By combining new archival and existing data, this article provides estimates of the economic impact of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, the largest natural catastrophe ever recorded in Europe. The direct cost of the earthquake is estimated to be between 32 and 48 percent of the Portuguese GDP. In spite of strict controls, prices and wages remained volatile in the years after the tragedy. The recovery from the earthquake also led to a rise in the wage premium of construction workers. More significantly, the earthquake became an opportunity to reform the economy and to reduce the economic semi-dependency vis-à-vis Britain.
“ Sometimes miracles are necessary, natural phenomena, or great disasters in order to shake, to awaken, and to open the eyes of misled nations about their interests, [nations] oppressed by others that simulate friendship, and reciprocal interest. Portugal needed the earthquake to open her eyes, and to little by little escape from slavery and total ruin.”1