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Pronoia: The evolution of the institution

he dispensing of pronoiai constituted one of the cornerstones of the political as well as of the military system in the 13th century. The pronoia granted was a personal and non-transferable privilege, at least until the time of Michael VIII (1259-1282). Many scholars believe that Michael VIII changed the institution of pronoia, making it hereditary, mainly for soldiers at first, and later for everyone. However, recent research challenges this view.

Some change to the institution must apparently have been made, however, during the reign of Michael VIII, a fact that may be deduced from written sources of the time regarding pronoiai that became hereditary. Such a change would constitute a landmark in the historical evolution of this institution, since it led to the blurring of distinctions between full ownership and pronoia. At the same time, it divested certain pronoiai of their military character, seeing that it was rather improbable that all the descendants of a military pronoiars would be able to offer military service, and even if they were, the extent of an inherited pronoia would hardly suffice to support them all. It is quite probable that Michael VIII allowed the right to a pronoia to be transmitted hereditarily in certain cases. However, the purpose of such a change, whether the benefit were extended generally or, more probably, only in certain cases, can only be attributed to Michael's effort to attract and maintain the allegiance of supporters of the throne and defenders of the state. What is certain is that the right of the heirs was limited to the right of possession,  and not to that of full ownership of the land. Nonetheless, during the last centuries of Byzantium, there were indeed cases in which the holder of a pronoia became its full owner.