Crusaders, Condottieri, and Cannon: Medieval Warfare in Societies around the Mediterranean

By Donald J. Kagay; L. J. Andrew Villalon | Go to book overview
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PESTE NEGRA: THE FOURTEENTH-CENTURY
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

____________________
1
An earlier version of this paper was delivered as the annual Bertie Wilkinson Memorial Lecture at the University of Toronto, February 3, 1994.
2
I am currently at work on a study of the topic. Several general surveys have been published in article form. See, for example, Jaime Sobrequés Callicó, “La peste negra en la Península Ibérica, EM 7 (1970–1971): 67–102; Julio Valdeón Baruque, “La Peste Negra: La muerte negra en la península. El impacto de la peste.” Historia 16 (1980): 60–71. For a general treatment of Spanish demography, see Vicente Pérez Moreda and David S. Reher, eds., Demografía histórica en España (Madrid, 1988); Charles Verlinden, “La grande peste de 1348 en Espagne: Contributionā la étude de ses conséquences économiques et sociales, Revue Belge de Philologie et Histoire 17 (1938): 103–146.

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