Famines in late Medieval and Early Modern Italy: A test for an advanced economy

Number: 82
Year: 2015
Author(s): Guido Alfani
This paper analyzes how advanced Medieval and Early Modern Italian economies attempted to cope with famines. First, it provides an overview of the occurrence of famines and food shortages in Italy from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century, underlining the connections with overall climatic and demographic trends. Second, it focuses on the 1590s famine (the worst to affect Italy in the period), providing a general discussion and interpretation of its causes and characteristics, and describing and evaluating the strategies for coping with the crisis that developed within the Republic of Genoa and the Duchy of Ferrara. The article argues that when such a large-scale food crisis as that of the 1590s occurred, public action played a key role in providing relief.

Guido Alfani

Università Bocconi, Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics and Public Policy


Language: English


The paper may be downloaded here.


Keywords: famine; mortality crises; subsistence crises; Italy; early modern period; 1590s; markets integration; grain trade; agrarian innovation