There is no question that the Byzantine economy experienced secular growth in the period after the late eighth century. What is argued in this chapter is that growth accelerated over a period which extended from sometime in the tenth century until a point that varies considerably for the various sectors of the economy as well as in terms of the factors that influence growth. The demographic upward swing continued until some time in the early or mid-fourteenth century. The rural population was in a Malthusian bind by the late thirteenth–early fourteenth century, as the land constraint appears to have been reached, diminishing returns set in and, as a result, the economic condition of the population worsened. The urban economy reached its heights in the twelfth century; and the economy of exchange, which certainly attained high levels in the twelfth century, functioned under significantly different terms in the period after the fall of Constantinople to the crusaders in 1204. That there was extensive growth in this period is quite clear. The question will also be raised whether one may also speak of what D. Lal has called a “Smithian intensive growth,” with a secular increase in the per capita income that, however, in the long run comes up against the land constraint and diminishing returns set in.
In examining the growth patterns of the age of accelerated growth one must, once again, begin with demography and population movements, for a number of reasons.