Beyond the Medical Text: Health and Illness in Early Medieval Italian Sources

Coin of Liutprand, King of the Lombards

The vast majority of surviving evidence for health care, medicine and attitudes to illness in early medieval northern Italy comes not from traditional medical texts, but legal, hagiographical and archaeological sources.

Human-Bovine Plagues in the Early Middle Ages

ox book of durrow

In other words, when spreading among cattle, a now-extinct morbillivirus episodically colonized and spread in human populations during the early Middle Ages.

Mystery, Secrets and Magic

Star map for May 19, 1536. Created by Hunter S. Jones

When I decided to put pen to paper for a Tudor historical fiction story, I had no idea what I wanted to write. The subject has been analyzed and romanticized for five hundred years. What could I do that would be an original slant on this iconic subject matter? After having a look around I noticed that no one appears to have the exact moment of her execution. From there, the story began to slowly develop and present itself to me.

Project to compare health of Londoners from medieval and industrial eras

Medieval London Quiz

The Museum of London will be starting a ground-breaking research project to explore the effects of industrialisation on Londoners.

Fifteen Anglo-Saxon Cures for Minor Medical Problems

Anglo Saxon Cures Lacnunga - British  Library MS Harley 585

How did people Anglo-Saxon England treat a headache or indigestion? Here are fifteen cures for minor ailments from the Lacucgna, which include what to do if your finger nail falls off, and how Jesus Christ cured Peter’s toothache.

Did Richard III keep his scoliosis a secret?

Richard III skeletal remains

No mention of Richard’s distinctive physique survives from during his lifetime, perhaps out of respect to a reigning monarch, or perhaps because he hid it so well.

Medieval Medicine and Modern Science: An Interview with Freya Harrison

Petri dish - photo by Umberto Salvagnin / Flickr

We talk about this project’s collaboration, the potential of medieval medicines, and her reaction to all the attention her research has generated.

Medieval Viagara

medieval anatomy figures

Over a thousand years before Viagra was invented, medieval men were looking for ways to treat erectile dysfunction. We take a look at the prescriptions offered in one of the most popular medical textbooks from the Middle Ages.

Medieval cesspit in Jerusalem reveals 15th century diseases

British Library Egerton 1070   f. 5   Jerusalem

Analysis of a latrine in Jerusalem that dates back over 500 years finds human parasites common in northern Europe yet very rare in Middle East at the time, suggesting long-distance trade or pilgrimage routes and shedding light on prevalent infectious diseases of the age.

Historian discovers evidence of malaria from the Early Middle Ages


In his paper, ‘Malaria and Malaria-Like Disease in the Frankish Empire, c.450-950, Timothy Newfield examines over fifty references to illnesses which appear in Merovingian and Carolingian sources

How Climate Change in Asia brought the Black Death to Europe

Several hundred years old juniper tree in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Photo: Andrea Seim (University of Gothenburg, Sweden)

A group of Norwegian and Swiss researchers have uncovered links between climatic changes in central Asia and repeated outbreaks of the Bubonic plague in Europe, starting with the Black Death in the 14th century.

An Italian cemetery may provide clues on cholera’s evolution

Field School students excavate human remains buried in the post-medieval churchyard at Badia Pozzeveri - photo courtesy Ohio State University

Burial grounds ‘a thousand-year history’ into human health

Epidemics Past and Present: What Historic Diseases Tell Us About Future Threats

Epidemics Past and Present What Historic Diseases Tell Us About Future Threats

Dr. DeWitte will discuss how bioarchaeological research on past epidemics such as the Black Death can improve our understanding of emerging diseases and human-pathogen coevolution in general, and the potential it has to provide tools for dealing with disease in living populations.

How to restore virginity – advice from Caterina Sforza

Caterina Sforza

If you follow the advice of Caterina Sforza, ‘you will see that thing become so narrow that you yourself will be in admiration.’

Visualizing the Body: A Symposium in Honor of the 500th Anniversary of Vesalius’ Birth

Frontispiece from De humani corporis fabrica, Basileae: 1543, by Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564

Thank-you to Kele Cable of the University of Minnesota for allowing us to post his Storify account of the Visualizing the Body Symposium, held in November 2014

Black Death DNA found in teeth

The plague of Florence in 1348, as described in Boccaccio's Decameron. Etching by L. Sabatelli

Remnants of the genetic makeup of plague bacteria have been found in thousands of victims of the Black Death and the major plague epidemics at the end of the Iron Age. The DNA analyses may predict the next plague outbreak.

Eyewitness accounts of the 1510 influenza pandemic in Europe

Sick man in bed - Royal 6 E.VII, f.70

In 1510, there was little appreciation that a specific respiratory disease might have been recurring over centuries, but historians now believe that influenza had probably been circulating as an epidemic disease since as early as the 9th century AD, if not earlier.

Toxicology and Treatment: Medical Authorities and Snake-bite in the Middle Ages

medieval snake and man

By end of the thirteenth century, surgeons and university-trained physicians in Western Europe had a plethora of authorities from the Greco-Roman and Arabic tradition from which to consult for the treatment of snake-bites.

Vikings’ homes would have been very polluted, researchers find

Viking House in Hedeby - photo by Kai-Erik

Danish researchers have found that the fires used for cooking and heat in Viking-era houses would have caused significant indoor air pollution.

Tips on Surviving a Poisoning from Maimonides

maimonides on poison

Maimonides explains what to do when you believe someone is trying to poison you, and what were some of the most dangerous poisons of the Middle Ages.

Make-Up and Medicine in the Middle Ages

Medieval woman combing her hair

A look at cosmetics and make-up in the Middle Ages.

A History of Tonsillectomy: Two Millenia of Trauma, Hemorrhage and Controversy

Dissection of the mouth from 1537

‘This procedure is liable to resolve itself into physical combat between the surgeon and his patient.’

Intersex in the Middle Ages

Statue of Hermaphrodite - Louvre

A brief look at how the medieval world viewed the Intersex individual.

Tacuinum Sanitatis: A Way of Life

Image courtesy

How to maintain one’s health in the Middle Ages – the advice from the Tacuinum Sanitatis

Medieval Books for Christmas

The Middle Ages - Johannes Fried

It’s that time of year again – the mad scramble for the perfect Christmas gift for the historian, nerd, avid reader on your list. Here are a few suggestions for you – new releases for December and January!

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