Italian Famines: An overview (ca. 1250-1810)

Number: 84
Year: 2015
Author(s): Guido Alfani, Luca Mocarelli, Donatella Strangio
This article provides a general chronology of Italian famines, incorporating earlier chronologies as well as recent research on preindustrial mortality crises and covering the whole period from circa 1250 to 1810. Hypotheses about the occurrence of famines are tested using the largest-existing database of time series of burials, covering northern Italy and part of central Italy, as well as a database of time series of wheat prices covering the whole of the Peninsula. The role played by food provisioning institutions is briefly detailed and a summary discussion of the causative factors of famines is provided. We argue that the majority of the most severe medieval and early modern famines happen when a situation of high demographic pressure on the available resources couples with periods of meteorological instability of the kind unfavorable to wheat crops, and the crisis is so widespread that institutions are unable to provide effective remedies.

Guido Alfani

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


Luca Mocarelli

Bicocca University


Donatella Strangio

La Sapienza University


Language: English


The paper may be downloaded here.


Keywords: Famines; famines chronology; hunger; mortality crises; preindustrial period; middle ages; early modern period; history; historical demography; malthusian traps; agrarian change; food provisioning; food security