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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Floods of the Upper Danube River and Its Tributaries and Their Impact on Urban Economies (c. 1350-1600): The Examples of the Towns of Krems/Stein and Wels (Austria)

Christian Rohr

Environment and History 19 (2013): 133-148. doi: 10.3197/096734013X13642082568534

This paper examines the impact of disastrous and 'ordinary' floods on human societies in what is now Austria. The focus is on urban areas and their neighbourhoods. Examining institutional sources such as accounts of the bridge masters, charters, statutes and official petitions, it can be shown that city communities were well acquainted with this permanent risk: in fact, an office was established for the restoration of bridges and the maintenance of water defences and large depots for timber and water pipes ensured that the reconstruction of bridges and the system of water supply could start immediately after the floods had subsided. Carpenters and similar groups gained 10 to 20 per cent of their income from the repair of bridges and other flood damage. The construction of houses in endangered zones was adapted in order to survive the worst case experiences. Thus, we may describe those communities living along the central European rivers as 'cultures of flood management'. This special knowledge vanished, however, from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, when river regulations gave the people a false feeling of security.

KEYWORDS: Austria, Danube River, flood management, flood frequency, bridges, municipal accounts, urban economy, Late Middle Ages, Early Modern Times

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