The Sick and The Dead: Medieval Concepts of Illness and Spinal Disability

christina lee talk

There is an often erroneous idea that past societies were a) very sick, and b) didn’t care about the sick. This as I want to show is not the case. I will show examples of illness, but I also want to show that ideas of what is sick and what needs healing are not the same as our own.

Medical Lore in the Bestiaries

9th century image from the Physiologus

Some time in the first part of the Christian era, perhaps as early as the second century, there emerged a curious collection of zoological fables and religious moralizations called Physiologus.

Top 10 Medical Advances from the Middle Ages

Dissection of a cadaver, 15th century painting

Medieval medicine has often been portrayed as a time when physicians were ignorant and health care remained the stuff of superstitions and quackery. However, a closer look reveals that were many ways in which medical knowledge and care improved during the Middle Ages. Here are our top ten medical advances

The medical licensing examination and the world of the physician officers in Korea’s Joseon Dynasty

Map of Gongju area, part of Korea during the Joseon dynasty

This article aims to describe the world of physician officers during the Joseon Dynasty.

Skriðuklaustur monastery: Medical Centre of Medieval East Iceland?

Excavation site of Skiðuklaustur in Iceland from the fifteenth century.  Photo by Christian Bickel / Wikimedia Commons

Skriðuklaustur monastery was the youngest of nine cloisters operated in Iceland during the Catholic period of the Middle Ages.

The first case of pagophagia: the Byzantine Emperor Theophilus

Emperor Theophilus, in the Chronicle of John Skylitzes

This paper describes a unique case of snow consumption by the Byzantine Emperor Theophilus (829-842 AD), who according to the narrations of the historians and chroniclers of those times was an ice eater, developing a pathologic craving for iced water and snow.

The Mad Norse King

King Sigurðr depicted by Gerhard Munthe (1849–1929)

What happens when the mental health of a medieval King of Norway declines and falls into madness? The story of Sigurðr the Crusader, who reigned for over 25 years, reveals a fascinating account of mental illness from the 12th century.

Expert examinations of wounds in the criminal court or justice in Cocentaina (Kingdom of Valencia) during the Late Middle Ages

Medicine and law in the Middle Ages

Among the activities of doctors in the courts, one in particular stood out: the examination of wounds.

Nursing and Caring: An Historical Overview from Ancient Greek Tradition to Modern Times

Nurse and patient - from a lithograph by Noël Dorville, c. 1901.

Just like modern medicine, nursing also uses the Hippocratic Medical heritage as its base and therefore Hippocrates could be seen as a ‘ shared forefather’ for health care professionals.

Manifestations of psychiatric illness in texts from the medieval and Viking era

King Harald Fairhair depicted in the 14th century Icelandic manuscript Flateyjarbók,

The medicine of medieval Europe was influenced above all by the Hippocratic and Galenic legacies, conveyed through the medical School of Salerno, albeit also to an extent embedded in demonological and supernatural beliefs and folklore customs.

Dental Health in Viking Age Icelanders

Photo by Allan Foster / Flickr

The purpose of the study was to evaluate dental health in Iceland 1000 years ago.

Marking the Face, Curing the Soul? Reading the Disfigurement of Women in the Later Middle Ages


This specific example, and a survey of later medieval texts suggests that the period between 1150 and 1500 was one of increasing attention to the facial features of both men and women within and outside clerical circles, driven partly by increased exposure of western Europeans to peoples of different physical appearance, and partly by the rediscovery of the ancient pseudo-science of physiognomy, which claimed to read character traits from facial features.

Performative Rituals for Conception and Childbirth in England, 900–1500

British Library - Royal 2 B VII  f. 22v

This study proposes that performative rituals—that is, verbal and physical acts that reiterate prior uses—enabled medieval women and men to negotiate the dangers and difficulties of conception and childbirth.

Demon Possession in Anglo‐Saxon and Early Modern England: Continuity and Evolution in Social Context

A miniature in the British Library Yates Thomson MS 26, with Saint Cuthbert's hand healing a paralytic

Sometime between around 687 and 700, a distraught father brought his raving son, in a wagon, to the island of Lindisfarne, where the holy relics of Saint Cuthbert were kept.

Investigating a Murder: The Case of the Justinianic Plague in Scythia Minor

medieval skull - photo by Todd Huffman / Flickr

The study beforehand applies a logical scheme of analysis over a possible presence of the Justinianic plague in the province of Scythia Minor.

Management of penile tumours during the Byzantine period

Paul of Aegina, as pictured in a 16th-century woodcut.

In the Byzantine period, surgery appeared to have been highly developed, as one may conclude from the surgical material included mainly in the works of Oribasius of Pergamus and Paul of Aegina.

Menstruation: curse or blessing?

Zodiac sign of Virgo in a 15th century manuscript - Photo by e-Codices / Flickr

Menstruation in our lifetime has been commonly called ‘The Curse’. Our sisters in the 16th century, however, welcomed this cleansing as a fertility sign from God, through the moon that determined the tides of all that flowed on the earth.

Medieval Studies and STEM

Medieval Studies and STEM

Here are 15 ways that medieval studies and STEM are working together.

The Achievements of Albucasis in the Field of Oral Surgery

Medieval Islamic dentistry

In this research, we are going to study the Historical period where Albucasis lived, and the famous physicians there. Then we have to study the most important achievements of Albucasis in oral surgery

The Strange Mystery Of The King’s Head: Henry IV of France (1553-1610)

Henry IV head

This paper reexamines the claims which were made in both the documentary and a subsequent book on the subject and, with respect, challenges the conclusions made by the investigators.

The Medieval Art of Medicine: A Poem

medieval physician

What was it like to be a physician in the Middle Ages? A poem by a 14th-century physician sheds a little light on the challenges of practicing medicine in his own time.

Single Genetic change created the medieval plague, researchers find

Illustration of the Black Death from the Toggenburg Bible (1411)

Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that caused Justinian’s Plague and the Black Death, was once only able to cause a mild gastrointestinal infection. However, researchers have found that a single genetic change to bacteria turned into one of the deadliest diseases in human history.

Caterina Sforza’s Experiments with Alchemy

Caterina Sforza

She collected over four hundred alchemical, medicinal, and cosmetic recipes, and corresponded with other alchemical adepts about materials and laboratory techniques.

Dyes, Diets and Deodorants: Venetian Beauty Secrets Revealed

Paris Bordon, Venetian Women at their Toilet, about 1545. These 2 women fit the blonde, pale, dedicated featured and small chested look prized by Venetians at the end of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance.

If you think it’s hard to keep up a beauty regime now, wait until you see what lengths the Venetians went to in order to be beautiful!

Yersinia pestis and the Plague of Justinian 541–543 AD: a genomic analysis

Plague of Justinian

Between 541 and 543 AD, the Plague of Justinian, traditionally regarded as the first of three human plague pandemics, spread from either central Asia or Africa across the Mediterranean basin into Europe, killing an estimated 100 million people according to the contemporary scholar Procopius

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