In 1815 Germany was an agricultural society. The population of the German states, excluding that part of Austria which belonged to the German Confederation, amounted to approximately 23 million, of whom 10.5 million lived in Prussia. Of this total population three-quarters lived in rural areas. Apart from the Rhineland provinces and south-western Germany, where much of the land was owned by small farmers, most of the agricultural land was the property of the aristocracy, a class which included a large number of impoverished petty aristocrats, whose estates were still organised on traditional semi-feudal lines. The Napoleonic wars resulted in a serious reduction of the number of farm animals. The crop failure of 1816 caused the most serious famine for almost half a century, a situation which was made even more acute by the outbreak of an epidemic which decimated the seriously inadequate stock of cattle. Widespread suffering and misery among the common people were coupled with a political reaction which threatened to destroy the all too modest advances which had been made since 1806 towards the creation of a less autocratic and hidebound society. Yet although Germany in 1815 seemed poor, backward and reactionary, significant changes had been made, particularly after the crushing defeat of Prussia by the French in 1806, which were to have a profound effect in the years to come by providing the basis for modernisation and economic growth. The most important of these measures was the Prussian edict of 14 September 1811 which revised the relationship between landlord and peasant and which called for the liberation of the serfs.