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Contextualizing Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People with Bioarchaeological Data – Reassessing Anglo-Saxon Culture, Health, and Disease

Contextualizing Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People with Bioarchaeological Data – Reassessing Anglo-Saxon Culture, Health, and Disease

By Joseph Z. Boyer

The School of Historical Studies Postgraduate Forum E-Journal Edition, Vol. 7 (2009)

Abstract: Both the limitations of paleopathological data and the lack of textual remains from early Anglo-Saxon Britain create difficulties when trying to interpret culture, disease, and health. Of the few complete texts from this period, the monk Bede—having written several treatises and chronicles that survived in various incarnations into the modern period—provides the most complete textual overview of this time. His works, however, possess several overlying biases that make careful and accurate analysis of his depictions of Anglo-Saxon life difficult without other complimentary evidentiary support. Bede’s main focus is on ecclesiastical phenomenon; he writes long passages devoted to miracles, conversions, the founding of churches, and hagiographic tales with only passing mentions of diet, disease, and medico-cultural activities. By contextualizing Bede’s Historia with concurrent bioarchaeological and paleopathological evidence, however, a more complete picture of typical mid-5th to mid-6th century Anglo-Saxon health and disease can be established.

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