PLAGUE EPIDEMICS IN IBERIA1
William D. Phillips, Jr.
In the mid-fourteenth century, plague epidemics assaulted wide portions of Eurasia and Africa. The scholarly literature on the plague in many parts of Europe is well developed, but less so for Spain and Portugal, where there has never been a book-length study of the topic.2 Fortunately, it is possible to track the incidence of plague in various regions by using contemporary chronicles, parliamentary and municipal records, and the wealth of detailed local histories and case studies produced in the last few decades. Those same records provide information about the consequences of the plague in the aftermath of the initial outbreak, when epidemics recurred every ten or twenty years. They also allow a series of comparisons with experiences elsewhere in Europe and the Middle East.
For Europe as a whole, the general outlines of the story are clear. Beginning in the eleventh century, population grew in the wake of the medieval agricultural revolution. Better diets and less work for women allowed more and healthier babies to be born, and an eventual increase in the labor supply and the demand for food. Plowing more land increased the food supply, and the population rose still higher. By the end of the thirteenth century, however, Europe's population approached the maximum that could be sustained by existing agricultural technology. Famines and epidemics began to reduce the population and consequently lessened the demand for____________________