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Estimating warfare-related civilian mortality in the early modern period: Evidence from the Low Countries, 1620–99

Bram van Besouw and Daniel R. Curtis

Explorations in Economic History, 2022, vol. 84, issue C

Abstract: Early modern warfare in Western Europe exposed civilian populations to violence, hardship, and disease. Despite limited empirical evidence, the ensuing mortality effects are regularly invoked by economic historians to explain patterns of economic development. Using newly collected data on adult burials and war events in the seventeenth-century Low Countries, we estimate early modern war-driven mortality in localities close to military activity. We find a clear and significant general mortality effect consistent with the localized presence of diseases. During years with major epidemic disease outbreaks, we demonstrate a stronger and more widely spreading mortality effect. However, war-driven mortality increases during epidemic years are of similar relative magnitude is those in non-epidemic war years. Given the omnipresence of warfare in the seventeenth-century Low Countries, war-driven mortality was remarkably constant rather than a sharp discontinuity. The economic impact of warfare likely played out over the long term rather than driven by sudden large mortality spikes creating rapid structural change.

Keywords: Warfare; Excess mortality; Epidemic disease; Low Countries (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2022
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DOI: 10.1016/j.eeh.2021.101425

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