In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section War and Economy, 1300-1600

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Collection of Papers (Multiauthored)
  • Primary Sources
  • War as Enterprise and Business
  • Technology and Industry
  • Money Supply and Debasement
  • Costs, Pay, Provisioning
  • Piracy and Brigandage

Renaissance and Reformation War and Economy, 1300-1600
William Caferro
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 June 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 June 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0222


The effect of warfare on the European economy (1300–1600) is a complex topic for which there remains much work still to be done. Historians need to assess war’s impact in terms of famine, plague, overseas explorations and other notable contemporary phenomena that have received the bulk of scholarly attention and which are difficult to separate from each other. Aspects of the economy of war have been treated in a variety of works, including military, political, social, and economic histories. The most sustained discussion has been among military historians, who have argued that the era saw “revolutionary” changes in the nature of warfare that greatly increased the scale and cost of conflicts, which, in turn, had implications for state formation (Parker 1988, Roberts 1967, and Parker 1972). The economic details have not been worked out, but the studies have stimulated research in the field. In addition, scholars have examined the effects of war on public finance and taxation (Wolfe 1972, Finkel 1988, Luzzatto 1929, and Molho 1971) and, the ways war, affected state bureaucracies and government (Caferro 1998, Glete 2002, and Gunn, et al. 2007). Several important studies have investigated “entrepreneurial” aspects of war and the role played by soldiers themselves in organizing resources (Parrott 2012 and Redlich 1964). The literature has also examined war’s impact on industry (Ágoston 2005 and Hall 2002) on technology and innovation (Cipolla 1965 and McNeill 1982), and on monetary trends and money supply (Munro 1972 and Sussman 1993). Scholars have explored the effects of violence on civilian populations (Rogers 2002) and attempted to understand the often tenuous dividing line between peace and war and between licit and illicit military activities, including the raids of free companies of soldiers in Italy and France, as well as attacks by pirates and privateers on commerce in the Atlantic and Mediterranean (Andrews 1964). Several monographs have focused on the organization—costs, pay, and provisioning—of individual armies and states (Covini 1998, Parker 1972, and Mallett and Hale 1984). On a more abstract level, scholars have debated the larger economic meaning of war (Lane 1966and Caferro 2008). They have argued whether war was destructive of resources (Nef 1942) or had more “constructive” consequences. They have wondered whether it helped stimulate capitalism (Sombart 1913) and whether it “made states” (Tilly 1992).

The author would like to thank his undergraduate research assistant Jeremy Wilson, for his invaluable input.

General Overviews

There are no comprehensive overviews for the entire period. Lane 1966 is a call to study and offers a theoretical framework for assessing “organized violence.” Hale 1998 provides details of Renaissance warfare in the years from 1450 to 1600, with emphasis on military organization and a brief but useful discussion of the “direct” and “indirect” economic impact of war. Contamine 1984 is a seminal study of medieval warfare that extends to the 15th century and contains useful bibliographic citations on the economy. McNeill 1982 examines European developments with respect to technology from 1000 to 1900 in terms of the non-European East. Tallett 1997 surveys “early modern” warfare (1495–1715) largely with regard to the “military revolution debate.”

  • Contamine, Philippe. War in the Middle Ages. London: Blackwell, 1984.

    Traces war from the early to the late Middle Ages with a discussion of economy integrated with a treatment of technical, military, and strategic issues. Includes a detailed bibliography on “War, Economy and Taxation.”

  • Hale, J. R. War and Society in Renaissance Europe, 1450–1620. Stroud, UK: Sutton, 1998.

    Examines Renaissance war and society with emphasis on organization, recruitment, and terms of service. The last two chapters are devoted to “War and Economy” and “War, Taxation and Government,” respectively.

  • Lane, Frederic C. “Economic Consequences of Organized Violence.” In Venice and History. Edited by Frederic C. Lane, 412–428. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1966.

    A theoretical study of organized violence and the economic meaning of “protection” as a service and “productive” activity used by states. Originally published in 1958 in the Journal of Economic History.

  • McNeill, William H. Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.

    Synthetic study of war and technology. Stresses the role of innovation that allowed the West to emerge victorious over the East. Views the Renaissance as a time when war became more professionalized and when it merged with a nascent market system.

  • Tallett, Frank. War and Society in Early Modern Europe, 1495–1715. London: Routledge, 1997.

    Assessment of early modern warfare in terms of the “military revolution” debate. Last chapter summarizes the economic impact of war in terms of costs, financing, and the growth of the bureaucratic state.

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