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Ports, plagues and politics: explaining Italian city growth 1300–1861




The evolution of city growth is usually studied for relatively short time periods. The rise and decline of cities is, however, typically a process that takes many decades or even centuries. In this article we study the evolution of Italian cities over the period 1300–1861. Using an existing data set, we perform panel estimations where the development of city size and urban patterns can be explained by various geographical, institutional and other determinants of city size for the period under consideration. Although large shocks such as the plague epidemics are clearly visible in the data, our baseline estimation results show that the main determinants of Italian city growth are physical geography and the predominance of capital cities. With respect to geography, being a seaport or having access to navigable waterways increases city size whereas a city's relative location, measured by its urban potential, is not significant. Being a capital city also increases city size. The estimation results reveal strong century-specific effects on city growth and these effects differ markedly between the North and South of Italy. Additional estimations show that these time effects can be linked to the political and institutional developmental changes over time in Italy. Our findings that the capital city bonus increases and non-capital cities suffer when the political power and the institutions of the state are more centralised corroborate the idea that institutions are a key factor in explaining Italian city growth.

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  • Bosker, Maarten & Brakman, Steven & Garretsen, Harry & De Jong, Herman & Schramm, Marc, 2008. "Ports, plagues and politics: explaining Italian city growth 1300–1861," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 12(01), pages 97-131, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:ereveh:v:12:y:2008:i:01:p:97-131_00

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Williamson, Jeffrey G, 1987. "Did English Factor Markets Fail during the Industrial Revolution?," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 39(4), pages 641-678, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Rafael González-Val, 2016. "Historical urban growth in Europe (1300–1800)," Working Papers 2016/8, Institut d'Economia de Barcelona (IEB).
    2. Rafael González-Val & Daniel A. Tirado-Fabregat & Elisabet Viladecans-Marsal, 2017. "Market potential and city growth: Spain 1860–1960," Cliometrica, Springer;Cliometric Society (Association Francaise de Cliométrie), vol. 11(1), pages 31-61, January.
    3. Bertocchi, Graziella & Bozzano, Monica, 2016. "Women, medieval commerce, and the education gender gap," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(3), pages 496-521.
    4. Mesbah Motamed & Raymond Florax & William Masters, 2014. "Agriculture, transportation and the timing of urbanization: Global analysis at the grid cell level," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 19(3), pages 339-368, September.
    5. Bosker, Maarten & Buringh, Eltjo & Van Zanden, Jan Luiten, 2008. "From Baghdad to London: The Dynamics of Urban Growth in Europe and the Arab World, 800-1800," CEPR Discussion Papers 6833, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    6. Redding, Stephen J., 2009. "Economic Geography: a Review of the Theoretical and Empirical Literature," CEPR Discussion Papers 7126, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    7. Bosker, Maarten & Buringh, Eltjo, 2017. "City seeds: Geography and the origins of the European city system," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 98(C), pages 139-157.
    8. Marco Percoco, 2013. "Geography, institutions and urban development: Italian cities, 1300–1861," The Annals of Regional Science, Springer;Western Regional Science Association, vol. 50(1), pages 135-152, February.
    9. Bruno Chiarini & Elisabetta Marzano, 2014. "Urbanization and Growth: Why Did the Splendor of the Italian Cities in the Sixteenth Century not Lead to Transition?," CESifo Working Paper Series 5038, CESifo Group Munich.

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