From the Persecuting to the Protective State? Jewish Expulsions and Weather Shocks from 1100 to 1800

Detail of a historiated initial 'I'(udei) of three Jews.  - British Library Royal 6 E.VII, f.341From the Persecuting to the Protective State? Jewish Expulsions and Weather Shocks from 1100 to 1800

By Warren Anderson, Noel D. Johnson and Mark Koyama

GMU Working Paper in Economics No. 13-06 (2013)

Abstract: What factors caused the persecution of minorities in medieval and early modern Europe? We build a model that predicts that minority communities were more likely to be expropriated in the wake of negative income shocks. We then use panel data consisting of 785 city-level expulsions of Jews from 933 European cities between 1100 and 1800 to test the implications of the model. We use the variation in city-level temperature to test whether expulsions were associated with colder growing seasons. We find that a one standard deviation decrease in average growing season temperature in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was associated with a one to two percentage point increase in the likelihood that a Jewish community would be expelled. Drawing on our model and on additional historical evidence we argue that the rise of state capacity was one reason why this relationship between negative income shocks and expulsions weakened after 1600.


Introduction: Throughout history, religious and ethnic minorities have been the victims of persecution. Such persecutions were comparatively frequent in the pre-industrial world, particularly in medieval and early modern Europe. In comparison, and with the important exceptions of the genocides of the mid-twentieth century, large-scale killings, massacres, and religious persecutions are rare in the developed world today. How and why did this transition from the persecuting state to the protective state in Europe take place?

We focus on the persecution of the Jews in medieval and early modern Europe, one of the most numerous and best documented minorities throughout European history. Violence against Jews was caused by many factors, but we build on the common claim advanced by historians that Jews were convenient scape-goats for social and economic ills. We establish the following two results. (1) Using data on climatic variation, we identity the effect that negative economic shocks had on minority rights in the preindustrial period. (2) We show that the relationship between climatic shocks and the expulsion or persecution of Jewish communities was strongest in fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and disappeared after 1600.


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