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Secular Cycles

Secular Cycles

Peter Turchin
Sergey A. Nefedov
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 362
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  • Book Info
    Secular Cycles
    Book Description:

    Many historical processes exhibit recurrent patterns of change. Century-long periods of population expansion come before long periods of stagnation and decline; the dynamics of prices mirror population oscillations; and states go through strong expansionist phases followed by periods of state failure, endemic sociopolitical instability, and territorial loss. Peter Turchin and Sergey Nefedov explore the dynamics and causal connections between such demographic, economic, and political variables in agrarian societies and offer detailed explanations for these long-term oscillations--what the authors call secular cycles.

    Secular Cycleselaborates and expands upon the demographic-structural theory first advanced by Jack Goldstone, which provides an explanation of long-term oscillations. This book tests that theory's specific and quantitative predictions by tracing the dynamics of population numbers, prices and real wages, elite numbers and incomes, state finances, and sociopolitical instability. Turchin and Nefedov study societies in England, France, and Russia during the medieval and early modern periods, and look back at the Roman Republic and Empire. Incorporating theoretical and quantitative history, the authors examine a specific model of historical change and, more generally, investigate the utility of the dynamical systems approach in historical applications.

    An indispensable and groundbreaking resource for a wide variety of social scientists,Secular Cycleswill interest practitioners of economic history, historical sociology, complexity studies, and demography.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3068-8
    Subjects: Population Studies, Economics, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Table of Units and Currencies
    (pp. ix-x)
  2. Chapter 1 Introduction: The Theoretical Background
    (pp. 1-34)

    The modern science of population dynamics begins with the publication in 1798 ofAn Essay on the Principle of Populationby Thomas Robert Malthus. Malthus pointed out that when population increases beyond the means of subsistence, food prices increase, real wages decline, and per capita consumption, especially among the poorer strata, drops. Economic distress, often accompanied by famine, plague, and war, leads to lower reproduction and higher mortality rates, resulting in a slower population growth (or even decline) that, in turn, allows the subsistence means to “catch up.” The restraints on reproduction are loosened and population growth resumes, leading eventually...

  3. Chapter 2 Medieval England: The Plantagenet Cycle (1150–1485)
    (pp. 35-80)

    We bracket the secular cycle of medieval England by two periods of intense and prolonged internal conflict: the Anarchy during the reign of Stephen (1138–53) and the Wars of the Roses (1455–85). Because this period, roughly 1150–1485, was spanned by the Plantagenet dynasty (including its Lancastrian and Yorkist branches), we will refer to it as the Plantagenet cycle. The end of the cycle, which we assign to 1485, is probably uncontroversial, since most authorities agree that the population regime in England changed from stagnation to growth at the end of the fifteenth century. As to the starting...

  4. Chapter 3 Early Modern England: The Tudor-Stuart Cycle (1485–1730)
    (pp. 81-110)

    As the start of the cycle we take the year when the Tudor dynasty was established, marking the end of the long period of instability that culminated in the Wars of the Roses. The year 1485 is also a good candidate for a turning point in the population history of England, when the medieval population depression was succeeded by the first signs of demographic growth. The end of the cycle is harder to pinpoint. We chose 1730 because that was the last quinquennium of negative population growth in Wrigley et al. (1997) data, but another possible endpoint is 1750, since...

  5. Chapter 4 Medieval France: The Capetian Cycle (1150-1450)
    (pp. 111-142)

    The official start of the Capetian dynasty is dated to the accession of Hugh Capet to the French throne in 987. However, before 1200 the Capetian kings of France directly controlled a rather insignificant extent of territory, overshadowed by other north French polities, the most important of which were the Normans and the Angevins. The integrative trend set in gradually during the twelfth century. The important landmarks were the consolidation of royal lands under Louis VI “the Fat” (1108–37) and the activities of Suger, abbot of St. Denis, between 1122 and 1151. For this reason, we date the beginning...

  6. Chapter 5 Early Modern France: The Valois Cycle (1450–1660)
    (pp. 143-175)

    During the early modern period France went through two secular waves, the Valois and the Bourbon cycles (we use the convention of naming the cycle after the dynasty that ruled during its integrative phase). In this chapter we dissect the demographic, economic, and social trends of the Valois cycle (we do not address the Bourbon cycle in this book because its dynamics, especially during the later phases, were greatly modified by the Industrial Revolution).

    The end of the Hundred Years’ War marked the beginning of a secular integrative trend in France. The expansion phase lasted until roughly 1520 and the...

  7. Chapter 6 Rome: The Republican Cycle (350-30 BCE)
    (pp. 176-210)

    Although the fragmentary nature of sources allows us at most a hypothetical reconstruction of the economic and social dynamics of Rome during the regal and early Republic periods, we believe a case can be made that between 650 and 350 BCE, the Roman polity went through a complete secular cycle, with the integrative trend dominating before 500 BCE and the disintegrative trend holding until the early fourth century. Some evidence for this thesis comes from the cyclic dynamics of public building activity. The first peak came around 500 BCE, while the second occurred during the middle Republic (figure 6.1).


  8. Chapter 7 Rome: The Principate Cycle (30 BCE-285 CE)
    (pp. 211-239)

    The Principate cycle covers the three centuries between 27 BCE and 285 CE, from the establishment of the Augustan Principate to the accession of Diocletian. Because the bulk of territorial expansion was accomplished by the end of Augustus’s reign, fluctuations in territorial size thereafter were relatively minor and had minor effects on social, economic, and demographic variables.

    The expansion phase was the century under the Julio-Claudian and Flavian emperors. This was a period of population growth and economic expansion, somewhat marred by political instability at the very top, which, however, affected mostly the ruling class. Although six of the ten...

  9. Chapter 8 Russia: The Muscovy Cycle (1460-1620)
    (pp. 240-260)

    The starting point of our investigation is the second half of the fifteenth century, because only from this date on do we have access to reasonably detailed sources on the agrarian history of Russia—the Novogorod scribe books. This does not mean that a demographic-structural analysis of earlier periods of Russian history is impossible. Such an attempt has been made in one of our earlier articles (Nefedov 2002). Although the fragmentary nature of sources allows us at most a hypothetical reconstruction of economic and social dynamics, we believe that a case can be made that prior to the middle of...

  10. Chapter 9 Russia: The Romanov Cycle (1620–1922)
    (pp. 261-302)

    The Time of Troubles delivered a terrible blow to Russia. Judging by census data, the population of the Novgorod Land in 1620 was half that in 1582 and one-tenth that in 1500.* On the estates of the Troitse-Sergiev Monastery, scattered over all central Russia, the cultivated area shrank by a factor of 10. Only one-eighth of the arable area in the Moscow Region was actually cultivated, according to the population census of 1626–29; of the rest, some was left fallow, but most sprouted forest (Got’e 1937:115–16, Degtyarev 1980:170, Vodarski 1988:54, AHNWR 1989:11). These regions, however, were the ones...

  11. Chapter 10 General Conclusions
    (pp. 303-314)

    The main goal of this book has been to determine how well the predictions of the demographic-structural theory map onto empirically observed patterns in the historical societies we studied. We focused on four fundamental variables: population numbers (in relation to carrying capacity), social structure (specifically, the numbers and consumption levels of the elites), the strength of the state (typically measured by its fiscal health), and sociopolitical instability. In our empirical investigation we attempted to measure as best as we could the dynamics of these variables. Where possible we looked at data that directly demonstrated the dynamics of the key variable,...