Re: Large cities at time of contact

Mary Beth Williams (
28 Jun 1996 21:02:40 GMT

In <> writes:
>Mary Beth Williams wrote:
>> The population of 40,000 previously given by G. Duby was for 1390
>> only 10 years from the start of the 15th century. The population
>> didn't completely rebound for nearly two centuries. Furthermore,
>> of the meaning of the phrase you supplied *attrack a large number of
>> foreigners*.. Attract from *where*? All of Europe at this time was
>> devastated by plague, and in fact, foreigners were shunned, and
>> killed due to suspicion that they were the cause (not completely
>> unjustifiably) of the spread of the disease. Furthermore, the fate
>> suffered by those in the cities terrified many country folk, who for
>> generations avoided such large congregations of population.
>Even your estimates jumped from 40,000 to 100,000.

Actually, it was the other way around, if you re-read my original post.
In 1270, Paris had a population of 100,000 and a 0% population growth
for the next 75 years due to social and economic factors (the land was
overstressed.) In 1350, after the first wave of the plague, the area
around Paris lost 4-5 million, and subsequent epidemics left the city
with a population of only 40,000 by 1390 (a decrease of 60% in 40

>Isn't it concevable that Paris, if it was more successful in recovery,
>would have drawn people looking for a better life? Of course, if they
>were killing off foreigners, that would make this sort of immigration
>a bit difficult.

Actually, after the plague wiped out half the French (and European)
population, life was much, much better for the peasants. For the first
time, they had enough food, clothing, etc., and artisans and
craftpersons could charge much for more their services, and hence make
a better life for themselves as well. There was not the push there had
been before to move into the city, a push motivated by the hardships
endured on in overstressed countryside. Furthermore, France was at war
(Hundred Year's War) and those men not needed for military service were
needed to produce the food and materials necessary for successful
warfare. Moving to the city, particularly after the Black Death,
didn't seem like such a wonderful choice.

Things were different in England as political motivations began force
migrations into the cities, particularly London, after 1550. But
that's a different thread ;-).

>Honestly, I do not know where the figures
>came from. I've taken your 100,000 estimate as more probable.

Make sure you only take them, however, as pre-plague numbers, at least
until the mid-sixteenth century, when populations began to rebound

>> I'm not sure that the sources you used even took into account the
>>Black Death, but merely picked up an early population estimate and
>>calculated a population growth. Italy was hit hard by plague, and if
>>these cities were this large only a few years _after_ the epidemics
>>hit, what were their populations _beforehand_. As I stated, Paris
>>was apparently the largest city in Europe at the beginning of the
>>14th century, and yet had only 40,000 by the end of the century. How
>>did these other cities manage to have larger populations?

>There are several possible factors.
>First, with the increasing dependence in water transport (it was more
>affordable and safer than land), these cities would have become
>important trade centers, and Paris would have lost much of it's
>importance. Also, just because Paris lost over half it's population
>doesn't mean that these cities were hit as hard.

I have no problem accepting that the Italian states recovered from the
devastation of plague and famine during the fifteenth century, however,
Italy was the supposed *entry* point for Bubonic plague in the mid-14th
century, and as such was hit exceedingly hard. (There was a neat
program on the Plague in Europe on PBS or Discovery just a few months
ago... Described how the Pope at the time quarantined himself and had
fires lit around his chamber for months -- why he didn't die of smoke
inhalation amazes me...)

>I'm only talking a growth to over 50,000. If Paris grew from 40,000 to
>100,000 isn't it likely that these cities also experienced rapid
>growth? Surely they attracted people from all over Europe; even more
>so than Paris.

Its perfectly likely that these cities recovered, perhaps even faster
than Paris (which didn't recover fully for over a century), but it took
longer than a dozen years. Italy was still experiencing severe
outbreaks of plague into the sixteenth century. These cities may have
recovered by the _end_ of the fifteenth century, but certainly not by
the beginning (and a hundred years is a very long time.)

MB Williams
Dept. of Anthro., UMass-Amherst