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The Great Famine (1315-1317)

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The Great Famine of 1315–1317 (sometimes the period of 1315–1322 is given) is the first in a series of large-scale disasters of the late Middle Ages that befell Europe at the beginning of the XIV century.

The great famine caused millions of deaths (according to estimates, around 10 to 25% of the urban population died) and marked the end of the previous period of growth and prosperity of the 11th — 13th centuries.

It covered almost the whole of Northern Europe – the current territory of Ireland, Great Britain, France, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Germany, and Poland.

Europe south of the Alps (Italy) and the Pyrenees (Southern Spain), as well as lands east of the Kingdom of Poland and much of Byzantium, avoided this disaster.

The reason for the development and spread of the “great famine” during the beginning of the XIV century was the anomalously high level of precipitation.

This was observed almost everywhere in Europe, starting with the territories of modern Ireland and ending with Poland, Belarus, and Lithuania.

The adverse weather conditions of the spring of 1315, the ensuing crop failures, and the sharp rise in food prices caused an acute shortage of food that lasted two years and had an effect even before 1322.

At this time, thousands of people died every day, public rules ceased to operate.

Many parents abandoned their children, some sold theirs to save them or buy food, cannibalism became widespread, crime increased unusually, and the spread of diseases increased.

This period has had serious consequences for the church, states, European society, and the future disasters of the XIV century.

great famine

At present, the Great Famine offensive is associated with the Little Ice Age, the causes of which are long-term solar activity cycles (Maunder minimum), slowing of the thermohaline circulation (in particular, slowing down of the Gulf Stream), and volcanic eruptions (possibly Tararavera in New Zealand).

Also, the shortage of food and pet food that caused this large-scale catastrophe in medieval Europe cannot be attributed only to changing weather conditions, heavy rains, and fierce winters.

Poor economic planning with the communal way of farming and the complex interaction of many social and environmental factors also played a role in this disaster: the demographic peak in Europe, marked by 1300 during the Medieval warm period (X-XIII cc.); unusually high economic integration, diseases of livestock and poultry, unstable prices due to crop failures, class antagonism, consequences of constant wars, and uneven distribution of resources.


Lectures in Medieval History, The Great Famine (1315–1317) and the Black Death (1346–1351)
Henry S. Lucas: “The Great European Famine of 1315-7”
Jordan, William Chester: The Great Famine. Northern Europe in the Early Fourteenth Century

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