Thursday, March 7, 2013

Jewish Expulsions 1100-1800 CE v. Climate

Almost all of the cities of Western Europe expelled their Jewish populations at some time or another between 1100 CE to 1800 CE (Eastern Europe, and in particular Poland, which had legal protections for Jews in this time period, received a significant share of the exiled populations).

Did climate and disease drive these trends?

A new paper discussed here provides a copy of the money chart that sums up the results as well as a related map showing the geographic extent and distribution of Jewish expulsions in that time period.

Five major waves of expulsions from the late 1200s CE to the late 1300s CE, the biggest of which coincides with the Black Death in Europe, do coincide with a period of steadily falling temperatures and disease outbreaks. 

The expulsion of Jews from all of Spain in 1492, which created the biggest wave of expulsions in the time series, likewise took place in a European temperature trough, and there was another modest surge in expulsions a few years later in another European deep chill.

But, the very cold years in Europe from the mid-1500s to the early 1600s, the longest sustained cold spell in the time series, produced only two slight surges in expulsions, the next slight surge in expulsions in the mid-1600s coincided with a period of rapidly rising temperature, and the very coldest plunge in the survey in the early 1700s, did not lead to any expulsions.

The conclusion, reflected in the study's title, “From the Persecuting to the Protective State? Jewish Expulsions and Weather Shocks from 1100 to 1800" is that the rise of the modern bureaucratic state in the early modern period starting ca. 1500 CE, protected Jews from their historical plight as scapegoats in hard times that had been the norm in the Middle Ages when the Europe had a more disorganized feudal system.

Also, given that the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 is such a dominant data point in the entire dataset, and has historically well documents justifications, it is appropriate to try to evaluate whether the causes of this event were mere pretext for yet another instance of hardship driven scapegoating, or if that really was a tangential factor in a historical event with entirely different primary causes. 

Limitations of the Data

The data on expulsions don't precisely line up with the data on pogroms (mass violence and killings of Jews) and their severity in that time frame, which casts some doubt on how well it is really capturing the phenomena.

While this unique long data set has inherent limitations that favor counting each city's expulsion equally, this also has the effect of making really severe events look less severe than they really were by other measures.  For example, the expulsion of every Jew from England and Gascony (4,000-16,000 people) in 1290 CE left the entire region without any Jews for the next 365 years (except 128 Jewish converts to Christianity in a single communal building in London).  But, this event which is similar in monumentousness to the 1492 CE expulsion of Jews from Spain, looks like just a moderate sized blip on the chart.  Presumably this is because documented communities of English Jews were concentrated in major cities, and because a total expulsion of Jews from the country may have impaired accurate record keeping related to this event with respect to smaller communities.

Finally, by starting in 1100 CE rather than say, 1000 CE, it omits three important events which are the earliest instances of this cycle of violence in Europe, two pogroms in Moorish Spain, one in 1011 in Cordoba and the second and more serious one in 1066 CE in Grandada, which would have been minor blips on the chart in any case as they involved just two events in almost a century and arguably are analytically distinct from those occuring in Christian Europe in any case. 

But, it also omits the first pogrom and series of expulsions in Christian Europe, which was very widespread in France and Germany in 1096, just four years before the dataset begins. The widespread pogrom in 1096 CE came at a point of historically very high temperatures in Europe at the beginning of the First Crusade, and including this additional data point greatly changes the tenor of the entire data set. 

This first pogrom in Christian Europe is probably the source of a population bottleneck in European Jewish populations that is still apparent in Jewish population genetics, and was probable the worst incident in the entire historical record prior to the Holocaust in terms of proportionate impact on the European Jewish population as a whole.  This does much to undermine the climate and disease determinism analysis that could otherwise be applied to the earlier part of the rest of the data at least.

This is also a dataset that cries out for being transformed into a slideshow in which the expulsions in each year leap onto the screen in order in their respective locations.


Maju said...

I can't find any logic to climate causes, especially as Jews were in all places a minority. The most notorious expulsion (or more precisely: conversion or expulsion blackmail), that from Iberia in 1492-93, is tightly related to what happened to a much more numerous group: Muslims. Expulsion of Muslims (aka "Moors") was often not effectively implemented because it damaged the economic base (they were mostly essential rural workers), so there was obviously not excess of hands and lack of land but rather the opposite.

Jews were mostly bourgeois (i.e. urban qualified workers, often working independently: bankers, jewelers, intellectuals and even public service managers) so I can only imagine that the expulsions were caused, besides ideological-racist-religious reasons, because they were competence against Christian incipient bourgeois and also to get rid of debt burden maybe. But the main cause, at least in Iberia, where bourgeoisie was very weak, was surely ideological: European states were being defined in terms of religious homogeneity and "heretics" were a potential disturbance. Hence the Inquisition and the witch hunts.

The chronology you mention correlates well also with the persecution of dissident sects, beginning with the 1208 Crusade against the Albigensians (Cathars) and culminating in the Early Modern wars of religion between Christian sects. Similarly intolerance also became active since the Fourth Crusade, when non-Catholic Christians were attacked and treated as quasi-heretics.

In other words: Europe prior to the French Revolution was essentially defined in terms of religion, this applies even to slavery, which was initially justified in terms of religion (Irish for example were often enslaved by the English, the same they and others did with "pagan" Africans), and only since Illustration or later was justified in pseudo-biological terms of "race".

andrew said...

Your reference to the coincidence of Jewish persecution with persecution of heretics by the Roman Catholic church is very apropo and one that I have been very familiar with at time (it received a lot of attention in the classes I took for my history minor in college), but had drifted out of my focus. Any climate effects were clearly indirect and relevant only as they contributed to a larger climate of superstition and surges in religioius orthodoxy.