In 1500 Germany had a population of about 14 million. This number climbed to about 18 million by 1600. However, over the next 50 years the population dropped dramatically. This drop is usually attributed to the destruction of the Thirty Years’ War, but serious famines, plague outbreaks, and emigration had a large effect as well. Some areas, notably Bohemia and Franconia, lost more than three-fourths of their people. Although the casualties of war and the spread of typhoid and venereal diseases by soldiers certainly affected the population, the war alone cannot account for all of the demographic decline. There were about 4,000 towns in Germany by 1500, still mostly small. Only Nürnberg, Strasbourg, Augsburg, Vienna, Lübeck, and Magdeburg had more than 30,000 inhabitants. In most German cities, citizenship became even more restricted.
Usually ownership of property was required in order to be a citizen, and eligibility to serve on the council was monopolized by a few local wealthy families. Many municipal governments became much more active in their regulation of urban life. Sporadic pogroms against Jews and Roma (Gypsies) continued in German cities.
From the late 15th century on, several German cities, particularly Augsburg and Nürnberg, experienced significant economic growth. In addition to various local guild industries and regional trade, some German merchants and bankers became involved with larger, more wide-reaching ventures. The most famous of these family firms was the Fugger company of Augsburg, which had become the largest financial organization in Europe by the early 16th century.
The Fuggers’ virtual monopoly on all gold, silver, and copper mining in central Europe endowed its leaders with great political influence. By the time of the Thirty Years’ War, however, these family firms were losing their power, being replaced by even larger royal and international enterprises.
Low crop yields made German farmers susceptible to misfortunes. Large-scale droughts and famines invariably led to widespread disease, migration, and starvation. Urban workers faced rampant price inflation and falling wages. While some peasants and small property holders expanded their real estate during this period, the majority of urban and rural poor moved closer to destitution and homelessness. Encarta "Germany" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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