Aristocrats and Traders:
Sevillian Society in the Sixteenth Century
The Demographic Revolution of Seville
 The discovery of America and the establishment of the Casa de Contratación in Seville in 1503 converted this Andalusian port town into a thriving international metropolis. "Was not Seville and all Andalusia the furthest point and the end of all land, and now it is the middle to which come the best and most esteemed of the Old World... to be carried to the New." (1) The fabulous riches that arrived from America attracted to its banks individuals from all over Spain and the rest of Europe as well. Within a period of roughly fifty years its population doubled and it became the largest city in Spain. Seville's rapid demographic growth captivated the attention of contemporaries. As early as the 1550's the prominent Sevillian physician Dr. Franco described the town as a "mare magnum." (2) By the end of the century Lope de Vega and other Golden Age writers generally referred to the city as a "new Babylonia." In fact,  this term "Babylonia" eventually found its way into thieves' jargon (germanía) of the period as a synonym for Seville. (3)
While contemporary observers were duly impressed with the numerical superiority of Seville as a sign of its new prosperity, most of them were either reluctant or unable to give any actual figures. None of Seville's sixteenth-century historians ventured any estimates of the total population of their town, although Alonso de Morgado, a long-time resident of the Triana quarter, felt well enough informed about that district to state that it contained around 4,000 householders in 1587. Seventeenth-century accounts present exaggerated numbers that fluctuate from source to source. An example is the figure of 230,000 inhabitants for Seville as claimed by Rodrigo Caro in 1634. (4)
Unlike the chroniclers, modern historians have long been intrigued by the rise of Sevillian population in the sixteenth century and have tried to measure and chart its course. (5) This has been a difficult and unrewarding task for the available sources are few and their reliability is dubious. Moreover, none of the existing documents contain figures for the total number of inhabitants, but rather for the vecinos pecheros (taxpaying householders) . This problem is almost insurmountable since there is really no way to determine  the exact numerical relationship between vecinos and inhabitants. Several multipliers have been used, but none of them can ever be completely satisfactory. Spanish historians have generally adopted the coefficient five, but many French scholars like Fernand Braudel feel that 4.5 is more realistic. (6)
Birth and mortality rates are among the most important factors in determining the multiplier. Although it is generally assumed that many children were born to the individual family in the sixteenth century, infant mortality took a heavy toll. Therefore the average family was really not larger than it is today, that is, it consisted of four members, but the total number of children at any given time must have been more than now. (7) Since Seville contained so many wealthy merchant families in addition to a sizable resident nobility, the number of individuals in each household was probably greater than in most Spanish cities. Servants and slaves were especially numerous in Seville, and slaves were widely distributed among all classes of the population, including artisans. All of this leads us to adopt five as the most convenient multiplier for Seville. This does not include, however, the large transient population -- foreigners, seamen, beggars, and Moriscos -- all of whom abounded in Seville, or the nobility and the clergy who were exempt from paying taxes. Collective units such as hospitals and  jails are also omitted from this count. (8) Unfortunately, the exact numbers of these groups can never be determined, and all figures for them are largely guesswork.
While all of our sources estimate population in terms of vecinos, the ecclesiastical censuses also use the classification personas de confesión y comunión. The meaning of this term is debatable. Ruiz Almansa interprets it as including parishioners fifteen years or older, but Domínguez Ortiz claims that it was general practice in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to begin confession at from twelve to fourteen years of age and to take communion as early as age seven. In any event young children (who as stated before must have been more numerous than today) would have been excluded from this count. Domínguez Ortiz feels that the figures for personas de confesión y comunión should be increased from 20 to 25 per cent to include them. (9) Again much of the floating population would not be counted in any ecclesiastical census since they were not attached to any parish and many probably did not attend church regularly.
There are three ecclesiastical censuses for Seville in the sixteenth
century, dated 1561, 1565, and 1588, respectively. Two of these vecindarios,
those of 1561 and 1588, contain figures for the number of vecinos and
in  each Sevillian parish, while the census of 1588 also includes
statistics for personas de confesión.
(10) It is not clear whether or not the secular clergy were included
in the census of 1588; an attempt was apparently made to list them in 1561,
but it is not complete. (11) As for the
census of 1565, although the parish lists are no longer in existence, the
totals for the various categories still remain. (12)
Other material relating to Sevillian demography in the sixteenth century
includes figures drawn from the fiscal tallies of 1530 and 1591-1594 (totals
only) that were published by Tomás González in his Censo
de población de las provincias y partidas de la Corona de Castilla
in 1829. In addition to these sources there has now emerged from the Sevillian
Archives another fiscal census compiled in 1534.
(13) The importance  of this padrón cannot
be measured. With its parish lists intact, it provides the additional statistical
information that enables us to study Sevillian population before the great
rise in the second half of the sixteenth century.
|Santa Ana (Triana)||636||181|
|Barrio de la Mar||609||129|
|Barrio de Génova||85||14|
|Barrio de Francos||219||38|
|Barrio de Castellanos||253||45|
|Santa María Magdalena||345||255|
|Santa María la Blanca||90||50|
|San Bartolomé el nuevo||26||6|
|San Bartolomé el viejo||87||17|
| San Salvador||688||190|
Although this census claims to represent all territory within the city limits, it covers in fact only areas within the city walls. The extramural districts of San Bernardo and La Calzada (later called San Roque) , both of which belonged to the parish of Santa María, were apparently omitted. Nor is there any indication that the huerta region outside the Marcarena Gate in San Gil or the barrio of Los Humeros near the Royal Gate were included in the count. All of these outlying districts were sparsely populated at the time, but they were precisely the areas, especially San Bernardo and San Roque, that felt the demographic upsurge so sharply in the following decades. (15)
Even without San Bernardo and San Roque the parish of Santa María with its 1,193 vecinos emerges as the most populated Sevillian district in 1534. Nothing else could compare with it, and this is not difficult to understand since it had been for centuries the center of Sevillian business life. The best shops and the richest merchants were located here. Moreover, it was the spiritual center of the city, containing the Cathedral and the palace of the Archbishop. The municipal government also maintained its headquarters here, originally in rented space owned by the Cathedral chapter and then in a magnificent city hall (completed in 1564) on the Plaza de San Francisco.
 The parish of San Salvador (688 vecinos) adjoining Santa María occupies the second position. This district grew up around the large church of San Salvador that served as the city cathedral until the end of the fifteenth century. It was also a prestigious residential and business quarter. In third place stands the parish of Santa Ana in Triana with 636 vecinos. In the sixteenth century Triana was a manufacturing area, containing the famous soap and ceramic industries, and was the favorite quarter of the seafaring population. (16) Most of the inhabitants of Triana were in some way connected with the carrera de Indias and for that reason it tended to be a highly transient district and one that grew enormously in the second half of the century. Together the three parishes of Santa Ana, San Salvador, and Santa María accounted for 38 per cent of the city's householders.
Outside of these three central parishes the largest accumulations of vecinos could be found in Omnium Sanctorum (385 vecinos), Santa María Magdalena (345) , San Vicente (341), and San Lorenzo (316) . Omnium Sanctorum, San Vicente, and San Lorenzo were large peripheral parishes whose limits extended outward toward the northern walls of the city. They were poor districts populated by unskilled workers and impoverished artisans. Significantly, Omnium Sanctorum was the center of social protest and rebellion in both the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. (17) Conditions in San Vicente were somewhat better  than in the other two parishes because of its numerous wealthy noblemen. Santa María Magdalena, on the other hand, had a more prosperous population of merchants and artisans.
None of the rest of the parishes included in the census of 1534, with the exception of Santa Catalina, had more than 200 vecinos. Among the smallest parishes were those that had formerly made up the ancient judería (Jewish quarter) -- San Bartolomé el viejo (187 vecinos), San Bartolomé el nuevo (26) , Santa María la Blanca (90), and Santa Cruz (123) . In the sixteenth century a few families of converso origin (Jewish converts and their descendants) still lived in these districts, especially Santa Cruz, but a far greater number had moved to other areas of the city like the parishes of Santa María and San Salvador. Fear of the Inquisition forced the conversos to disguise their origin, and one of the best ways to accomplish this was to change their residence.
The census of 1534 gives a total of 6,568 vecinos and 2,365 widows. These figures approximate those published by González for the year 1530: 6,634 vecinos and 2,229 widows. Emigration to the New World and high mortality rates for those engaged in the carrera de Indias account for the small number of vecinos and the corresponding abundance of widows. Epidemic disease, which was especially virulent during the first two decades of the century, also took a heavy toll in lives. In the plague of 1507, for example, more than 1,500 persons were buried in the church of La Magdalena during the third week of May alone, and this sad spectacle was repeated in many parishes. The town was deserted; life came to a halt; and according to an eyewitness  grass grew in the usually crowded and bustling plazas of San Francisco and San Salvador. In 1524 the city was struck by another pestilence that contemporaries believed was the most widespread contagion they had ever seen. (18)
Severe epidemics and emigration to the Indies, with the consequent loss of life involved in that enterprise, were decisive in keeping Sevillian population small in the first quarter of the sixteenth century. Nevertheless, González' figure of 45,000 inhabitants for Seville in 1530 is much too low, for it does not take account of the transient population, clergy, or collective entities. On the other hand, Domínguez Ortiz' estimate of 60,000 people for the same date without counting the transients seems too high. (19) My study of the census of 1534 leads me to conclude that in that year Seville must have had around 55,000 inhabitants, including the floating population, clergy, and collective units. This conclusion seems to be in accord with the existing historical factors.
The great rise in Sevillian population began in the 1540's and reached
its height in the 1580's. These years of dramatic growth were followed
by a decade of relative stability and preservation of previous gains in
the 1590's until the plague of 1599-1601, after which there was a slow
but regular  decline. (20) It
is possible to establish two cycles through which Sevillian population
passed in the sixteenth century. The first takes up the initial four decades,
an era of little growth and in fact loss of population in the 1520's and
1530's. The second cycle is characterized by a rapid and steady increase
that culminates in the 1580's and then levels off in the 1590's. If we
accept the figures given in the ecclesiastical censuses of 1561, 1565,
and 1588, the fastest rate of growth occurred in the years from 1534 to
1565. In 1565 there were 21,803
vecinos (29 parishes), which means
that the number of householders had more than doubled since 1534. By 1588
their numbers had increased to 25,986 (29 parishes), a substantial advance
for a twenty-five-year period, but nothing to compare with the previous
period (Table 2) . The voluminous collection of vecindades (petitions
for denizenship) for these years in the Municipal Archives of Seville attests
to the reality of this phenomenon. The press of petitions was so great
that the city finally decided to take steps to limit them. In 1597 the
residence requirements were increased from seven to ten years and an examination
was ordered of all grants that had been conceded over the previous ten
years on the grounds that "many of them had been obtained fraudulently."
|Santa Ana (Triana)||817||1,530||3,115|
|Santa María Magdalena||604||1,552||1,360|
| Santa Catalina||370||706||843|
|Santa María la Blanca||143||154||137|
|San Juan de Arce†||-||88||-|
|Santa Ana (Triana)||704||1,585||2,411|
|Santa María Magdalena||948||190*||756|
| Omnium Sanctorum||797||480||1,276|
|Santa María la Blanca||11||17*||6*|
Despite its relatively poor showing in proportionate growth, the parish of Santa María still had the largest numben of vecinos (3,183) in 1588, followed by Santa Ana with 3,155. San Vicente had taken over the third place formerly held by Santa Ana, with San Salvador relegated to the fourth position. Omnium Sanctorum was fifth, followed in order by Santa María Magdalena, San Lorenzo, and San Gil. The small number of vecinos registered for San Bernardo and San Roque is not surprising since both of them were poor parishes full of transient and marginal people. The same is true for several other parishes such as  San Ildefonso, San Román, and Santiago, all of which had fewer vecinos, but a larger floating population. It seems therefore that by 1588 there had been a shift of population away from the central parishes and toward the peripheral ones, so that a greater proportion of Sevillians lived in those outlying areas at the end of the century than in 1534. The masses or "restless plebe" of the chroniclers had become concentrated in the northern parts of the city, whereas the wealthier classes still resided in the traditional southern portion.
Although it is not difficult to grasp the reality of a Sevillian demographic revolution in the sixteenth century, the causes for it are elusive. The usual explanation has centered around the movement of Spaniards from the central and northern parts of the country and foreigners (especially Genoese, Germans, Flemings, and Portuguese) into the city in the hope of sharing in the New World enterprise. (23) For some Seville was the beginning of a greater adventure in the Indies; for others it was an El Dorado in its own right. Cervantes expressed it best when he said that Seville was "the asylum of the poor and the refuge of the outcasts."(24) There was also a continuous stream of landless peasants from the countryside into Seville, about whom the city authorities never ceased complaining. They made up the hordes of beggars and unemployed who roamed the streets  in search of food and who were often undistinguishable from the substantial criminal elements. To these groups there must be added the Granadine Moriscos who began to enter the city after the failure of the Alpujarras Rebellion, 1568-1570, and the sizable slave population. (25)
Urban concentration was itself a factor in population growth. While overcrowding, filth, and food shortages caused high mortality rates in normal times and were catastrophic during epidemics, fertility was apparently high too. (26) The same crowded conditions of city living seemed to encourage a higher marriage frequency and an increased illegitimacy. This was especially true in a "boom town" like Seville where fortunes were made and lost with amazing rapidity and society was constantly undergoing change. The parish registers studied by Domínguez Ortiz show in effect that the birth rate went up dramatically in Seville during the second half of the sixteenth century. In the parish of Santa María (El Sagrario) the number of recorded births rose from 34 in 1534 to 540 in 1562. The highest point is reached in 1594 with 685 births, after which there is a tendency toward stabilization at 600 a year. The same trend can be observed in San Vicente where there were 125 births in 1534 as contrasted to 240 in 1570. Domínguez Ortiz calculated a "crude birth rate" of about 36 per thousand in El Sagrario and around 31 to 40 in San Vicente, which is considered high by modern standards. In all,  Seville must have had more than 25,000 vecinos by the end of the century, which represents a leveling off from the peak of near 26,000 vecinos reached in the 1580's. The total population of the city at this time was probably more than 100,000. (27)
Whether the demographic growth of Seville in the second half of the sixteenth century was due primarily to immigration or whether it owed something to a rise in fertility is a question that is difficult to answer without more quantitative data. That these two factors worked together seems quite plausible and perhaps explains more satisfactorily the high plateaus of the 1590's in face of the many and prolonged epidemic outbreaks of the previous decade. The plagues of the 1580's caused heavy death tolls both in Seville and her surrounding countryside. During the pestilence of 1581 (which actually began in 1580 and lasted on and off until 1583) the city was forced to set aside quarters in four hospitals for plague victims, but these facilities were far from sufficient. (28) In 1587 the plague returned and continued for three more consecutive years. It does not  seem that the demographic losses caused by these epidemics could have been made up by immigration alone, but it is reasonable to assume that these periods of pestilence were followed by a greater number of marriages and childbearing by survivors. (29) Therefore the demographic stability of the 1590's may have been the result of a fortuitous combination of a high birth rate and immigration. And it was not until the very end of the century that this trend was reversed. The turning point seems to have been the plague of 1599-1601, which heralded the advent of a new era in Sevillian demographic history -- a period of stagnation and decline in the seventeenth century.
1. Fray Tomás de Mercado, Summa de tratos y contratos (Seville, 1587), p. A2.
2. M. de Cervantes Saavedra, Rinconete y Cortadillo, ed. R. Rodríguez Marín (Seville, 1905), p. 68.
3. Romancero de Germanía, ed. J. Hesse (Madrid, 1967 ), p. 138; Lope de Vega Carpio, La Dorotea, ed. E. Morby (Berkeley, 1958), Act II, scene ii, p. 133; Luis Vélez de Guevara, El diablo cojuelo, ed. F. Rodríguez Marín (Madrid, 1951), p. 544.
4. Alonso de Morgado, Historia de Sevilla [Seville, 1587], reprinted by the Sociedad del Archivo Hispalense (Seville, 1887), p. 333 ; Rodrigo Caro, Antigüedades y principado de la Illustríssima ciudad de Sevilla (Seville, 5634), p. 47v.
5. See, for example, the writings of Antonio Domínguez Ortiz as cited in this chapter; also by the same author, "La población de Sevilla en la Baja Edad Media y en los tiempos modernos," Boletín de la Sociedad Geográfica Nacional, LXXVII (1941), 595-608.
6. Fernand Braudel, La Méditerrannée et le monde méditerranéen a l'époque de Philippe II (Paris, 1949), p. 348; A. Domínguez Ortiz, La sociedad española en el siglo XVII, I (Madrid, 1963), 60-61.
7. Domínguez Ortiz, La sociedad española, I, 64.
8. Until 1586 when Cardinal Rodrigo de Castro reformed their administration and reduced their number, there were one hundred hospitals in Seville. The two largest were the Hospital de la Sangre and the Hospital de San Hermenegildo (known popularly as the Hospital del Cardenal) with one hundred and eighty beds, respectively. See Morgado, Historia, pp. 356-370. For more about conditions in the Seville jail, see Chapter IV.
9. Domínguez Ortiz, La sociedad española, I, 60; J. Ruiz Almansa, "La población de España en el siglo XVI," Revista internacional de sociología, I (1943), 136.
10. AGS, Expedientes de hacienda, leg. 170, "Vecindario de Sevilla (año 1561 )," folios 507-695 (microfilm copy, courtesy of Professor Richard L. Kagan). The census of 1588 has been published by Tomás González, Censo de población de las provincias y partidas de la Corona de Castilla (Madrid, 1829), p. 334.
11. See Chapter II for a discussion of this point.
12. The figures for 1565 were originally copied by the chronicler Argote de Molina and incorporated into his "Aparato de historia de Sevilla," BNM, MS. 18291. They were published in 1882 by J. Matute y Gaviria, Noticias relativas a la historia de Sevilla que no constan en sus anales (Seville, 1886), p. 55.
13. AMS, Varios Antiguos, carpeta 125, "Padrón de los vecinos pecheros de Sevilla (año 1534)." I encountered this document which contains statistics for Seville and six neighboring towns belonging to her district in the Sevilian Municipal Archives in the summer of 1968. To my knowledge, it has never been used in any demographic study. The only printed reference to it that I have ever found is in José Gesteso y Pérez, Ensayo de un diccionario de artífices que florecieron en Sevilla desde el siglo XIII al XVIII inclusive (Seville, 1899-1908). It was apparently one of the sources that he used to compile his catalogue of Sevillian artisans, but after that it seems to have fallen into oblivion.
14. In contrast to 1534 separate lists for the various categories of inhabitants were not used in the census of 1561. All denizens of Seville -- widows, paupers, and even Moriscos and Negroes -- were included under the classification vecino. Furthermore occupations are not listed for all of the parishes in 1561.
15. See Chapter IV for a description of these two parishes
16. The occupations listed in the census of 1534 for the vecinos of Triana reflect the district's maritime and manufacturing orientation.
17. See Chapter III.
18. In 1525 the Venetian traveler Andrea Navajero noted: "Por estar Sevilla en el sitio en que está, salen de ella tantas personas para las Indias, que la ciudad se halla poco poblada y casi en poder de las mujeres" (J. García Mercadal, ed., Viajes de extranjeros por España y Portugal, I [Madrid, 1952], 851). For more about the plague, see Matute y Gaviria, Noticias, p. 54.
19. Domínguez Ortiz, La sociedad española, I, 140; González, Censo de población, p. 84.
20. For the plague of 1599-1601 and population decline in the first half of the seventeenth century, see Antonio Domínguez Ortiz, Orto y Ocaso de Sevilla (Seville, 1946), p. 42.
21. AMS, Actas capitulares, siglo XVI, cabildo 16 de julio de 1597, escribanía 1.
22. For a discussion of slaves who lived outside their masters' homes, see Chapter IV.
23. Large numbers of Portuguese entered Seville after the union of Spain and Portugal in 1580. Most were artisans or merchants, and the majority were conversos. See Domínguez Ortiz, Orto y Ocaso, pp. 44-46; also R. Pike, Enterprise and Adventure: The Genoese in Seville and the Opening of the New World (Ithaca, 1966).
24. M. de Cervantes Saavedra, El coloquio de los perros in Novelas ejemplares, ed. F. Rodríguez Marín, II ( Madrid, 1957) , 235.
25. For a discussion of the Moriscos and slaves, see Chapter IV.
26. K. Helleiner, "The Population of Europe from the Black Death to the Eve of the Vital Revolution," The Cambridge Economic History, ed. E.E. Rich and C.H. Wilson, IV (Cambridge, 1967), 78.
27. Domínguez Ortiz, Orto y Ocaso, p. 42; La sociedad española, I, 64. Domínguez Ortiz believes that if the clergy, Moriscos, and floating population are added, Sevillian population reached 100,000 at this time (La sociedad española I, 540). His conclusions are based on the ecclesiastical census of 1588, which gives a figure of 120,517 for "personas de confesión" (Domínguez Ortiz' total is 121,990, an obvious error in calculation). I feel that these groups, although numerous, were smaller than he has assumed.
28. Fernando de Torres y Portugal, Count of Villar, "Relación de sus servicios y méritos," BNM, MS. 9372-Cc-42. See also BM, MS. Add. 28.257, "Carta del Asistente Conde de Coruña al Presidente de Castilla dando cuenta de peste que sufría la ciudad," 12 April 1581.
29. See G. Utterström, "Climatic Fluctuations and Population Problems in Early Modern History," Scandinavian Economic History Review, III (1955), 36.