Migration and its Impact on the Household: Medieval Valencia after the Black Death Plague, 1348-1453

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MacKechnie, Johan
household , medieval history , Black Death Plague , migration , Valencia
The 1348 Black Death Plague killed at least twenty percent of Valencia’s population, and the effects were devastating: reduced reproduction, raised mortality, massive shifts in migration, intense growth in city population, and an altered structure of the family and the society. The urban household had to adopt new strategies to deal with the demographic collapse. Domestic servants, slaves, and foreigners were incorporated into the household to meet needs, and the composition of households changed as internal migration, Mediterranean migration from North Africa and Eastern Europe, and labour migrations all accelerated. These migrations led to urban reform and to more complex households as many families began to offer lodging and provisions to newcomers. Christian and Muslim slaves were brought into Valencia as households tried to meet the demographic need for more labour. Servant numbers also increased, and foreigners migrated to Valencia and began to integrate into the society. During a century of changes, there was one important constant: the attempt to maintain the centrality and significance of the household within the social organization and the economy. Masters and mistresses tried to retain responsibility for the everyday management of their households, and they aimed to keep the traditional hierarchical structures of authority in place over their staff, male and female slaves, and non-family members. However, the increase in the number of complex households in the period brought new relationships between masters, slaves and servants, and more connections were forged with foreigners. All these changes challenged traditional patriarchal control within households. Therefore, migration, spurred by the Black Death Plague, had a significant effect on the household structure in late medieval Valencia. High rates of mortality caused by plague created a lack of domestic labourers and caused economic upheaval; masters needed to incorporate extra-familial members into the household to complete essential household tasks. The influx of migrant workers and enslaved labourers altered the household’s traditional, kin-based structure and expanded the domestic economy, and these changes challenged the societal order.
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