants (e.g. βοηθὸς ἐπείκτου) οr had themselves assistant duties (e.g. ἐπείκτης κόμητος). They were either supervisors of various tasks (e.g. πρωτεπείκτης, ἐργεπείκτης, χω­ματεπείκτης, ἐπεί­κτης ἐπισκευῆς, ἐπείκτης ἀρτοκοπείου, ἐπείκτης ὀθόνης, ἐπείκτης πλοιο­ποι­ίας, ἐπεί­κτης [ἐπισκευῆς] πλοίων), or were entrusted with more important tax duties (e.g. ἐπείκτης καὶ κυβερνήτης πλοίου ταμειακοῦ, ἐπείκτης ἀννώνης, [κράτιστος] ἐπείκτης δημοσίου σίτου, ἐπείκτης δημοσίου ἄνθρακος, ἐπείκτης χρυσοῦ στεφάνου καὶ Νίκης). In other words, the epeiktes is not pri­ma­rily mentioned in the service of the imperial stables, as it has been suggested.
The reports of the legal sources demonstrate that, at least in the early years of the Byzantine Empire, the epeiktes was also a kind of bailiff, as the so-called ekbibastes (ἐκβιβαστής). During the middle Byzantine period though, the epeiktes undertook more important responsibilities: He could be, for instance, an official in the staff of the komes tou stavlou, who is men­tioned in all taktika of the 9th and 10th c. A.D.; in that case, according to Constantine Porphyrogenitus (and secondarily according to the sigillary material), he was responsible for the proper care of the pack animals, namely for the fodder, watering, and other related supplies (like horseshoes or saddles) in the imperial stables (metata); when an epeiktes assumed his du­ties he received a single payment of 6 gold coins as a roga. As early as the late 7th c. A.D. though, some holders of the office were also high-ranking officials; they were very close to, at least to some, Byzantine emperors (i.e. imperial epeiktes / βα­σι­λι­κοὶ ­πεί­κτες) and carried additional titles and offices. In those cases the epeiktes could undertake and oversee several major projects, such as shipbuilding or construction of buildings in the Sacred Palace. The so-called epeiktes of the konchyle (ἐπείκτης τῆς κογχύλης) was responsible for the supervision, or at least related with, the fishing of purples along the shores of the Thrakesion theme; during the 10th-11th c. A.D. though he was entrusted with the collection of the tax bearing the same name, as reported by the so-called Lexicon of Suida. The preserved sigillary material demon­strates that the epeiktes could also serve in major trading ports and customs posts of the Empire, like the Hellespont Abydos and possibly Thessaloniki. It has been suggested that in Abydos the epeiktes was supervising the loading and unloading of boats and eventually the formation of the caravans to the interior of Asia Minor. The epeiktes of Abydos Stephanos, known to us by his surviving seal, also bore the high dignity of epi ton oikeiakon (10th c.); this fact implies that he was possibly entrusted with more important duties. Finally, the epeiktes could be a church official, as the seal of Georgios, epeiktes of the Great Church (ἐπείκτης τῆς Μεγάλης Ἐκκλησίας) clearly suggests; his precise functions are though unknown.
In conclusion, the epeiktes could be responsible for many different tasks, which varied depending on the geographic region and time testimony; the numerous references of the office in the diverse source material clearly lead to the above assumption. The term was originally used in the late Roman and early Byzantine Egypt, implying a compulsory public service (liturgia), some­times a temporary job title, or even a low-ranking employee, a bailiff accor­ding to legal sources. Later on though it “evolved” into a more permanent institution; from the 7th to the 11th c. A.D. the epeiktes was an imperial, state or church, junior or high-ranking official, whose position in the hierarchy varied depending on his relation with the emperor, his duties and the other titles he had bore. The nature of his diverse duties though justified almost al­ways the etymology of this Greek word: a person who presses work on. How­ever, it is very likely that further research οf the sources will reveal additional data for the office of epeiktes.


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