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Exploring the world


Council of Constance
Council of Constance

The great voyages of discovery that began with Christopher Columbus in 1492 had far-reaching economic and political consequences for Italy. The peninsula’s commercial and economic prosperity in the Middle Ages owed much to its geographical position at the intersection between the Christian and the Islamic worlds. After the voyages of Columbus the Mediterranean played a gradually smaller role. New commercial empires based in northern Europe—the Dutch, then the French and the English—outpaced the faltering commercial empires of Genoa and Venice. New products and manufactures from the northern countries challenged and undermined the Italian manufactures that had led the world in the 15th century.

Severe famines in many parts of Italy during the late 1500s indicated that population growth had begun to exceed resources. After 1600 the situation grew bleaker, particularly because an influx of gold and silver from Spanish colonies in South America caused massive price inflation. Plague struck the peninsula in 1630 and probably killed as many as a third of Italy’s population, which had reached about 11 million by 1600. It took a century for Italy to regain that population. Meantime, the Italian states became importers rather than exporters, and their economies depended increasingly on agriculture. The Italian cities ceased to expand, except for Naples and Rome. Those cities continued to attract impoverished immigrants from rural areas, especially in times of famine. Revolts against Spanish rule took place in the mid-1600s, largely because of commercial decline and ever-rising taxes. "Italy" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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