Wednesday 12 April 2023
11.00 - 13.00
Economic Inequality before the Black Death: Sources, Methods and Case-studies (1290-1348)
Luis Almenar Fernández :
Animals, Land, Silver. Peasants’ Wealth Inequality through Probate Inventories in the Kingdom of Valencia during the Fourteenth Century
Maika de Keyzer
Long-term indicators based on quantitative and large statistical work, particularly Gini coefficients, but also others like Williamson indexes, have gained popularity in the last decades when it comes to studying inequality in pre-industrial societies. These indexes have suggested that inequality in Iberia followed the same path during the late medieval ... (Show more)
Long-term indicators based on quantitative and large statistical work, particularly Gini coefficients, but also others like Williamson indexes, have gained popularity in the last decades when it comes to studying inequality in pre-industrial societies. These indexes have suggested that inequality in Iberia followed the same path during the late medieval period as compared to other European scenarios. Such a trend consisted of a general rise in inequality that was only temporarily stopped after the immediate demographic shocks of the Black Death (1348). Yet the preference for general, long-term comprehensive figures have left aside the idea of approaching particular groups of late medieval society. Besides, this could be done by turning to alternative sources and indicators, as we intend to do with this paper, which proves particularly useful for periods or regions where tax registries are not preserved in significant quantities or at all.
In order to approach this issue, this paper turns to an original sample of peasant inventories from the kingdom of Valencia from between the late thirteenth century and late-fourteenth century. This is analysed quantitatively so as to explore the inequalities in the possession of three particular sets of goods that represented major indicators of the wealth of the deceased recorded in these lists: animals, land and silver. The analyses of land and working animals’ ownership proves particularly useful to explore Valencian peasants, for these were their main sources of incomes in this kingdom, where the small peasant holding was predominant. This reveals that, despite regional differences across the kingdom, deceased peasants recorded in inventories might have tended to own larger possessions after the Black Death, while draught animals like oxen and horses became more wide-spread. Meanwhile, silver items like spoons, mugs, goblets were clearly more abundant among upper than lower peasants, and its ownerships goes normally in hand with a higher possession of land and animals.
This evidence will help exploring the impact of the Black Death on inequality from a short-term perspective that, altogether, will help understanding the direct impact of the plague on the wealth inequality of the late medieval peasantry. (Show less)
Davide Cristoferi :
Economic Inequality and Socio-property Relations at the Peak of Medieval Development: Comparing Sienese Tuscany and Northern France (c. 1295-c. 1320)
Since the Great Recession of 2007-2008, research on the causes of economic inequality has been at the centre of both societal and academic debates, also among historians. Whereas most scholars have focused on contemporary and early modern societies, this paper addresses this issue by studying two illustrative European regions such ... (Show more)
Since the Great Recession of 2007-2008, research on the causes of economic inequality has been at the centre of both societal and academic debates, also among historians. Whereas most scholars have focused on contemporary and early modern societies, this paper addresses this issue by studying two illustrative European regions such as Sienese Tuscany and French Artois around 1300. These scope and study areas will allow us to provide a better understanding of levels of concentrations and mechanisms of distribution across European rural society at the peak of the late medieval development. In this regard, the paper explores why, where, how and to what extent patterns of distribution of wealth (property), income (revenues from land) and access to land (leasehold systems, commons) are influenced by the specific power and socio-property structures of the two areas, the seigneurial (Artois) and the bourgeoisie city-state (Siena) system. Both regions are characterised by a unique set of archival records in terms of quantity, quality and chronology as well as by well-grounded secondary literature on rural history. In this regard, the paper will study three unexploited fiscal surveys of the early-fourteenth century through quantitative analyses: two royal tax collections levied in Artois in 1295-1302 by the order of the French King Philip IV and a cadastral survey made by the commune of Siena for the whole city-state’s territory in 1316-20. By doing so, the paper will bring, first, new evidences of early-fourteenth-century economic inequality, and see whether, how, where and to what wealth concentration was as high as has been suggested. Second, the papers will attempt to verify to what extent changes in socio-property relations such as land purchase (I), leasehold systems (II), access to commons (III) and fiscal pressure (IV) driven by economic and political elites have influenced wealth and income distribution in a pre-industrial economy. The discrepancy in the quality of the sources and in power and property structures between the regions under study will be addressed in both objectives by a testing strategy based on different proxies. In this way, the paper will provide new data and insights on a crucial period of European history, when Western civilisation was on the cusp between late medieval growth and the transformation of its socio-economic and demographic pattern, expedited by the Great Plague of 1347-49. (Show less)
Sam Geens :
From top to Bottom. Estimating Wealth Inequality through Elite Taxation: Comparing Fourteenth-century Bruges, Mons, and Florence.
The recent outbreak of the coronavirus disease in 2019 has peaked the interest in the impact of pandemics on wealth distributions. Both policy makers and academic researchers are trying to grasp how health measures and mortality will impact societies in the long run. Because the world had not witnessed a ... (Show more)
The recent outbreak of the coronavirus disease in 2019 has peaked the interest in the impact of pandemics on wealth distributions. Both policy makers and academic researchers are trying to grasp how health measures and mortality will impact societies in the long run. Because the world had not witnessed a pandemic of similar scope in the last century, the study of historical diseases is quintessential. Among all case studies, the Black Death stands out due to its geographical scope and staggering mortality rates.
Despite a growing number of publications on the evolution of wealth inequality after the Black Death, studies on the distribution of property before its outbreak are still scant. At the time of writing, data for only a handful of cases has been published and pertain predominantly to the Mediterranean World. Given that historians generally ascribe much importance to the differences between North-Western and Southern Europe, which are said to have emerged or, at least, have been collaborated by the Second Plague Pandemic, the lack of data for the former region is a critical issue in the current historiography. The present paper hopes to address this hiatus by introducing and comparing new evidence for the capital cities of Bruges, Mons, and Florence. In addition, it proposes a new methodology to incorporate sources that have hitherto been ignored.
In the last decade, historians have largely depended on tax registers to retrace the evolution of wealth inequality in the premodern period. The main advantage of such sources is their ability to give a cross-section of a society at one particular point in time. Although they become abundantly available from the fifteenth century on, when the development of the fiscal state subjected an ever-larger share of the population to different impositions, extensive tax registers are often lacking for the earlier centuries. In most cases, when a register does survive, they figure only a small subset of economic elites. Consequently, many historians have ignored these sources. However, the distribution of wealth at the top of society is often indicative for the trend at large (i.e. the Pareto principle). The paper describes how historians may still employ this partial yet essential information. It does so by focusing on the differences between the top 0.1% and 1% (wealth ratio and inverted Pareto ? coefficient) as well as on the share of communal and regional wealth owned by the top 10%, 5%, and 1%. The feasibility of the methodology is explored for tax registers of Bruges in the years 1296, 1306, 1316, and 1339; of Mons in 1279, 1296, and 1308; and of Florence in 1325. It shows how inequality changed in a crucial period of economic and climatic crisis. Thanks to the already available estimates for the later fourteenth and fifteenth century, the impact of the Black Death can also be assessed. (Show less)
Laura Miquel Milian :
Sources for the Study of Inequality in the City of Tortosa before and after the Black Death
During the Late Middle Ages, the city of Tortosa, in southern Catalonia, was particularly known as a river port, given its privileged situation near the mouth of the Ebro and its important role in the transport routes of Aragonese cereal. This way, it was one of the main Catalan cities, ... (Show more)
During the Late Middle Ages, the city of Tortosa, in southern Catalonia, was particularly known as a river port, given its privileged situation near the mouth of the Ebro and its important role in the transport routes of Aragonese cereal. This way, it was one of the main Catalan cities, and without any doubt the most relevant ones of the area nowadays called ‘the Ebro lands.’
Since the beginning of the last century, historians have been aware of the existence of two manifests from Tortosa (one from 1316 and the other from 1353), which were then partially transcribed by Francesc Carreras Candi. The main goal of this paper is to analyze their potential as sources, as well as that of other documents, to study the wealth of Tortosa’s inhabitants during the fourteenth century. The fact that the documents detail the amounts that the head of each house had to pay before and after the epidemic crisis of the late 1340s can shed some light on the consequences of the plague not only on a strictly demographic level, but also on an economic one. The study of the changes in the wealth level of the people of Tortosa might be especially interesting, as well as being able to verify whether the epidemic implied an increase of the inequality or, on the contrary, it diminished. (Show less)