Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
Session
S143: On the Great Transition in Agriculture and Rural Society at the end of the Middle Ages
Time:
Friday, 20/Jun/2025

Session Chair: Antoni Furió;
ES+PT+EN

Session Abstract

How the transition from feudalism to capitalism took place has been a largely discussed matter among historians. It was the centre of two rounds of debate among Marxist historians and economists in the late 1940s and 1950s, and again, in the 1970s in the Brenner Debate. The participants in this debates assumed that what was decisive in the transition was what happened in agriculture and rural society, and specially the outcomes to the clash between peasants and feudal lords which erupted during the period subsequent to the Black Death of 1348. In these views, the rural economy was seen as essential stagnant and backward until the late fourteenth century. More recently, historians such as Christopher Dyer and Bruce M. S. Campbell have been able to provide a completely reassessment of the period, far more positive and vibrant, with key consequences for modern growth. Indeed, Campbell has seen the later Middle Ages as a “Great Transition” in rural economy: a period of flexibility, with an enhanced capacity for change that resembles to a large extent to that of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As for Dyer, his work questions the indefinite, circumstantial character, as an age of transition between the medieval and modern world, between feudalism and capitalism, which traditionally is given to the period between mid-thirteenth and mid-sixteenth century, calling for a more substantive consideration as a period in itself.

Following the spirit of both contributions, our session aims to explore the many aspects of this transition. We encourage speakers to present papers on key changes in medieval rural society and economy in the period 1250-1550: progress in agricultural technology and productivity (intensification, new crops, new techniques, fertilisation, irrigation, news types of management, investment, commercialisation) and in rural society (stratification, emergence of peasant elites, poverty and wealth inequality).


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Presentations

Crecimiento agrario y desarrollo del crédito en el Valle del Duero a fines de la Edad Media

HILARIO CASADO ALONSO, DAVID CARVAJAL DE LA VEGA

Universidad de Valladolid, España

En la presente comunicación comparamos el crecimiento agrario de determinadas zonas del valle del Duero con el desarrollo del crédito rural, demostrando cómo este último, junto con otros, fue uno de los factores explicativos del primero


Growth without development? The kingdom of Valencia during the Great Transition (14th-16th centuries)

Ferran Garcia-Oliver, Antoni Furió

Universitat de València, Spain

The kingdom of Valencia underwent a process of great growth in the late centuries of the late Middle Ages. Almost from the time of the conquest and subsequent colonization, the new country lived a population growth that would not be interrupted by the plagues and calamities of the second half of the fourteenth century. Indeed, despite the high incidence of the epidemic, with a strong toll of deaths, the population recovered very quickly thanks to sustained immigration from other areas of the kingdom and beyond. Similarly, the cultivated area continued to increase in these centuries, at the rate of significant and intense agricultural reclamations, thanks in particular to the extension of irrigation and to good agricultural equipment. Agricultural growth was not only quantitative - more cultivated land - but also qualitative, with the spread of new crops, speculative and market oriented. Even so, in the 15th century we witnessed a major demographic and agrarian reconversion. On the one hand, the north and the center of the country depopulate or lose demographic volume for the benefit of the south and, above all, of the capital, the city of Valencia. On the other hand, wealthy peasants, and more ingrained in the local


Gestión señorial de la tierra y producción para el mercado en Aragón (siglos XIII-XIV)

CARLOS LALIENA CORBERA, GUILLERMO TOMÁS FACI

UNIVERSIDAD DE ZARAGOZA, España

Un estudio sobre contabilidades señoriales que ofrecen una importante perspectiva de la producción agraria para el mercado en una época de expansión agraria (1280-1330) y de contracción (alrededor de 1370). Todo enmarcado en el problema general de las transformaciones agrarias bajomedievales en las áreas mediterráneas, como es el caso de Aragón.


From a “Frontier Economy” to a Pioneer Economy? Portuguese Agriculture, 1350-1500

Antonio Henriques

Porto, Portugal

For the first two centuries of its history, Portugal was the archetypal “Frontier Economy” as its territory doubled by settling severely underpopulated lands. Unencumbered by a large population, the productivity levels of fourteenth-century Portuguese agriculture were higher than elsewhere in Europe. The Black Death, coupled with long-lasting wars and fiscal strains, disrupted this favorable setting. As a result, by 1400, Portugal was a war-ravaged country with declining urban population served by an ill-fitting, untrustworthy coinage, hardly looking like the emerging commercial powerhouse that it would became later in the century. However, by 1500, Portuguese economy seems to have fully recovered, or even improved on, its pre-Plague levels. This paper builds on the recent reconstruction of the macroeconomic variables in the long run for Portugal (Palma and Reis 2017; Henriques and Reis, forthcoming) and tries to measure of productivity growth in the period and assess whether there were pioneering, productivity-enhancing innovation in agriculture. In fact, preliminary findings indicate that agricultural productivity increased 70% between 1380 and 1500 (as measured by agrarian output per worker). How can we explain this favorable outcome in a century of intense population growth and internal instability and little technical progress?


De la esclavitud al trabajo asalariado: La ‘Gran Transición’ en una Colonia Feudal Mediterránea, Mallorca 1300-1570.

Gabriel Jover-Avellà1, Antoni Mas-Forner2, Ricard Soto-Company3

1Universitat de Girona, España; 2Universitat de les Illes Balears; 3Universitat de Barcelona

El surgimiento de los mercados de trabajo asalariado y la desaparición de la mano de obra esclava, fue uno de los rasgos de la Gran Transición, o de la temprana transición al capitalismo agrario en algunas regiones mediterráneas.

Esta comunicación tratará de presentar un esquema explicativo de una peculiar "transición" de una "colonia feudal-esclavista" a una "sociedad feudal-capitalista" en un pequeño rincón del mundo mediterráneo: la isla de Mallorca. Como señaló Marc Bloch la isla era una de las principales fronteras coloniales esclavistas del el Mediterráneo Medieval tardío. Alrededor de 1400 las reservas señoriales, las alquerías del patriciado urbano y las tenencias de los campesinos ricos eran explotadas con mano fuerza de trabajo esclava. Alrededor de 1570 las relaciones de producción habían cambiado radicalmente en la Mallorca rural. Por una parte, las grandes explotaciones propiedad de una nueva aristocracia terrateniente habían sustituido a las reservas señoriales y, en buena parte de los distritos rurales, a la mayoría de las granjas campesinas; y por otra, los esclavos fueron sustituidos por trabajadores asalariados, la mayoría de los cuales eran mujeres

¿Cuándo y por qué se formó el mercado de trabajo esclavo? Y también, ¿cuándo y por qué desapareció?


Economía rural y crisis en la Catalunya vieja (s. XIII-XV)

Pere Orti Gost, Lluís To Figueras

Universitat de Girona, España

En el contexto del declive demográfico de los siglos catorce y quince en Cataluña, las explotaciones agrícolas experimentaron un crecimiento de los ingresos per cápita. Los inventarios de los dominios señoriales muestran un incremento de la superficie de tierra disponible para cada explotación campesina, gracias a la progresiva desaparición de una gran parte de las unidades agrícolas más exiguas. Los inventarios de bienes o el pago de dotes permiten confirmar que la economía campesina lejos de encontrarse en un periodo de crisis permitió un incremento de los niveles de vida de la población rural durante la baja edad media. Así mismo, desde el siglo XIII la economía campesina estaba profundamente imbricada con una red de mercados locales que estimulaban la especialización y la comercialización de parte de les excedentes agropecuarios. La crisis demográfica no afectó de manera sustancial esta característica fundamental de la economía rural bajomedieval en Cataluña. Finalmente, la enfiteusis convertía a la mayoría de las familias campesinas en propietarias de sus tierras, aunque sometidas al pago de una renta señorial fosilizada que no permitía aumentos o cambios sin el consentimiento de las partes. En este contexto: ¿Cómo debemos interpretar las revueltas campesinas de los “remensas” del siglo XV?


Normandy (14th-16th): social crisis and territorial change

Mathieu Arnoux

EHESS, France

Since Guy Bois' famous book (1976), Normandy has been considered one example of the late medieval crisis and a process of crash and reconfiguration of the Seigniorial social model. Forty years later, Bois' strong proposal has to be reassessed, not only from the point of view of its pertinence as a model of demographic, economic and soocial evolution but as a piece of social history. One of the most crowded and affluent regions in Europe, Normandy was an essentially rural society, with original features for city/countryside relation. Plury activity, market organization, interregional economy will be at stake in this contribution.


Agricultural Market in the Czech Lands at the Beginning of Little Divergence

Jan Škvrňák

Masaryk University, Czech Republic

Agriculture in the Czech kingdom in medieval was stuck in between of free and directed market. We can see clear signs of the closed system such as the stability of the taxes, purchase of the surplus from the serfs, the use of courts and mills belonging to the noblemen. However, several currencies were used at the same moment which was not beneficial to centralization. We can also observe a fluctuation in the price of grain which does not indicate a stable closed system.

A major role in the economy played the seat of the landowner, which was in all instances the recipient of feudal rents. Both financial and natural (oat, wheat, barley, eggs, chicken, statute labour) rents were received, nevertheless domains of lords were not self-sufficient. Thus, landlords were forced to bought grain at several places of the domain (from own subjects, priests, and at city markets).

It began to change in the 16th century: big landlord farms (based on statute labour) were formed and subsequently they produced beer, fish and grain. It made domain self-sufficient, but more importantly they exported their products.


La Gran Transición premoderna y la economía de la Europa meridional

Paulino Iradiel

Universidad de Valencia, España

Tomando como punto de partida el concepto 'Gran Transición', se
focaliza la reflexión en dos itinerarios que parecen ya preestablecidos:
primero, destacar, entre otros motivos, la importancia del aspecto geográfico-
espacial -el juego de escalas regionales o globales- por encima de otros
tradicionalmente más frecuentados; segundo, definir el postulado de colaboración
entre historia agraria y otros ámbitos científicos además de la integración entre
períodos y espacios historiográficos diversos



 
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