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The Black Death in Egypt and England

A Comparative Study

By Stuart J. Borsch

Publication Year: 2005

Throughout the fourteenth century AD/eighth century H, waves of plague swept out of Central Asia and decimated populations from China to Iceland. So devastating was the Black Death across the Old World that some historians have compared its effects to those of a nuclear holocaust. As countries began to recover from the plague during the following century, sharp contrasts arose between the East, where societies slumped into long-term economic and social decline, and the West, where technological and social innovation set the stage for Europe’s dominance into the twentieth century. Why were there such opposite outcomes from the same catastrophic event? In contrast to previous studies that have looked to differences between Islam and Christianity for the solution to the puzzle, this pioneering work proposes that a country’s system of landholding primarily determined how successfully it recovered from the calamity of the Black Death. Stuart Borsch compares the specific cases of Egypt and England, countries whose economies were based in agriculture and whose pre-plague levels of total and agrarian gross domestic product were roughly equivalent. Undertaking a thorough analysis of medieval economic data, he cogently explains why Egypt’s centralized and urban landholding system was unable to adapt to massive depopulation, while England’s localized and rural landholding system had fully recovered by the year 1500.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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A NOTE ON TRANSLITERATION

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p. ix-ix

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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pp. xi-xii

The bulk of the research for this study was carried out in Egypt, and I would like to thank the Fulbright Organization and the Social Science Research Council for generous grants that made my two-year stay there possible. I am particularly grateful to friends and colleagues in Egypt who helped me navigate my way through Egyptian life. I owe a deep debt...

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ONE: INTRODUCTION

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pp. 1-23

We live in an age of steadily growing population and urban sprawl, with industrial growth continually encroaching on the few untouched pock-ets of our ecosystem, so it is hard for us to imagine our distant ances-tors’ fear of nature as an encroaching predator. It is harder still for us to conceive of the terror and shock they experienced as urban centers...

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TWO: MORTALITY, IRRIGATION, AND LANDHOLDERS IN MAMLUK EGYPT

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pp. 24-39

A discussion of the plague’s mortality in England is unnecessary here since numerous studies have analyzed the demographic impact of the plague in that region. Although scholars have long debated the level of population decline, recent studies seem to agree that roughly half the population of England succumbed to repeated outbreaks...

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THREE: THE IMPACT OF THE PLAGUESON THE RURAL ECONOMY OF EGYPT

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pp. 40-54

As the repeated plague epidemics moved from village to village, rural depopulation began to take its toll. Many areas were left with insuffi cient labor to keep the local (baladi) dikes in working order. When these dikes decayed, the Nile fl ood became harder to control, which in turn led to episodic parching or waterlogging of the village soil. These villages thus...

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FOUR: THE IMPACT OF THE PLAGUESON THE RURAL ECONOMY OF ENGLAND

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pp. 55-66

In contrast to their Egyptian counterparts, English landholders had a much more direct economic interest in the welfare and management of their estates. This was due to several key structural differences. England’s landholders retained their estates on a long-term basis, usually hereditarily, and therefore had a much longer financial time horizon, even if that...

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FIVE: THE DINAR JAYSHI AND AGRARIAN OUTPUT IN ENGLAND AND EGYPT

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pp. 67-90

Historians of Egypt have made several attempts to evaluate the overall output of Egypt’s agrarian economy before and after the Black Death. Yet there remain many unanswered questions, and some rather dramatic errors that need correction. This chapter will provide new answers to some of the mysteries. The analysis here will also pose new questions...

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Six PRICES AND WAGES: A REEVALUATION

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pp. 91-112

Shifting the focus away from agrarian output and GDP to an analysis of prices and wages for Egypt and England will allow us to estimate relative changes in income per capita. The overall picture will also provide crucial information about the relative changes in the two agrarian economies.The data for prices and wages provided for Egypt and England is...

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SEVEN: CONCLUSION

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pp. 113-117

The great historical plague is usually associated with falling rents, falling grain prices, rising wages, and changes in landholding systems. Egypt did not follow this course of development. Egypt’s landholding structure, a substantial success before the attack of Yersinia pestis, determined a dramatically different outcome from the one depicted in most...

APPENDIX: THE MARGINAL PRODUCT OF LABOR RECONSIDERED

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pp. 118-134

NOTES

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pp. 135-166

SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY

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pp. 167-184

INDEX

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pp. 185-195


E-ISBN-13: 9780292796911
E-ISBN-10: 0292796919
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292706170
Print-ISBN-10: 0292706170

Page Count: 207
Illustrations: 1 map, 43 line drawings, 34 tables
Publication Year: 2005