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Historisk tidskrift 126:2 • 2006

Innehåll (Contents) 2006:2

Uppsatser (Articles)

Svenska spannmålspriser under medeltiden i ett europeiskt perspektiv

Bo Franzén & Johan Söderberg

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Swedish Medieval Grain Prices in a European Perspective

This article compares Swedish grain prices for the period 1291–1530 with European prices. All prices are expressed in grams of silver per hectolitre of grain. The analysis focuses on two aspects of the price series: the average price level and the volatility of prices. A low price level, expressed in terms of silver, is characteristic of a low-wage economy that is little monetized. High prices are typical of the advanced economies of the period. Price volatility can be seen as a welfare indicator, since great swings from year to year imply difficulties in provisioning the population.

In a comparative perspective we should therefore expect a negative association between price level and volatility. This hypothesis is supported by the data: in Figure 5, based on 24 European price series, the correlation between price level and volatility is as strong as –.70. The advanced, high-price economies thus enjoyed greater price stability. Price volatility in Sweden was higher than in any other area studied here, which suggests a comparatively low level of welfare for those parts of the population who were not self-sufficient in grain.

In a correlation analysis, north-west Europe stands out as a comparatively price-integrated area during medieval times. Several of the towns and regions exhibiting the strongest level of price integration are found in the Low Countries, but England and parts of Germany were also included in this area (Figure 6). In contrast, Sweden was only weakly price-integrated with north-west Europe and the North German town of Rostock.

Finally, the article discusses the possible impact of short-run climatological variations on prices. Estimates of medieval temperature and precipitation in England correlate rather weakly with wheat yields and wheat prices, whereas correlations with grain prices are much stronger. This suggests that the observed price integration in north-west Europe may be seen mainly as the result of economic integration and not as an effect of shared variations in climate. This is a preliminary conclusion, however, since estimates of medieval temperature and precipitation are as yet uncertain.


price history, grain prices, economic integration, welfare, middle ages