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The Price Revolution and General Crisis.

Magnus Maximus

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In the 1950s, as English historians leafed through centuries-old records, the 17th century stood out starkly. It was characterized by wars, famines, state failures, plagues, civil wars, climatic anomalies, and inflation. Eric Hobsbawm emerged as the pioneering voice, identifying a pattern in these events that spanned continents - from Europe to the New World, and from the Middle East to Asia. This period, now recognized by many as the "General Crisis," became the focal point for subsequent historical analyses. For Spain, this era was particularly tumultuous, with the pressures of the Price Revolution, economic instabilities, and the phenomenon of elite overproduction playing pivotal roles.

Europe of the 1400s was different from that of the 1500s and 1600s. In the 1400s, silver was scarce, prices were stable, and the climate was relatively warm. The population was slowly recovering from the ravages of the Black Death from the preceding centuries. However, by the mid-1500s, the influx of vast quantities of silver from the Spanish colonies in the Americas began to reshape the continent's economic and political landscape. This led to the Price Revolution, a sharp, continent-wide inflation that was intertwined with broader societal shifts.

The Price Revolution was more than just an economic event. Prices did surge, but the effects permeated all layers of society. Spanish nobility, initially elated with the newfound wealth, soon saw their assets devalue. Economic instability grew. It was further intensified by the increasing numbers of elites—thanks to the monarchy's policy of selling titles. This created a fierce competition for limited resources and political influence. The Spanish Crown, essentially the Hapsburg Empire, tapped into the wealth from the mines of Potosi and Mexico. They used this to finance religious wars and territorial expansions against adversaries like France, the Ottoman Empire, and Protestant states within the Holy Roman Empire.

With escalating costs to sustain armies, construct fortifications, and secure alliances, Spain's economic position became vulnerable. The steady influx of silver, although initially beneficial, eventually became a liability. It was not rare for the silver from the New World to be directly shipped to the Genoese bankers serving the Hapsburg Crown. Spain's reliance on Italian banking houses for credit grew over time. Recognizing Spain's precarious financial state, the Genoese began hiking interest rates, sometimes exceeding 43% by the 1600s. Spain's default on its debts in 1557 was a significant blow to the Genoese bankers, who heavily invested in Spanish debt. This default initiated a domino effect of financial distress among these banking institutions, leading to a widespread European credit crisis. The resulting economic downturn wasn't confined to Spain and Genoa; it impacted trade and commerce across Europe.

For the average European, life deteriorated. The influx of silver bullion led to inflation, making imports affordable but exports pricier, causing trade imbalances. Spain's economy leaned heavily on its colonies for wealth and on foreign nations for imports. This caused a neglect of domestic industries. An over-dependence on colonial resources, along with war expenditures, rendered the empire susceptible to external disruptions. With inflation on the rise, commoners struggled to meet basic needs, and rural communities faced declining earnings. Urban migration surged, leading to congested cities, job scarcity, and rising food prices. Cities became centers of discontent, witnessing sporadic revolts and rebellions. 

Spain's vast colonial empire became a bone of contention among other European powers. Colonial wars ensued, further depleting the empire's resources. By the end of the 17th century, the empire, despite its enormous territories, showed signs of overstretch and financial stress. Adding to these issues was the "Little Ice Age" of the 1600s. Europe faced colder temperatures, leading to famines which further strained the already volatile socio-economic structures, with Spain, France, and Germany suffering considerably.

In conclusion, the 17th century presented Spain with a convergence of external and internal pressures. Economic challenges like the Price Revolution, environmental factors like climate change, and the difficulties of managing a global empire intensified internal dynamics, such as elite overproduction. Collectively, these pressures shaped Spain's trajectory for centuries.

I've long been fascinated by this historical period, and I've recently delved into collecting coins from that era. My latest acquisition is a beautiful 8 maravedis coin minted during the reign of Philip III of Spain. Although Philip III inherited an overextended and financially strained empire, he unfortunately took a hands-off approach to governance. This lack of active leadership only deepened Spain's crisis during his reign. On the bright side, his reign produced an abundance of coins, making it a treasure trove for collectors like us!


Spain 8 Maravedis 


Obverse: PHILIPPVS · III · D · G

Reverse: HISPANIARVM · REX 1599

A map of the Hapsburg Empire or Empire of Charles V. Spain and the New World colonies would often subsidize the remainder of the territories. 

PPT - 1517-1648 A CENTURY OF CRISIS PowerPoint Presentation - ID:185894

Armor of Philip III of Spain. Probably the most terrifying armor I've ever seen. 

Gangsta indeed : Armourpics


Elliott, J. H. (1961). Imperial Spain: 1469-1716. 
Turchin, P. (2006). War and Peace and War: The Life Cycles of Imperial Nations. 

Edited by Magnus Maximus
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1 hour ago, Theodosius said:

Nice coin and write up!

Is that an earthen patina on that coin? Does that mean it was buried at some point in the past? 

A very interesting and complex period of history.


Hi Theodosius,

Yes, I think this is a standard Spanish earthen patina. You often see them on LRB's. 

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@Magnus Maximus That's an interesting coin, and an interesting text. Here's some of the silver, from the New World, which caused the inflation in Europe. This is my oldest Spanish colonial coin.


Spain. Philip II. Silver 8 Reales "Piece Of Eight". Minted 1589 AD To 1591 AD. Potosi Mint (In What Is Now Bolivia). Assayer RL. Diameter 37.7 mm. Weight 27.20 grams. Paoletti 97. Sedwick P13. KM 5.1.

Edited by sand
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Most interesting writeup, and nice coin.

The same year (1599), somewhere else in Europe 


FRANCE - DOMBES, Henri II de Montpensier (1592-1608), Douzain - 1599 - Atelier de Trévoux
+ HENRIC . P . DOMBAR . D . MONTISP . M Ecu de Bourbon couronné, cantonné de deux H
+ DNS . ADIVT : ET . REDEM . MEVS . 1599 Croix échancrée cantonnée de couronnes
2.35 gr
Ref : Divo Dombes # 103, Boudeau # 1070, Mantellier -


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Fun write up and very cool coin!

Here's my Spanish pirate booty:


8 Maravedies 1623 Spain madrid mint. Copper. Obverse :Castle within circle, MD (vertical) at left VIII at right; "PHILIPPVS·IIII·D·G·. Reverse : Lion within circle;"HISPANIAR·REX·"

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Great post.  There's lots of interesting countermarks from this era as well - this one managed to keep both dates, the host's and the countermark's: 


Spain  Æ 8 Maravedis Philip IV 1623 (countermarked 1641) Madrid Mint Lion rampant left, 1623 / Castle in shield Countermark: VIII MDin 11 mm circle / Crown 1641 • in 11 mm circle. (6.58 grams / 19 mm) eBay Feb. 2020       Lot @ $1.66

Countermark Notes:  "Note: On February 11th 1641  King Philip IV ordered countermark(ing) hammered billon 4 maravedis...These were the 8 maravedis of Philip III and IV...to finance Thirty Years' War.  The marks are an VIII and the date 1641 or 1642 under a crown on the other side." Numista


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