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Abstract This article addresses the question of how exogenous shocks led to economic redistribution at a local rural community level in the pre-industrial period, and how inequality can be limited (or not) by institutions and endogenous social structures within the community itself. This article presents a micro-analytical study conducted mainly on unpublished sources, focusing on a boundary area (the Geradadda) disputed by Milan and Venice during the long period of the Italian Wars (1494-1559) in a broad European perspective. To understand the impact of wars, the management of local commons and communal assets is analysed in the more general context of the management of local finances. This research shows how local communities organized cooperative behaviours for the defence of local resources, developing innovative credit systems and encouraging a process of redistribution. Before other important factors–such as the distribution of wealth or of local political and social power–cooperation between social groups and the role played by elites were the keystones to limiting the increase in inequality.