An Island for Itself: Economic Development and Social Change in Late Medieval Sicily

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The medieval southern Italian economy is commonly interpreted as having been dependent on foreign trade; and this dependence is held in turn to have caused economic backwardness in the Italian south. This study of late medieval Sicily develops a critique of theories of dependence through trade and a new interpretation of the late medieval economy. The book thus addresses current debates on the origins of modern Italian economic dualism, and on the transition from feudalism to capitalism in early modern Europe. Dr. Epstein argues that economic development during this period was shaped largely by regional political and institutional structures which regulated access to markets. Contrary to the view that medieval peasants invariably pursued subsistence strategies, it is suggested that the rate of peasant involvement in the market depended on historically variable institutions; as these institutions changed, rates of commercialization would also change, with major consequences for a society's long-term economic development. Following the Black Death, many institutional and social constraints on commercialization were relaxed throughout western Europe as a result of social conflict and demographic change. Peasants became more commercialized; economic growth occurred through regional integration and specialization. The Sicilian economy also expanded and became increasingly export-oriented, although only a small proportion of its output was shipped abroad before 1500. Late medieval Sicily is thus shown to have been neither underdeveloped nor dependent on foreign manufactures and trade.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521525077
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 11/13/2003
  • Series: Past and Present Publications Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 484
  • Product dimensions: 5.43 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Table of Contents

List of maps; List of tables; Acknowledgments; Abbreviations; Currency and measurements; Chronology; 1. Introduction: the historiography and the sources; 2. Regional geographic and demographic differentiation; 3. Market structures and regional specialization; 4. Sicily and its regions: economic growth and specialization; 5. Sicily and its regions: Eastern val Demone and the southern mainland; 6. Foreign trade and the domestic economy; 7. Income distribution, social conflict and the Sicilian state; 8. A further question: the origins of Sicilian underdevelopment; Bibliography; Index.

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