Annual EBHS Conference, 39th Annual Economic and Business History Society Conference

Font Size: 
Soaking into sand: some features about the Portuguese expenses at the dawn of the Modern Ages
Rodrigo Costa Dominguez

Last modified: 2014-03-10


Expenditure, the starting point of medieval finances, should be considered, first of all, according to leading scholars of Fiscal History, from what would then be the primary obligations or the State's guidelines: ensuring obedience, obtaining to this same State the monopoly of force in a given society, neutralizing any focus of resistance and adopting what Max Weber called "legitimate violence"; supervision and organization of their economic dynamics, movement of goods and services, and the establishment of legal and material infrastucture that could properly sustain the production and trade; and finally, play the central role of mediator in the cultural and spiritual life of his subjects, overseeing and directing the best and most convenient way, their ideas and intellectual movements.

Following this guiding thread and taking the path of ordinary expense in the mid-fifteenth and sixteenth century Portugal, we can observe that, more generally, it was covered by the regular revenues. nevertheless, in troubled times, the increase of military expending could drive the State into very serious dire straits, combined with the soaring costs of political support.

In this essay, we propose an analysis of both ordinary and extraordinary expense's numbers, based on some data collected from the local and central Portuguese financial officers, to test two hypothesis, through these sources: firstly, considering what we call the State's "normal costs", that is, wages, maintenance and endowments, those could be managed in peaceful periods, but never during recovering times from constant military activity, in which it was necessary to repay services using extraordinary resources that, at the outset, in Portugal's case, were supposed to be collected and used for clear and specific purpose: king's and prince's weddings, embassies and conflicts; secondly, if the African and Overseas' revenues could be the 'replacement' for the extraordinary collections, providing the necessary balance, once lost, to the Portuguese finances at the dawn of the modern times.