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Earthquakes, Religion, and Transition to Self-Government in ItalianCities

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  • Marianna Belloc
  • Francesco Drago
  • Roberto Galbiati

Abstract

This article presents a unique historical experiment to explore the dynamics ofinstitutional change in the Middle Ages. We have assembled a novel data set,where information on political institutions for northern central Italian citiesbetween 1000 and 1300 is matched with detailed information on the earthquakesthat occurred in the area and period of interest. Exploiting the panel structureof the data, we document that the occurrence of an earthquake retardedinstitutional transition from autocratic regimes to self-government (thecommune) in cities where the political and the religious leaders were the sameperson (episcopal see cities), but not in cities where political and religiouspowers were distinct (non–episcopal see cities). Such differential effect holdsfor destructive seismic episodes and for events that were felt by the populationbut did not cause any material damage to persons or objects. Ancillary resultsshow that seismic events provoked a positive and statistically significantdifferential effect on the construction and further ornamentation of religiousbuildings between episcopal and non–episcopal see cities. Our findings areconsistent with the idea that earthquakes, interpreted in the Middle Ages asmanifestation of the will and outrage of God, represented a shock to people’sreligious beliefs and, as a consequence, enhanced the ability ofpolitical-religious leaders to restore social order after a crisis relative tothe emerging communal institutions. This interpretation is supported byhistorical evidence.

Suggested Citation

  • Marianna Belloc & Francesco Drago & Roberto Galbiati, 2016. "Earthquakes, Religion, and Transition to Self-Government in ItalianCities," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 131(4), pages 1875-1926.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:131:y:2016:i:4:p:1875-1926.
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1093/qje/qjw020
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Alessandro Belmonte & Michael Rochlitz, 2018. "The Political Economy of Collective Memories: Evidence from Russian Politics," HSE Working papers WP BRP 59/PS/2018, National Research University Higher School of Economics.
    2. A. Alesina & P. Giuliano., 2016. "Culture and institutions," VOPROSY ECONOMIKI, N.P. Redaktsiya zhurnala "Voprosy Economiki", vol. 10.
    3. Marianna Belloc & Francesco Drago & Roberto Galbiati, 2017. "Law, Human Capital and the Emergence of Free City-States in Medieval Italy," CESifo Working Paper Series 6719, CESifo Group Munich.
    4. Giuliano, Paola & Nunn, Nathan, 2017. "Understanding Cultural Persistence and Change," IZA Discussion Papers 10930, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    5. José García-Montalvo & Marta Reynal-Querol, 2018. "Earthquakes and Terrorism: The Long Lasting Effect of Seismic Shocks," Working Papers 1020, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
    6. José Garcia Montalvo & Marta Reynal-Querol, 2018. "Earthquakes and terrorism: the long lasting effect of seismic shocks," Economics Working Papers 1599, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
    7. Michele Di Maio & Roberto Nisticò, 2016. "The Effect of Parental Job Loss on Child School Dropout: Evidence from the Occupied Palestinian Territories," CSEF Working Papers 456, Centre for Studies in Economics and Finance (CSEF), University of Naples, Italy, revised 06 Feb 2018.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact
    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • D74 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism
    • Z12 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Religion

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