Estimating warfare-related civilian mortality in the early modern period: Evidence from the Low Countries, 1620–99

Bram van Besouw*, Daniel R. Curtis

*Corresponding author for this work

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Early modern warfare in Western Europe exposed civilian populations to violence, hardship, and disease. Despite limited empirical evidence, the ensuing mortality effects are regularly invoked by economic historians to explain patterns of economic development. Using newly collected data on adult burials and war events in the seventeenth-century Low Countries, we estimate early modern war-driven mortality in localities close to military activity. We find a clear and significant general mortality effect consistent with the localized presence of diseases. During years with major epidemic disease outbreaks, we demonstrate a stronger and more widely spreading mortality effect. However, war-driven mortality increases during epidemic years are of similar relative magnitude is those in non-epidemic war years. Given the omnipresence of warfare in the seventeenth-century Low Countries, war-driven mortality was remarkably constant rather than a sharp discontinuity. The economic impact of warfare likely played out over the long term rather than driven by sudden large mortality spikes creating rapid structural change.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101425
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalExplorations in Economic History
Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the editor (Marianne Wanamaker) and the anonymous reviewers for their excellent suggestions. We are grateful to Erwin Bulte, Bruce Campbell, Matthijs Korevaar, Jordy Meekes, Joel Mokyr, Carlos Molina, Patrick O'Brien, Vincent Schippers and participants at several conferences and seminars for their valuable comments and suggestions. The authors gratefully acknowledge financial support from NWO (VIDI Grant no. 016.Vidi.185.046).

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© 2021 The Author(s)

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