Production of and Trade in Food Between the Kingdom of Hungary and Europe in the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Era (Thirteenth to Sixteenth Centuries): The Roles of Markets in Crises and Famines*
Tuscia University of Viterbo
Over the late Middle Ages and the early Modern Period, Western Europe was stricken by cyclical crises of subsistence or famines, related to several economic and social factors, such as the trend of production and the increasing price of wheat, the inadequate functioning of the market, the inappropriate intervention policies at the time of particular difficulties, and so on. In the Kingdom of Hungary crises and famines were caused by the same forces. But, surprisingly, cyclical large crises of subsistence and vast course famines had been nearly unknown in the kingdom between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. In this context, it is argued that the models of Ernest Labrousse and Amartya Sen may explain the emergence and development of crisis and famine not only and simply by the occurrence of exogenous forces such as a fall in crops, environmental shocks, war events and so on, but also and above all through a deeper analysis of the market, its functioning and its degree of integration with other markets. The paper thus highlights the particular Hungarian alimentary regime as characterized by a non-contradiction, but rather a thorough-penetration, relationship between agricultural and sylvan-pastoral activities. This not-contradiction was reflected by an alimentary equilibrium that characterized the kingdom throughout the period. In comparison with other parts of Europe, in Hungary alimentary alternatives such as grain, meat and fish remained accessible to most of the population, so the inhabitants’ normal diet remained diversified and not entirely based on cereals. The specific production and exchange structures of the kingdom permitted the maintenance of this alimentary equilibrium that prevented the rise of vast alimentary crises, unless a shock such as war, climatic difficulties and so on occurred. Another reason for the absence of vast course famines was the kingdom’s place in the exchange structures of Europe. The paper argues that, while wars—first of all against the Ottoman Empire—caused great damages and problems in food supplying, the complex economic interaction between crisis, famine and war that characterized the Hungary between over late Middle Ages and the early Modern Period is evidence of the kingdom’s increasing and notable maturation as a market in the European context.
Keywords: food, production, commerce, market, nutrition, crisis, Hungary, Europe.