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Effects of Pestilence and Plague, 1315–1385*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 June 2009

Josiah C. Russell
Texas College of Arts and Industries


The costs of poor health conditions are difficult to estimate for the Middle Ages. It is possible to establish in a tentative way a normal distribution by age and sex and to define what additional damage pestilence and plague did. One possible index is the number of able bodied persons (assuming persons of a definite age to be able bodied) compared to children, a dependency index. A second index is of the relative number of persons dying before they completed their life as able bodied persons. A third, not related to age, might be the number of persons too poor to pay certain taxes before and after the plague. Such persons were presumably too poor in part because of age or ill health.

Health and Economic Development
Copyright © Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 1966

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1 The usual dependency ratio is the number of those 65 years of age and over together with those under fifteen divided by those aged 15–64. Urban Research Methods, ed. Jack Gibbs, pp. 135–136.

2 For the English poll tax results see my British Medieval Population (Albuquerque, 1948), esp. ch. VI and pp. 180–186 and for the other, my The Medieval Monedatge of Aragon and Valencia”, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, CVI (1962), 483504Google Scholar. On the debate over the state of population, see Herlihy, D., “Population, Plague and Social Change in Rural Pistoia, 1201–1430”, The Economic History Review, 2nd sen, XVIII, no. 2 (1965), 225228Google Scholar.

3 British Medieval Population, esp. chs. V, VIII, IX.

4 “Monedatge”, pp. 489–492; British Medieval Population, ch. VI.

5 For methods see H. V. Vallois, “Vital statistics in prehistoric population as determined from archeological data”, in Heizer, R. F. and Cook, S. F., The Application of Quantitative Method in Archaeology (The Viking Press Fund Publication in Anthropology, no. 28) (1960), p. 194Google Scholar; Nemeskeri, J., Hardanyi, J., Acsadi, G., “Methoden zur Diagnose des Lebensalters von Skelettfunde”, Anthropologische Anzeiger, XXIV (1960), 7095Google Scholar. For lists see Appendix 1.

6 Comment in letter of July 2, 1964 from Dr. J. Lawrence Angel, Curator, Division of Physical Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution.

7 See Table 1. The ratio 114 is suggested as the upper limit because female bones disintegrate more rapidly than male bones and thus a lesser ratio is probable. The ratio from cemeteries where sex but no age data are given shows a low ratio but the competence of some of the authors, mostly of some time back, may be questioned.

8 British Medieval Population, pp. 238–245; my Late Ancient and Medieval Population (Transactions of the American Philosophical Society) (Philadelphia, 1958), pp. 1317Google Scholar. Ibid., p. 16 for city ratio. Acsadi, G. und Nemeskeri, J., “Palaeodemographische Probleme, am Beispiel des friihmittelalterliche Graberfelde von Halimba-Cseres, Kom. Veszprem, Ungarn”, Homo, VIII (1957), 133148Google Scholar. The ratio of those fourteen and above was 106.

9 Most detailed: Ascadi, , Nemeskèri, , Harsanyi, , “Le cimetiere du Xle siecle de Kerpuszta”, Ada Archaeologia, Academy of Sciences of Hungary, XI (1959), 442443Google Scholar; Stloukal, Milan, “Heidnische Elemente im Leben des Bevolkerung des grossmarischen Mikulcice auf Grunde der Befunde an Begrabnisstiitten”, Homo, XIII (1962), 146Google Scholar; British Medieval Population, pp. 178–180.

10 This was discussed at the reading of the paper. For discussion of relative effects in time the actual age does not matter.

11 Table 1 for medieval ratio. For U.S. 1949–1951 see Petersen, William, Population (New York, 1961), pp. 258261Google Scholar.

12 Same as note 11.

13 Lucas, Henry S., “The great European famine of 1315, 1316 and 1317”, Speculum, V (1930), 343377CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. 355–357. Figures for Ypres, pp. 367–368: for Bruges, , van Werveke, H., “La famine de l'an 1316 en Flandre et dans les regions voisins”, Revue du Nord, XLI (1959), 514Google Scholar.

14 Postan, M. and Titow, J., “Heriots and prices on Winchester manors”, Economic History Review, 2nd ser., XI (1958), 398409Google Scholar and following note by J. Longden, p. 417. For fiefholders computations from my cards on the data of their lives.

15 Chronica Monasterii S.Albani (Rolls Series) (London, 1866), III, 94Google Scholar. For use of guttosa see NED under ‘gut’. It would be natural to ‘correct’ from a less common word to a more common one by assuming that the dash for ‘ur’ had been omitted carelessly by the original writer.

16 Dubos, R. J., ed., Bacterial and Mycotic Infections of Man, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia, 1957), pp. 390397Google Scholar: Manson-Baur, , Synopsis of Tropical Medicine (Baltimore, 1943), pp. 7983, esp. pp. 79–81Google Scholar.

17 Using dates of death in Calendar of Inquisitions post Mortem, vols. V and VI (England, Public Record Office).

18 Manson-Baur, p. 79.

19 As in note 17.

20 Lucas, pp. 359, 363, 370, 375.

21 British Medieval Population, pp. 240–241.

22 Wing, L. W., “The 3.864 year lemming cycle and latitudinal passage in temperature”, Journal of Cycle Research, X (1961), 5770Google Scholar; “Time chart measurements of Norwegian lemming and rodent cycles”, VI (1957), 3–15. The epidemics seem to occur in cycles of this period or its multiples.

23 Greenwood, Major, Epidemics and Crowd-Diseases (New York, 1937), pp. 301307Google Scholar.

24 Politzer, R., Plague (Geneva, WHO, 1954), pp. 503504Google Scholar.

25 Greenwood, pp. 300–301.

26 Recently discussed in a public lecture by my colleague, Professor Bogusch. For a popular statement, Hall, E. T., “Territorial needs and limits”, Natural History, LXXIV (1965), 1216, esp. pp. 18–19Google Scholar.

27 For the clergy, British Medieval Population, pp. 220–225; for the others, Campbell, A. M., The Black Death and Men of Letters (N.Y. 1932)Google Scholar.

28 British Medieval Population, pp. 148–156. Cemeteries see Appendix.

29 “Monedatge” pp. 489–492.

30 My Recent advances in medieval demography”, Speculum, XL (1965), 98100Google Scholar; Herlihy, “Pistoia”, p. 230.

31 “Recent advances”, p. 100.

32 British Medieval Population, 229.

33 Ibid., pp. 182–184.

34 The numbers in column Tx represent proportion of population in a stabilized society. British Medieval Population, pp. 183–184.

35 Ibid., 236–245. The succession of the period was 1.50 and 1.37 children succeeding parents (p. 245). However, the life tables (p. 184) show that in the Tx columns the number for ages thirty years apart was greater than 2.5 to 1.

36 See note 35.

37 Herlihy, pp. 229–231.

38 British Medieval Population, using Tx columns on pp. 180–185.