University of Leicester
Browse
Greatest Health Problem in Middle Ages IJPP.pdf (871.29 kB)

The greatest health problem of the Middle Ages? Estimating the burden of disease in medieval England

Download (871.29 kB)
journal contribution
posted on 2021-09-03, 09:05 authored by J Robb, C Cessford, J Dittmar, SA Inskip, PD Mitchell
Objective
To identify the major health problems of the Middle Ages. Bubonic plague is often considered the greatest health disaster in medieval history, but this has never been systematically investigated.

Materials
We triangulate upon the problem using (i) modern WHO data on disease in the modern developing world, (ii) historical evidence for England such as post-medieval Bills of Mortality, and (iii) prevalences derived from original and published palaeopathological studies.

Methods
Systematic analysis of the consequences of these health conditions using Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) according to the Global Burden of Disease methodology.

Results
Infant and child death due to varied causes had the greatest impact upon population and health, followed by a range of chronic/infectious diseases, with tuberculosis probably being the next most significant one.

Conclusions
Among medieval health problems, we estimate that plague was probably 7th–10th in overall importance. Although lethal and disruptive, it struck only periodically and had less cumulative long-term human consequences than chronically endemic conditions (e.g. bacterial and viral infections causing infant and child death, tuberculosis, and other pathogens).

Significance
In contrast to modern health regimes, medieval health was above all an ecological struggle against a diverse host of infectious pathogens; social inequality was probably also an important contributing factor.

Limitations
Methodological assumptions and use of proxy data mean that only approximate modelling of prevalences is possible.

Suggestions for further research
Progress in understanding medieval health really depends upon understanding ancient infectious disease through further development of biomolecular methods.

History

Citation

International Journal of Paleopathology Volume 34, September 2021, Pages 101-112

Author affiliation

School of Archaeology and Ancient History

Version

  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Published in

International Journal of Paleopathology

Volume

34

Pagination

101 - 112

Publisher

Elsevier BV

issn

1879-9817

eissn

1879-9825

Acceptance date

2021-06-29

Copyright date

2021

Available date

2022-07-05

Spatial coverage

Netherlands

Language

eng

Usage metrics

    University of Leicester Publications

    Categories

    Exports

    RefWorks
    BibTeX
    Ref. manager
    Endnote
    DataCite
    NLM
    DC