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Plague in Seventeenth Century Europe and the Decline of Italy: An Epidemiological Hypothesis


  • Guido Alfani


This article compares the impact of plague across Europe during the seventeenth century. It shows that, contrary to received wisdom, seventeenth century plague cannot be considered a “great equalizer”: the disease affected southern Europe much more severely than the north. In particular, Italy was by far the area worst struck. Using both archival sources and previously published data, the article introduces a novel epidemiological variable that has not been considered in the literature: territorial pervasiveness of the contagion. This variable is much more relevant than local mortality rates in accounting for the different regional impact of plague. The article shows that pandemics, and not economic hardship, generated a severe demographic crisis in Italy during the seventeenth century --- at a time when northern European populations were growing quickly. Plague caused a “system shock” to the economy of the Italian peninsula that might be key in understanding the start of its relative decline compared to the emerging northern European countries.

Suggested Citation

  • Guido Alfani, 2011. "Plague in Seventeenth Century Europe and the Decline of Italy: An Epidemiological Hypothesis," Working Papers 377, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
  • Handle: RePEc:igi:igierp:377

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Battigalli, Pierpaolo & Friedenberg, Amanda, 2012. "Forward induction reasoning revisited," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 7(1), January.
    2. Shimoji, Makoto & Schweinzer, Paul, 2015. "Implementation without incentive compatibility: Two stories with partially informed planners," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 91(C), pages 258-267.
    3. Aumann, Robert J, 1987. "Correlated Equilibrium as an Expression of Bayesian Rationality," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(1), pages 1-18, January.
    4. Martin J. Osborne & Ariel Rubinstein, 1994. "A Course in Game Theory," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262650401, January.
    5. Cappelletti Giuseppe, 2010. "A Note on Rationalizability and Restrictions on Beliefs," The B.E. Journal of Theoretical Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 10(1), pages 1-13, September.
    6. Pierpaolo Battigalli & Amanda Friedenberg, 2009. "Context-Dependent Forward Induction Reasoning," Working Papers 351, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bas van Bavel & Daniel Curtis, 2015. "Better understanding disasters by better using history: Systematically using the historical record as one way to advance research into disasters," Working Papers 0068, Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History.
    2. Guido Alfani & Marco percoco, 2014. "Plague and long-term development: the lasting effects of the 1629-30 epidemic on the Italian cities," Working Papers 508, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
    3. Guido Alfani, 2015. "Famines in late Medieval and Early Modern Italy: A test for an advanced economy," Working Papers 082, "Carlo F. Dondena" Centre for Research on Social Dynamics (DONDENA), Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi.
    4. Guido Alfani & Francesco Ammannati, 2014. "Economic inequality and poverty in the very long run: The case of the Florentine State," Working Papers 070, "Carlo F. Dondena" Centre for Research on Social Dynamics (DONDENA), Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi.
    5. 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.
    6. Guido Alfani & Wouter Ryckbosch, 2015. "Was there a ‘Little Convergence’ in inequality? Italy and the Low Countries compared, ca. 1500-1800," Working Papers 557, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
    7. Alfani, Guido, 2015. "Economic Inequality in Northwestern Italy: A Long-Term View (Fourteenth to Eighteenth Centuries)," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 75(04), pages 1058-1096, December.
    8. Guido Alfani & Matteo Di Tullio, 2015. "Dinamiche di lungo periodo della disuguaglianza in Italia settentrionale: una nota di ricerca," Working Papers 071, "Carlo F. Dondena" Centre for Research on Social Dynamics (DONDENA), Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi.
    9. Gooch, Elizabeth, 2017. "Estimating the Long-Term Impact of the Great Chinese Famine (1959–61) on Modern China," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 89(C), pages 140-151.

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