The Black Death in Egypt and England: A Comparative Study

By Stuart J. Borsch | Go to book overview
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Shifting the focus away from agrarian output and GDP to an analysis of prices and wages for Egypt and England will allow us to estimate relative changes in income per capita. The overall picture will also provide crucial information about the relative changes in the two agrarian economies.

The data for prices and wages provided for Egypt and England is abundant in comparison with the other quantitative data assessed in this chapter. The price and wage “scissors” also stand in stark contrast to each other. Briefly put, the overall picture in England after the plagues is that grain prices dropped and wages rose. In Egypt, the opposite occurred: grain prices rose while wages dropped. Although there are some complicating features that will be discussed, the opposing direction of the scissors in the two countries (after the plagues) is unmistakable. A comparison of the purchasing power of wages for grain reveals a dramatic picture.

The section that follows balances a set of prices and wages from 1300 to 1350 with a matching set from 1440 to 1490. The two periods form a good comparison with each other for several reasons. The objective is to demonstrate the long-term effects that demographic decline had on prices and wages in the two economies. For a comparison, two periods of equal length bear the most consistent possible measures. Fifty years serves as the best fit for these two fixed spans of time. The year 1300 is the best starting date, since price data for Egypt is scarcer before the start of the fourteenth century. Moreover, commencing Egypt's price series in 1300 allows us to take account of the expansion in dikes and canals carried out by the early Mamluk sultanate. During the second half of the thirteenth century and the first half of the fourteenth century, the rulers of Egypt were able to increase the amount of arable land by as much as


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