Grain Prices in Cairo and Europe in the Middle Ages

wheat medival - photo courtesy British LibraryGrain Prices in Cairo and Europe in the Middle Ages

By Johan Soderberg

Research in Economic History, Vol.24 (2006)

Abstract: This paper compares grain prices between Cairo and Europe during medieval times. Prices were higher and more volatile in Cairo than in Europe. Over time, price levels declined in large parts of Europe but not in Cairo.

No price integration can be seen between the European Mediterranean region and Cairo. In north-western Europe, a cluster of urban centers showing similar price movements had emerged in the fourteenth century, at the latest. The Mediterranean area was not integrated into this network. Price integration in north-western Europe may have contributed to the economic advancement of this region in late medieval and early modern times.


Climatic fluctuations (in temperature as well as in the water level of the Nile) affected Cairo grain prices. In Europe, on the other hand, short-term temperature variation did not have an appreciable impact on prices. Western European price integration cannot, it seems, be explained by the existence of a common climatic factor. Early European economic development was facilitated by a robust environment.

Introduction: This paper explores some questions related to the price history of Cairo and Europe during medieval times: 


How did price levels and trends in Cairo compare to those in Europe? 

Did price volatility in Cairo differ from European levels? Was volatility reduced over time in any of these regions? 

Can any price integration be discerned between Cairo and Europe? 

Were grain prices in Cairo affected by climatic factors to a higher degree than were European prices?

These questions can be related to a wider issue: When did the economic decline of the Near East relative to Europe begin? Did Europe perform better during the medieval era?

Click here to read this article from Stockholm University