Inequalities and growth in the late medieval mezzadria Tuscany (15th-early 16th c.)

Start - End 
2015 - 2019 (ongoing)
Department of History
Research Focus 



In this PhD I will study the influence of mezzadria on economic development and inequality in parts of Tuscany. Mezzadria spread strongly in a very peculiar geographical and socio-economic context. Indeed, Tuscany with Florence and its hinterland and with cities as Siena, Lucca, Pisa, Arezzo, Pistoia, was, along with Flanders, the economic core area of Europe in the Late Middle Ages. The system developed before the demographic shocks of Late Middle Ages and continued to develop further during the decline of the Florentine economy in 15th-16th centuries. 

A new study of Late Medieval mezzadria Tuscany can result in a fruitful contribution to the historical and economic debates on differences in the durability of growth among regions and nations. Indeed, why, one of the most successful market economies of Late Medieval Europe did not develop further in Early Modern period? Why here, an Industrial, Industrious or Agricultural Revolution did not occur during the Florentine Renaissance period? How path-dependent was the rural economy in the study area between the 12th and the 16th century? A special focus will be addressed to the relation between the economic development / stagnation of the mezzadria Tuscany and the evolution of inequality, a term that will be develop below.

The research is based on a twofold, interrelated hypothesis. First, patterns of accumulation (growth) and (re-)distribution (in-/equality) are determined by the organization of the power and property structures and relations and by the way they are embedded in societal institutional structures. As a second (and derived) hypothesis I state that differences in both the extent and the durability of economic growth are correlated with the way income and capital were (re)distributed. More concrete, my research will try to answer to the following questions, providing new source-based data:

1. Why did mezzadria rise?

2. Why, how and to what extent did mezzadria influence the economic evolution of Tuscany?

3. Why, how and to what extent did mezzadria shape the socio-economic inequalities in (rural) Tuscany? And what is the link between inequality (-ies) and (non) development?

In that perspective, share-contracts appear to have been tools of the Florentine urban elite being an interesting negotiation pitch between landowners and peasants, influenced by the changing socio-economic, institutional and demographic context of Late Medieval Tuscany. As a consequence, studying mezzadria allows to understand the influence of the complex institutional framework behind it and the short and long-term consequences on the rural society and economy. The research aims to measure its impact using ‘modern’ criteria of growth and inequality. At the same time, it will verify if, how and to what extent the mezzadria answered to the issues of its times.

I will apply different approaches my research: a social agro-systemic and comparative-explanatory approach, a bottom-up source-based approach as well as institutional approach to study the mezzadria system in the contado of Florence between the 15th and the 16th centuries and its impact on agricultural production, labour productivity and socioeconomic inequalities. 

I selected as study-area the so-called contado of Florence, an illustrative territory of the central Tuscany: it is a regional landscape characterized by a coherent system of institutions and social relations, by similar geographical features, and by the fact that mezzadria became the prevalent lease-contract. The choice of the Florentine contado is also due to the availability of an extraordinary set of fiscal surveys (The Catasto fo 1427 and the Decima repubblicana of early 16th c.), to address the research questions. 




Phd Student(s)