Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

At the Origins of Welfare Policy: Law and the Economy in the Pre-Modern Mediterranean (AD 1150-1350)
by More, Alexander Frederick M., Ph.D., Harvard University, 2014, 437; 3645032
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation is an economic and institutional history of the first comprehensive public health and welfare system in the Western world. Based on previously unexamined archival and archaeological evidence from several European repositories, it argues that the Republic of Venice, at the beginning of the second millennium, implemented legislation of unprecedented scale, intended to regulate and improve the health and standards of living of its population. The Venetian empire, in this period, was unrivaled in its dominance of Mediterranean trade. Economic success and the densifying networks of communications brought new challenges, and new health stresses, including communicable disease, to key commercial hubs under Venetian control, on the Dalmatian coast and islands in the eastern Mediterranean.

At this time, a period commonly known as the Commercial Revolution, Venice itself became one of the most populous and wealthiest European cities. The government of the Republic allocated a substantial portion of its surplus revenues to the establishment and funding of new welfare legislation, influenced by Roman and Byzantine legal precedents. The nature of the Venetian parliamentary system gave rise to a host of detailed norms aimed at subsidizing the import of food and primary necessities. In addition, the Republic created and funded the first and largest state-sponsored staff of medical practitioners in Europe, intended to preserve the public's health in the expansive territories under its control. These practitioners were chosen, by and large, on the basis of testimonies of magistrates and patients who vouched for their expertise and reputation.

Through a detailed analysis of archival, archaeological and narrative evidence, this dissertation alters our understanding of the development of pre-modern states and their contribution to the creation of what historians have broadly defined "welfare policies." Comparisons between the prices of primary necessities among multiple cities of the Mediterranean test the effects of such policies on the standards of living of European populations. A comprehensive list of all public health infrastructures in Venetian territories outlines the long-term role of the state in the creation and funding of hospitals, hospices and orphanages. By contextualizing new and old evidence, this dissertation argues that, in crafting these new policies, Venetian legislators yielded to economic and political considerations, as well as popular expectations and traditions of evergetism.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: McCormick, Michael
Commitee: Brandt, Allan M., McCormick, Michael, Park, Katharine
School: Harvard University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 76/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: World History, Economic history, Science history
Keywords: Byzantium, Healthcare, Mediterranean, Public health, Venice, Welfare
Publication Number: 3645032
ISBN: 978-1-321-33507-1
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