The contours of disease and hunger in Carolingian and early Ottonian Europe (c.750-c.950 CE)
By Tim Newfield
PhD Dissertation, McGill University, 2010
Abstract: This thesis is the first systematic examination of the textual and material evidence for disease and hunger in Carolingian and early Ottonian Europe, c.750 to c.950 CE. It draws upon medieval textual records including annals, capitularies, chronicles, concilia, correspondence, histories, gesta, poetry, polyptychs, secular biographies, and vitae, as well as numerous modern archaeological, palaeobotanical, palaeoclimatic, palaeomicrobiological and palaeopathological reports in order to comment on epidemics, epizootics, food shortages and the baseline or current of non-pestilential disease and chronic hunger underlying them. It first surveys the historical and scientific scholarship on these phenomena and the methodologies intrinsic to their study.
The evidence for non-pestilential and chronic hunger is then addressed, before pestilences and food shortages are identified in time and space. We can discern roughly thirty-two peacetime epidemics, ten epizootics, ten famines and twelve lesser shortages. A short investigation of the impact of, and response to, disease and hunger in Carolingian and early Ottonian Europe is presented in conclusion.
The thesis demonstrates that disease and hunger, in both endemic and epidemic forms, were common realities for mid eighth- through mid tenth-century continental European populations, and argues that epidemics, epizootics and subsistence crises had major, short-lived but possibly cumulative, repercussions for Carolingian and early Ottonian demographic and, consequently, economic growth, in addition to intensifying the impact of the silent toll of the baseline of non-pestilential disease and chronic hunger. The textual evidence addressed in the thesis is presented in Latin and English in three appendices.
Top Image: Cattle in the Stuttgarter Psalter, fol. 256