CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

Italy, triggered by several consecutive years of bad weather at a time of particularly acute population pressure on the available resources. Their failure fuelled a general “system shock” for the social, economic and demographic structures of Northern Italy, leading to protest, violence and general social and economic disorder. The article recurs to a large database of demographic time series to identify the areas struck worst by the famine. It then focuses on the region Emilia-Romagna, and lastly provides a case study of the rural town of Nonantola, for which rare data about age at death during the famine are used. The article suggests that the 1590s famine was not solely the result of the combination of climate, agrarian technology and demographic density, but was a complex “human failure” than can be fully understood only by taking into account also institutions, culture, social and economic behaviour, and even psychological factors.


  • famine
  • 16th century
  • climate
  • Little Ice Age
  • Malthusian Crisis
  • Demographic Crisis
  • Malthus
  • Boserup
  • agrarian innovation
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