The Florentine Catasto of 1427

The Catasto is a tax assessment of the inhabitants of Florence and its surrounding territories between 1427 and 1429. In the Catasto, officials listed the wealth, debts, and assets of households in the Republic of Florence. Unlike many premodern tax assessments - which only taxed the rich - the Catasto aimed to include all households within the Republic. To see if indeed all or most inhabitants of Florence are included, we can compare the Catasto with estimates of historical population figures from the Baghad to London dataset. The comparison shows that the Catasto likely underreports the inhabitants of the city of Florence, but the difference is small compared to most other premodern tax assessments – and keeping in mind that the 55k is an estimate.

The Catasto has often been used by historians to examine the level of inequality in premodern societies. We can partially replicate these results by looking at the distribution of wealth, as measured by the total value of assets. These are the top-10 most wealthy households of Florence, together with the occupation of the head of the household:

Also households living in villages and towns outside the city of Florence were assessed, since they were obliged to pay tax as well. On average households in the city were more wealthy:

It seems that the high average wealth of Florentine households was caused by the presence of a group of affluent people whose assets exceeded 5,000 florins. Such wealthy households were rarely found outside the city:

Within the Republic, the share of extremely poor people - those with no assets to report at all - was actually comparable between the cities and villages and the countryside:

The Catasto also reports the age of individuals in each household. Ages are interesting because they inform historians about numeracy levels. In particular, innumeracy can be observed by ‘age heaping’: the habit of innumerate people to round their age to the nearest 5 or 10 because they were unable to calculate the interval between the present year and their birthyear. Comparing both lines suggests that innumeracy was higher on the countryside. Indeed, the Whipple’s index, a measure to compare levels of age heaping, of the Contado exceeds that of the city (308 vs. 220).

Last, the Catasto allows to examine the relation between household size and wealth. In the city of Florence this relation was quite positive:

How can this correlation be explained? Were these households large because they could afford it, or were poor households also large because many family members were living under one roof? By returning to occupations as socio-economic indicator it seems that the former explanation is more plausible (adapt the ?wealth filter in the query to compare with poorer households).

A geographic visualization of all locations within the Catasto dataset

A network visualization of an example of all data related to a single household within the Catasto dataset

Catasto data derived from: David Herlihy and Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Tuscans and their Families: A Study of the Florentine Catasto of 1427 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985).