A.D. 1200 has been called the golden age, as characterized by a booming economy combined with widespread prosperity. Europe's population had reached the height of its growth, reaching about 70 million people, beyond which, according to historians, it would have been incompatible to resupply of food products, with the technologies of the time. The hot weather was optimal for harvesting in the fields, flourishing agriculture.

The banks Florentine and Sienese, founded in 1250, had started a business from unknown outcomes, with giving of loans to individuals, nobles and royal houses, thriving uncontrollably by the absence of national states. The Florentine bankers were creators of the Promissory Letter, comparable to modern derivatives, with interest for merchants around 14%.

But from the beginning of the year 1330, began a general debacle, unstoppable, with falling profits, determined by many factors. From this moment, from the climatic point of view, there was what was called a little ice age.

Consecutive years of heavy rains began, accompanied by cold, humidity and increase in glaciers. The cold prevented the ripening and harvesting the grain, moisture prevented the formation of salt, essential in the Middle Ages to preserve meat, poor the cereal production. Inevitably it was the agricultural crisis and the crisis of crops, entire plantations were abandoned and vast estates were unused and appeared desertified. In the Middle Ages, until that time, agriculture was the backbone of the economy. Farmers driven by misery and famine, left the fields flowing in

the cities in search of well-being. Entire villages were left uninhabited. The feudal lords, wealthy landowners, consequently lose their economic power derived solely from the earth. Agricultural production was non-existent.

Collapsing consumption, labor, also collapses the housing market and, with the crisis of trade and markets, begins the failure of banks. In 1341 declared bankruptcy (Bancae ruptio, as evidenced by the medieval statutes) the Acciaioli, the Antelliesi, the Bonaccorsi, the Cocchi, the Corsini, the Perendoli, from the Uzzano. In subsequent years do not resist to the crisis even the big banks. In 1343 the Peruzzi fail (600,000 florins) and in 1345 the Bardi (90,000 florins).

The loans of large sums of money given to European monarchs, who had previously enriched the Florentine bankers, were never honored. In England Edward III, forced to the armistice, is no longer in a position to repay the large sum of money, 1,365,000 florins, that the Florentine bankers had anticipated to support military commitment costs against France. Writes the banker and chronicler Giovanni Villani:... never in Florence there was more destruction and defeat. There is not more liquidity, not survives pecuniary substance in our citizens. 

Florence is on its knees. No one was prepared for such eventuality, it spread panic . 

At all levels, from simple savers, to the nobles, the principles, the same royal houses, all were faced with an unexpected situation, which projected them into a new reality that found them totally unprepared.

Edwin Hunt in "The Medioeval Super- Companies: A Study of the Peruzzi Company of Florence" (London, Cambridge University Press), says that banks, due to the crisis in trade and agriculture, were operating in loss even before 1330. “The main banking companies were able to survive beyond 1340 only because they weren't disseminated news about the severity of their positions".

Frederick C. Lane, in "Money and Banking in the Medioeval and Renaissance Venice", identifies the venetian finance like the cause of the speculative bubble and the architect of the catastrophe of 1340. The Franciscans, with the Order of Beggars, in this period gave their utmost in providing assistance to many poor by distributing food, creating orphanages, hospitals, hospices.

The Franciscans were also the architects of what will later be called the pawnshop (Monte di Pietà), which instituted loans against pledges to give a possible help to those who became the new poor, sold own possessions, to get money for the essential purchase of food. The first pawnshop was later institutionalized in Perugia in 1462.

The severe food crisis of this period led to a weakening of the immunesystem with the appearance of numerous chronic diseases, such as bronchitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, which were certainly behind the spread of the plague epidemic that was spreading inexorably from the east, causing millions of deaths.

The church spoke of divine punishment, sent to punish the behavior immoral and sinful men. To ask for forgiveness, to the wrath of God, in Italy and Germany appeared processions of flagellants. Medicine, not knowing yet the use of antibiotics, was unprepared to deal with the epidemic and not knowing the origin, it was resorting to the most varied methods to diagnose the etiology. From astrology to the winds (aer corruptus) everything was studied trying a possible therapy. The literature describes this period of history, with the recurring theme of death in every work. The text that had great resonance and diffusion in the people, attributed to an anonymous Dominican monk, was the good death: Tractatus artis bene moriendi.

The people was resigned, accepted the idea of inevitable death, some were awaiting of a second coming of Christ, which would have eliminated the epidemic, as well like all social differences.

In a society where the final solution to every problem was only the religion, became common, Christian prayer addressed to the sky: A peste, fame et bello, Libera nos Domine. (Abstract)

Prof. Camillo Di Cicco MD,

14th EADV Spring Symposium, Brussels  2017.


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