The Heavy Plough and the Agricultural Revolution in Medieval Europe
Discussion Papers on Business and Economics, University of Southern Denmark, 6/2013
69 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2013
Date Written: December 3, 2013
This research tests the long-standing hypothesis put forth by Lynn White, Jr. (1962) that the adoption of the heavy plough in Northern Europe led to increased population density and urbanization. White argued that it was impossible to take proper advantage of the fertile clay soils of Northern Europe before the invention and widespread adoption of the heavy plough. We implement the test in a difference-in-difference set-up by exploiting regional variation in the presence of fertile clay soils across European regions as well as across Danish historical counties. Consistent with the hypothesis, we find that regions with relatively more fertile clay soil experienced higher urbanization and population growth after the heavy plough had its breakthrough, which was approximately around the closing of the first millennium AD. Our findings suggest that the heavy plough accounts for around 10% of the increase in urbanization and population density during the High Middle Ages.
Keywords: Heavy plough, medieval technology, agricultural productivity
JEL Classification: J1, N1, N93, O1, O33
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