Estimating the exposure to seismic hazard of large urban populations in late medieval Europe

One of the most intriguing goals addressed by the ArMedEa project is to better understand how seismic risk was spread across medieval Europe.


In order to do that, the first step of our study has measured to what extent large medieval cities with a population higher than 10k inhabitants (73 in total at the beginning of the 14th century: source Jotischky, Hull 2005, p. 73) were exposed to seismic hazard.

To do that, we simply processed the distribution of these urban centres against a hazard map released by the SHARE project. The result we obtained is remarkable.


They underline that if you were a citizen of a large city in the late Middle Ages, the area to avoid -seismically speaking- was no doubt Italy! Out of the 20 most seismically hazardous cities in late medieval Europe, only one was outside Italy. This was Lisbon, which occupies only the 19th position in this particular table. From the top, we estimated that the most seismically dangerous large city in Europe was Forlì, followed by Messina (2nd) and Parma (3rd). Within the first twenty positions, are Modena (4th), Bologna (5th), Catania (6th), Orvieto (7th), Florence (8th), Siena (9th), Pisa (10th), Lucca (11th), Brescia (12th), Naples (13th), Palermo (14th), Rome (15th), Viterbo (16th), Verona (18th) and Mantua (20th).  Outside Italy, only Granada (21st), Murcia (23rd), Strasbourg (24th), Liege (25th) and Almeria (28th) share more or less the same seismic hazard with the ‘less dangerous’ large medieval cities in Italy, which are Piacenza (24th), Genoa (25th), Padua (26th), Pavia (27th), Venice (29th) and Milan (30th).

On the other hand, the safest regions for large urban populations from a seismic perspective were England, France and Germany. Hamburg is at the bottom of this table (73rd), proceeded by Braunschweig (72nd), Magdeburg (70th), Norwich (69th), London (68th), Paris (67th) and York (66th).  Toledo (71st) was the least seismically hazardous large city in late medieval Spain.

In the near future, we will try to calculate the seismic risk for the urban population in medieval Europe introducing exact population values for each city. Then, we will attempt to evaluate how this picture can help us to better understand the risk-sensitive tactics adopted by late Medieval society in Europe.

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