Volume 7, Issue 2, Fall 2018
Giovanni Battista Riccioli on the World Population
The origins of demography as a scientific discipline are usually seen as intimately connected to the organisational and economic needs of the early modern state. This paper, by contrast, presents an early demographic enterprise that falls outside this framework. The calculations performed by the Italian Jesuit Giovanni Battista Riccioli in an appendix to his Geographia et hydrographia reformata (“Geography and hydrography brought up to date,” 1661) are the first systematic attempt presently known to arrive at an estimate of the entire world population. Yet they appear to have no political purpose and rather belong to a learned, bookish tradition of demographical thinking that may be termed “humanist”. The article starts from a summary of Riccioli’s life, of the book wherein his demographic exercise is contained and of this exercise itself. Thereafter, Riccioli’s motives, sources, methodology and results are discussed. By way of conclusion, some preliminary reflections on the place of Riccioli and the humanist tradition in the early modern history of demography as a whole are offered. Two appendices present a translation of the Coniectura and tabulate its literary sources in order to provide some possible starting points for a study of the aforementioned tradition.