Need data!

Does anyone know where I can find data on -- or even a good discussion of -- movements in real wages (preferably agricultural wages) in Western Europe (not England) in about 1100-1300, or at least 1200-1300? France, Germany, Flanders, northern Italy -- I'll take whatever I can get.

Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
I believe The Atlas of World Population History by McEvedy and Jones has some of the data your looking for. When I googled for the authors' names, I turned up a link to JSTOR, so it might be available there.
1.23.2007 6:04pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
I read a review of the book on JSTOR -- it's in the journal Population Studies -- and the review doesn't reveal that the Atlas contains any wage data.
1.23.2007 6:09pm
Shelby (mail):
I'd suggest asking David Friedman, Milton's son. Link
1.23.2007 6:11pm
Maniakes (mail):
List of datafiles of historical prices and wages:

Looks like some of the European ones go back to c. 1200.
1.23.2007 6:13pm
Bruno (mail):
Hanri Pirenne, Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe, Harcourt Brace, 1937; Marc Bloch, Feudal Society, U Chi, 1961.
1.23.2007 6:16pm
Ejote (mail):
I don't think you'll find much data on Real wages from 1100-1300. The Portuguese didn't adopt that currency until around 1500, and I don't believe the Spanish did, either. Common mistake, really.
1.23.2007 6:45pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
1.23.2007 7:08pm
Stephen E. Sachs (mail) (www):
For a recent paper, I used the figures in Henry Phelps Brown &Sheila V. Hopkins, Seven Centuries of Building Wages, 22 ECONOMICA 195 (1955), reprinted in A PERSPECTIVE OF WAGES AND PRICES 1, 11 (Henry Phelps Brown &Sheila V. Hopkins eds., 1981). I don't know if any newer research has come out since then that substantially alters their findings.

(Also, I was curious about your postings on the Dialogue of the Exchequer -- are you working on the topic? I wrote a term paper on it in college, which is online at , but unfortunately it wasn't very good.)
1.23.2007 7:42pm
michael (mail) (www):
Wages rose after the Black Death in ~1340, cf. Rats, Lice, and History by Hans (?sp)Zinnser
1.23.2007 7:54pm
John (mail):
I'm stunned there were wages then. What happened to the feudal system?
1.23.2007 7:56pm
michael (mail) (www):
The little ice age or a title near reports that there was a warming period in the 1000s in which, for example, grapes were grown in a part of England where it has never been reasonable to do so since. With the begining of 'the little ice age' in ~ 1100 the weather was progressively worse for growing crops and there was starvation. Purchasing power per unit of labor fell but the monetary effect was not emphasized; however, based on contributions to and actions of Churches, seems to have been deflation.
1.23.2007 8:14pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Steve Sachs: Unfortunately, that Economica article is about English wages only.

John: Cute. (Unless I'm misreading you, and the question was serious?)
1.23.2007 8:43pm
John, that was my first thought too, hehe. I thought the wages were getting to keep a small portion of whatever was grown.
1.23.2007 9:18pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Re feudalism: Feudalism took a lot of different forms in different places and at different times, but it wasn't widespread slavery. In England, for instance, not everyone was an unfree tenant who owed labor services. Labor services exacted from unfree tenancies wasn't a huge factor in agricultural production. From the very beginning, lords were in the practice of commuting labor services in exchange for cash payments; and lords were also in the practice of hiring day laborers for wages. This is why for England, we have series of agricultural laborer wages going all the way back to 1209, and we would have more except for documentation trouble.
1.23.2007 9:29pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I doubt very much that "wages" were a concept much understood by common working people, especially agricultural workers, prior to the Black Death. Most economic transactions, even among the well off, were barter transactions. Money was introduced until the twelfth century and certainly wasn't used to pay wages until much later. And most agricultural workers were serfs tied to the land. Those who weren't were subsistence smallholders or itinerant farmworkers who would have been paid in food and lodging.

Weren't you born in the U.S.S.R.? Didn't you learn that the serfs there were only freed in 1861 and that until then half the peasants in Russia were owned by private landowners, the state or the church and could be bought or sold like land. Serfs in the middle ages were tied to the land and were owned by the lord of the manor. They were property as much as the cattle and the pigs.
1.23.2007 9:32pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
J.F. Thomas: See, e.g., the work of S.R.H. Jones on the extent of the money economic in pre-1066 England. For instance, here: "The spread of the market economy from the time of Alfred the Great [that's late 9th century] onwards meant that by the early eleventh century the economy of Anglo-Saxon England had become one of the wealthiest in Europe. This did not pass unnoticed overseas, especially in Scandinavia.... In spite of more than 30 years of fighting wars or buying peace, the economy of later Anglo-Saxon England still managed to retain a capacity to generate and accumulate wealth. Thus although the English complained bitterly, they seem to have had little difficulty in meeting the ever larger demands of the Vikings for Danegeld."

Here's a link to another S.R.H. Jones about money in Anglo-Saxon England: "One of the most significant [changes in English institutions between the eighth and the eleventh centuries] saw an allocative system based largely on gift exchange and institutional redistribution replaced by one in which commodities were increasingly exchanged for money in price-making markets."

By the time I'm interested in -- 1200 onward -- institutions that looked like outright slavery, U.S. South-style, were fairly rare (perhaps no longer existing, but I don't have my sources nearby) in England. As I said above, commutation of labor services for cash was quite common, and so was outright wage work, where people would work for a local landowner and actually get paid, sometimes in kind and sometimes in cash.

Western feudalism was very different than Eastern European feudalism. In particular, in Russia, serfdom -- which developed much later -- looked a lot more like slavery than it did in the West.
1.23.2007 9:43pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Feudalism took a lot of different forms in different places and at different times, but it wasn't widespread slavery.

I think you are taking the example of England, where a strong Monarch pretty much maintained power, with very few serious and relatively shortlived challenges, all the way from 1066 until today, with the rest of Europe which was one freaking power play and shifting alliance after another. The feudal system there gave a lot more power to the local lord precisely because he was more of a power player in the political game. Because he held the lives of his serfs in his hands (while a English lord really didn't control the fate of his serfs, they were relatively safe), he was able to exercise much more control over them.
1.23.2007 9:43pm
Maybe it might have some references of some sort

Barbara Tuchman A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century, an overview of 14th Century medieval Europe.
1.23.2007 10:49pm
Ben W. Brumfield (mail) (www):
The notes to chapter 2 of David Hackett Fischer's The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History ("The Medieval Price Revolution, 1180-1350") do a fantastic job on this. Sources he lists there which you might find useful are:

George Duby (trans. by C. Postan): Rural Economy and Country Life in the Medieval West.

Fossier: La terre and les hommes en Picardie, jusqu'a la fin du XIIIeme siecle

Bezard: La vie rurale dans le sud de la region parisienne

Strayer: "Economic Conditions in the Country of Beaumont-le-Roger, 1261-1313" Speculum 26

There's much more, but those are the citations that obviously cover the 12th and 13th centuries.

P.S. Tell your wife "Hi" for me.
1.23.2007 11:04pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
J.F. Thomas: Well, if you want to exclude England from discussions of feudalism, that's a big exception. But O.K., let's focus on France then. You say that common working people wouldn't have understood the concept of "wages" until the Black Death (1348). Georges Duby says, in Rural Economy and Country Life in the Medieval West (1962, 1968 trans. by Cynthia Postan):

"Offering regular employment to peasants of the neighbourhood, distributing considerable sums of money in form of wages (more than one hundred livres was thus dispersed denier by denier amongst the innumerable seasonal workers on the commandery of Comps in Provence), and thereby transferring a useful portion of the profits realized by the sale of surplus crops into the hands of the most depressed rural classes, were not the least of the manor's economic functions. Large numbers of labourers of humble status obtained from the demesne considerable additions to their incomes....

"The wages earned by wives and daughters at weeding, by the father and other men of the household at harvesting and threshing, could save their families from total destitution. We can also imagine seasonal migrations at harvest time on the frontiers of mountain and plain: hordes of wage-earners moving from the plains where the grain ripened earlier to the less favourably situated upland fields and thus earning for several weeks wages of from sixteen to twenty-four deniers per day....

"The relatively high cost of labour hired for seasonal work, especially the heavier summer tasks, need not surprise us. The work required a huge labour force.... Large-scale farmers, therefore, competed for casual labour and the economic structure of peasant society was organized to meet their demands." (pp. 270-71)

That big quote was from a section of the book discussing the half-century before the Black Death. If you want stuff from even earlier, here goes:

"We know now that the custom spread in most French provinces between 1050 and 1100 of distinguishing in written instruments between the coinage struck by the different mints, of specifying the kind of coins required for each transaction, and of speaking of a current coinage. At the same period the part played by cash in life pensions, in prebendary payments, and in wages grew. From 1080 the infirmary servants at Cluny, completely kept by their masters, received in addition a small wage of 40 deniers every year. On one of the abbey's demesnes 360 deniers was distributed in 1155 to the vineyard workers" (p. 130).

This is a functioning cash wage system in the year 1080, before the twelfth century, which is when you said money was introduced. Or, if you want evidence of money even a century earlier:

"At Varanges, a little hamlet next door to Cluny, forty-seven separate landowners were counted in the second half of the tenth century.... Such were David and Dominique, husband and wife, who for 28 sous acquired one by one in small purchases at well spaced out intervals eleven small parcels of land, amounting altogether to about an acre." (p. 55)

Then there's your claim that "most agricultural workers were serfs tied to the land" and that serfs were property, owned and sellable like cattle. Check out Medieval France: An Encyclopedia (William W. Kibler &Grover A. Zinn eds., 1995):

Roman Gaul knew chattel slavery, and chattel slavery of the classical type persisted in the households and on the estates of the Gallo-Roman and Merovingian aristocracy [i.e., pre-9th century] long after the fall of imperial administration. Under the Carolingians [i.e., 9th century], classical slavery rapidly declined, and one one of the common Latin words for slave, servus (Fr. serf)... came to represent a still debased but more elevated status than slave, although slaves properly so called continued to exist....

"It is still an open question whether most French rustics at any time in the Middle Ages should be considered serfs.... The authority of lords, although expressed in the powerful language of obligations owed to them, was never absolute and always contested.... Negotiation led to chevage and even the taille [particular feudal taxes]... becoming levies collectible only at regular intervals and, indeed, at fixed sums whose burden was gradually eroded by inflation.

I could go on, but you get the picture: Money was in circulation among farmers way earlier than the 12th century. Wages were paid to agricultural workers several centuries before the Black Death. Serfdom, while onerous and oppressive, didn't usually rise to the level of chattel slavery, and serfs were able to buy their way out of many of its restrictions.
1.23.2007 11:09pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Ben: Thanks. I'm still waiting for the library to get me The Great Wave. Unfortunately, Duby really doesn't have data. (I've got the book in French, though for the comment above, I've been quoting from the Postan translation available on Google Scholar.)
1.23.2007 11:18pm
Is it true the taxation rate on the serfs was 10%?
1.23.2007 11:23pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Serfdom wasn't a uniform practice, so there was no uniform tax rate. Plus, one of the main burdens of serfdom was the duty to do certain labor. This is hard to monetize. Of course, as I've said above, serfs often bought their way out of these duties, but how much that cost would vary according to how much the lord needed the money, how useful the serf was, etc.

The only thing that tells me 10% is ecclesiastical tithes, but that's not a duty owed by a serf to a lord.
1.23.2007 11:28pm
Stephen Aslett (mail):
You might want to email Alan Stahl, the Curator of Numismatics at Princeton University's library. He was a visiting professor at my college when I was an undergrad. I took a medieval economics seminar from him (in which I doubtless learned what enclosure really was and, as pointed out by others on this site, have since forgotten). He has a scarily encyclopedic knowledge of medieval coinage and the economic status of different areas of Europe during the medieval period. I know we discussed wages in class, but I don't remember specifics.

If I remember correctly, he was trying to gain more insight into the economics of medieval Italy by looking at mint records. That research produced a book which you can find here.

That was years ago, of course. I don't know what he's researching now.

If he doesn't have that wages data on hand, he'll probably know if it exists and where you can get it. His email address is on this page.
1.23.2007 11:46pm
sbw (mail) (www):
Sasha, while you are waiting for your information from other sources, look at Fernaud Braudel's The Structures of Everyday Life: Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century Volume 1" where he settles on the price of bread as an indicator of such economic transitions over time that reflect the quality of everyday life.

If you read nothing else of the book, read the introduction. It may transfer to your work.
1.24.2007 9:03am
JMB (mail):
Have you tried Douglas C. North and Robert Paul Thomas, The Rise of the Western World: A New Economic History, Cambridge University Press, 1973? I don't remember how much hard data they have, but they definitely have a good discussion of the movements in real wages caused by rising populations and falling marginal agricultural productivity.
1.24.2007 9:35am
J. David Hacker (mail):
The Economic History Network,, has a volunteer-run service—'Ask the Professor'—that may be able to point you in the right direction. Here's the link:
1.24.2007 9:42am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
J. David Hacker: Thanks, I've already asked the question on the EH.Res listserv.
1.24.2007 9:59am
Stephen E. Sachs (mail) (www):
Sorry about the England-only focus; I've tried looking for additional sources from my notes, and there two possibilities that I've found (though I haven't read them, and don't know how helpful they'd be):

Robert C. Allen, "The Great Divergence in European Wages and Prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War," 38 Explorations in Econ. Hist. 411 (2001).

Earl J. Hamilton, Money, Prices, and Wages in Valencia, Aragon, and Navarre, 1351-1500 (Harvard Econ. Studies 51, 1936)
1.24.2007 10:00am
Erik Voeten (mail):
I think you'll find some information here (see especially Robert Allen's stuff):
1.24.2007 10:18am
Mark Field (mail):
I'm going off memory (I'm at work and can't check the book itself), but I think this book has price data in it.

I'll check for others when I get home.
1.24.2007 12:00pm
Ben Brumfield (www):
I see that Amazon has the "search inside" feature enabled for The Great Wave. If you're only after Fischer's sources, this may be adequate. The notes are around page 442.
1.24.2007 12:56pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Ben -- Thanks. After I posted that previous comment, I did exactly that. Interestingly, Fisher says real wages fell 25-40% from 1220 to 1320, but he cites two English sources (Farmer and someone else) and one German source (Abel), and I read the relevant Abel passage and couldn't find support for that. Of course, Fischer cites Abel's German version, so I don't know which page number that makes, and maybe the German version had more numerical stuff than the English translation, who knows....
1.24.2007 4:22pm
I second sbw's suggestion about Braudel. I tried to "first" it earlier, but couldn't post then because the same site that's now automatically logged me in then denied I existed.
1.24.2007 4:44pm
I haven't taught economic history in 20 years, but a quick internet search reveals:
Giovanni VIGO, Real Wages of the Working Class in Italy: Building Workers' Wages (14th to 18th Century), in: Journal of European Economic History (JEEH) 3, 1974, p. 378

From a Conference in Medieval economies in 2005
1) Pamuk, Sevket: International Comparisons of Urban Wages in the Late Medieval Era
2) Sussman, Nathan: Income Inequality in Paris in the Heyday of the Commercial Revolution
I's also check Cipolla, ed. The Fontana Economic History of Europe and my old professor, Harry Miskimin, Harry Miskimin, The Economy of Early Renaissance Europe, 1300-1460 (1969; reissued Cambridge, 1976)
Earl Hamilton, Money, Prices, and Wages in Valencia, Aragon, and Navarre, 1351 - 1500 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936).
and a bunch of other references at
1.24.2007 5:08pm
Mark Field (mail):
Well, my memory still works. Jordan's book, linked above, devotes three full chapters (3, 4, and 5) to prices and the cost of living crisis. Much of the data is, as you can tell from the title of the book, concentrated around the years 1310-20. There's too much for me to summarize, especially without knowing exactly what you want. The book is footnoted extensively, though I have never gone back to the primary sources.
1.24.2007 7:12pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
Check out "Gold was the Mortar" by Henry Kraus, about the finances of Cathedral building. I've got a copy somewhere, but can't lay hands on it. Amazon lists it for cheap, and any decent university library ought to have a copy. Don't know whether he gets into wages and such, but he might.
1.24.2007 11:28pm
markm (mail):
"I'm stunned there were wages then. What happened to the feudal system?" Even in the strictest feudal system, there were frequent needs to bring specialists into the manor. Building a castle, and often just maintaining it, took masons with skills that serfs had no reason to develop, so the lord had to send to the cities with an offer to hire them for wages. Wandering troubadours provided the news and entertainment, and they expected to get more than just a meal for their trouble. One couldn't leave the defense of one's demesne entirely to the luck of breeding enough male relatives to serve as knights; fortunately, there were also various classes of knights and men at arms for hire. Cobblers, tailors, etc., also roamed in search of temporary employment.

And of course, serfs doing their labor owed to the manor might do as little work as possible without getting whipped, but cash wages motivated them to work hard.
1.25.2007 5:30pm
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
Sasha, what are you publishing? Are we going to get to read it?
1.26.2007 7:02pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
I'll post it here as soon as it goes up on SSRN, which should be early next week, I hope.
1.27.2007 12:11am