Prices and the Thirty Years War

Prices and the Thirty Years War

There was a direct relationship between changes in prices and the Thirty Years War during the 17th century. However, the economic impact of war varied throughout Europe.

During the war, less money was issued throughout Europe and a greater emphasis was placed on the value of bullion. The fact that Spanish bullion was becoming more scarce in Europe gave it huge international. Spanish bullion imports had fallen by 40 per cent between 1590 and 1640 and 'ownership' of Spanish bullion marked out a rich state from a 'pretender'.

Dutch East-IndiaTrading ship
Dutch East-IndiaTrading ship

Why was bullion so valuable?

Bullion was so valuable because it kept it was able to keep its value, whereas other coinage throughout mainland Europe was being devalued. Spain devalued her coinage three times from 1600 to 1648 - in 1603, 1636 and 1641. On each occasion, Spain was effectively announcing to Western Europe that her economy was in major trouble. The major European banks tried to tackle the currency crisis that seemed to affect all of mainland Europe. The Wisselbank in Amsterdam and the Banco Giro in Venice tried, but failed to make an impact. The lack of bullion throughout Europe directly led to coinage devaluation, meaning the Thirty Years War was being fought with weakening finances.

Price changes and price levels varied throughout Europe. Spain and Italy managed to maintain the price of silver, whereas a more impoverished Poland failed to succeed in doing this. The war led to regional price variations, high freight costs and, in general, a low level of capital investment.

Farm prices and agricultural prices increased throughout the war, as agriculture suffered from a lack of manpower and industry could rely on nations at war to purchase their goods.

No general pattern concerning wages can be found for 1618 to 1648. In theory, high food prices should have pushed up the cost of living by a substantial amount. However, while this happened in places, in Spain prices and wages remained close and wages more or less kept up with inflation. Italy in the 17th century saw a steady increase in wages. This in turn pushed up production costs which pushed up prices and brought difficulties to local economies.

The impact of the war on Germany with regards to prices is difficult to estimate. One of the reasons is that there were three different currencies in use in Germany during the war - the thaler, the mark and the gulden. Though a generalisation, it does seem that the war was only mildly inflationary in Germany. Food prices increased up to 1640 but fell back after this. Meat prices were often kept down as cattle were kept in towns and cities as armies approached.

To try and bring some stability to currency, Austria and Alsace attempted to fix the price of the mark. While Bayreuth and Magdeburg were badly affected by price fluctuations, Hamburg profited from the war. The Hamburg Bank gained a great reputation for honesty and by 1648, Hamburg was Germany's richest city.

See also: Trade and the Thirty Years War

MLA Citation/Reference

"Prices and the Thirty Years War". 2015. Web.