Women, Family, and Society in Medieval Europe: Historical Essays, 1978-1991

By David Herlihy; A. Molho | Go to book overview

16
THE PROBLEM OF THE "RETURN TO THE LAND" IN TUSCAN ECONOMIC HISTORY OF THE FOURTEENTH AND FIFTEENTH CENTURIES

In the economic history of medieval Europe, Tuscany is chiefly celebrated for the number, precocious growth, and dazzling wealth of its cities. According to the most recent estimates, Tuscany was probably, in the late Middle Ages, the most urbanized region of Europe.1 Still, for all the splendor of its cities, about 75 percent of the population in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries--three out of four persons--lived outside the region's principal urban centers, in small villages or on isolated farms. The chief support of this large majority of the medieval Tuscan population was of course agriculture. Moreover, even those families settled within the cities maintained a large part of their fortunes in rural properties, and drew a comparable share of their sustenance from agricultural rents. The patriciate of the medieval Tuscan towns never committed its resources exclusively to commerce or to manufacture.

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1
In 1427, out of 264,210 persons resident in the areas of Tuscany subject to Florentine rule, the city of Florence contained 37,245 inhabitants and the six secondary cities ( Pisa, Pistoia, Prato, Arezzo, Volterra and Cortona) contained 26,315 residents. The number of Tuscans settled in these seven cities thus represented 24 percent of the total population. The percentage may have been slightly higher in the thirteenth century. On the levels of urbanization in various regions of medieval Europe, including Tuscany, see J. C. Russell, Medieval Regions and Their Cities ( Bloomington, Indiana, 1972).

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