Homicide in Amsterdam, 1667-1815: Data from Postmortem Examinations

Pieter Spierenburg
March 2010 version

Pieter Spierenburg is the author of a number of studies of homicide, criminal justice, and punishment in early modern Europe. Several of his essays analyze the data he gathered from coroner's inquests on homicides in Amsterdam. Spierenburg argues, in his subtle revision and extension of the work of Norbert Elias, that the long-term decline in homicide in Amsterdam from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries was the result of a "civilizing process." That process involved "the gradual monopolization of violence by state organizations" and "a socio-psychological process leading to an inner pacification of aggressive urges." "Impulsive violence," such as tavern brawls, "predominated until the middle of the eighteenth century," but they became "less prominent" as the criminal justice system became more effective and as churches and other organizations did a better job of teaching forbearance and self-discipline. (Spierenburg 1994: 702, 712)

The data have been used in the following studies

Spierenburg, Pieter (1994) "Faces of Violence: Homicide Trends and Cultural Meanings. Amsterdam, 1431-1816." Journal of Social History 27: no. 4: 701-16.

Spierenburg, Pieter (1996) "Long-Term Trends in Homicide: Theoretical Reflections and Dutch Evidence, Fifteenth to Twentieth Centuries," in: Eric A. Johnson and Eric H. Monkkonen, eds., The Civilization of Crime: Violence in Town and Country since the Middle Ages. Urbana: University of Illinois Press: 63-105.

Spierenburg, Pieter (1998) "Knife Fighting and Popular Codes of Honor in Early Modern Amsterdam," in Pieter Spierenburg, ed. (1998) Men and Violence: Gender, Honor and Rituals in Modern Europe and America. Columbus: Ohio State University Press: 103-27.

Spierenburg, Pieter (2001) "Violence and the Civilizing Process: Does it Work?" Crime, Histoire & Sociétés/ Crime, History & Societies 5: no. 2: 87-105.

Spierenburg, Pieter (2008) A History of Murder: Personal Violence in Europe from the Middle Ages to the Present. Cambridge (Polity).

To calculate the homicide rate in Amsterdam, Spierenburg originally (1994, 1996) based himself on the older population estimates by Simon Hart. For Spierenburg 2008 (p. 106) he re-calculated the homicide rates (leading to a slight revision in some periods) based on newer estimates. In that publication, Spierenburg also did away with the distinction between a certain and a possible homicide level by averaging the difference. The most recent population estimates are in:

Nusteling, Hubert (1997) "The population of Amsterdam in the golden age," in Peter van Kessel and Elisja Schulte, eds., Amsterdam, Rome: Two Growing Cities in Seventeeth-century Europe. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press: 71-84.

For the seven periods in his study, Spierenburg estimates an average population of

1667-1679 200,000
1693-1709 200,000
1710-1726 200,000
1752-1767 205,000
1768-1783 220,000
1784-1799 220,000
1800-1816 205,000

Spierenburg believes that the low homicide rate for 1667-79 may reflect "a measure of unreporting" in the original records, but in later years Amsterdam's coroners appear to have kept a fairly complete record of the violent and suspicious deaths that came to their attention.

The codebooks and Spierenburg's analysis of the data are currently available in WORD. The data are described in the codebook (in Dutch and in English) and in the studies from which the data are drawn. The data are currently available in an comma-separated variable file (.csv) and in a text file (.txt). The text file contains the names of victims; the spreadsheet file does not. The data are in the form that Spierenburg gathered, entered, and analyzed them.

Original Data and Analysis

Codebook

Spreadsheet (October 2003 version)


[csv] - Some links on this page are to .csv files requiring the use of a database program. If you need these files in a more accessible format, please contact cjrc@osu.edu.

[doc] - Some links on this page are to Microsoft .doc files requiring the use of Microsoft Word. If you need these files in a more accessible format, please contact cjrc@osu.edu.

[sav] - Some links on this page are to .sav files requiring the use of a database program. If you need these files in a more accessible format, please contact cjrc@osu.edu.

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