For nearly 200 years, until 1978, the state set the price of bread in France—a relic from the French Revolution and from the times when the supply of bread was crucial to the stability of public order. “From ancient times to the 19th century, the price of bread was the main variable in European history. When it went up, there were riots,” says Professor Volker Reinhart, a historian at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. “Bread was a staple. The survival of 60 to 70 percent of people depended on it.”
Famines of the fourteenth century
The show situation in Europe in the High Middle Ages was relatively good. Warm period of the eighth century Provide ideal farming conditions. Crop yields increased, leading to an urban boom in the 11th century. Prior to this, there were only a few larger centers apart from ancient settlements. Then great Gothic cathedrals were built, and population numbers rose sharply. But this heyday ended in the fourteenth century. From 1315 to 1317, large parts of the continent suffered the first severe famine, which caused millions of deaths, caused by heavy rains and cold weather conditions.
The outbreak of the plague in 1347, which killed at least a third of the population of Europe in the following years, was a serious turning point. Farmers stopped cultivating their fields, worsening the supply. In the following centuries, plague was a regular companion of late medieval and modern society – often in conjunction with famine.
“Since then, cities as well as rural populations in Europe have lived in a rhythm of terror,” says Reinhardt. “Every ten to fifteen years, there have been devastating crop failures.” At harvest time in the summer, everyone looked amazed in the fields. The authorities had to organize demonstrations. Even if the situation is critical, you try to hide it as long as possible. Larger quantities of grain were brought to the markets to calm the masses, in order to avoid panic reactions.”
The supply of cities was especially difficult: in order to supply such large centers as Paris, Florence, Bruges and London, grain was confiscated from the regions surrounding the rulers. In times of crisis, thousands of people moved from the countryside to the city, making the situation even more volatile. The result was looting, rioting and violence. For a year, crop failures can usually be compensated for by grain stocks. But with unfavorable climatic conditions, especially from the fifteenth century onwards, several bad years often followed one another.