Culling the Herds? Regional Divergences in Rinderpest Mortality in Flanders and South Holland, 1769-1785


  • Filip Van Roosbroeck University of Antwerp
  • Adam Sundberg Creighton University in Omaha, USA



rinderpest, eighteenth century, regional economy, disaster policy


The cattle disease rinderpest devastated Europe throughout the eighteenth century. The practice of preventative slaughter, or stamping out, has been seen as the most effective method of containing the disease. Historians frame this strategy as a measure of the effectiveness of centralized bureaucracy in handling epidemic outbreaks. The Austrian Netherlands, which enacted a stamping out policy during the rinderpest epidemic of 1769-1785, is often cast opposite the decentralized Dutch Republic, which did not. That mortality was more severe in Holland than in Flanders is interpreted as a consequence of this difference. This article compares the disease management of Flanders and South Holland as well as the differential mortality of cattle in the initial years of the outbreak. We argue that stamping out should not be used as the standard for evaluating effective management. Both South Holland and Flanders relied on a high degree of state intervention. No strategies were universally effective. Explanations must be sought in regional socio-ecological structures. Rather than a consequence of state action or inaction, rinderpest mortality responded to the movement of cattle for pasturing and trade, structural differences in land use, and the resultant divergences in agricultural practices and herd management. Rather than state intervention, extensive commercial cattleholding explains the highly variable mortality.


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Author Biographies

Filip Van Roosbroeck, University of Antwerp

Filip Van Roosbroeck defended his Ph. D. thesis at the University of Antwerp in 2016, which was funded by the FWO - Research Foundation Flanders.
Currently, he is working as a postdoc at the Huygens ING on a project regarding water infrastructure and consumption in early modern Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

Adam Sundberg, Creighton University in Omaha, USA

Adam Sundberg (1984) is an assistant professor of history and digital humanities at Creighton University in Omaha, USA. His research focuses on natural disasters in the early modern Netherlands and historical GIS. He is currently working on an environmental history of disaster at the closing of the Dutch Golden Age. 




How to Cite

Van Roosbroeck, F., & Sundberg, A. (2018). Culling the Herds? Regional Divergences in Rinderpest Mortality in Flanders and South Holland, 1769-1785. TSEG - The Low Countries Journal of Social and Economic History, 14(3), 31–55.



Research Article