The Economic History Review

Italy in the Renaissance: a leading economy in the European context, 1350–1550

Volume 71 Issue 1
Home > The Economic History Review > Italy in the Renaissance: a leading economy in the European context, 1350–1550
Pages: 3-30Authors: Paolo Malanima
Published online: November 30, 2017DOI: 10.1111/ehr.12650

Log in to access the full article.

Abstract A well-known debate on the Renaissance economy was held in this journal in 1962-4 between Roberto S. Lopez and Harry Miskimin on one hand and Carlo M. Cipolla on the other. More than half a century later, this topic can be reconsidered in the light of much wider information on the late medieval/early modern Italian economy. Using data on population, urbanization, prices, wages, and GDP, this article outlines the macroeconomic trends in central and northern Italy in the age of the Renaissance (1350-1550). The frequent plagues during the early Renaissance–that is, between 1348 and 1450–decimated the population, probably causing more deaths than in other European countries. Hence resources per worker increased and labour productivity, incomes, and standards of living improved remarkably. A favourable economic environment thus seems to have been a pre-condition for the Renaissance in culture, art, and politics and the spread of new kinds of consumer demand. From the middle of the fifteenth century, living standards gradually worsened and eventually reached the low levels that had prevailed prior to the Renaissance.