Book Series Studies in the Early Middle Ages, vol. 26

Healthcare in Early Medieval Northern Italy

More to Life than Leeches

Clare Pilsworth

  • Pages: 262 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:3 b/w, 4 tables b/w., 1 map
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2015

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-52855-7
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-55901-8
  • E-book
  • Available

A fascinating study of the shifting terrain of health, diet, and illness in Northern Italy between the end of the Roman Empire in the West and the beginning of the second millennium.


"What emerges from the uniquely rich but enormously intractable evidence base utilised here is the thesis that, failing home treatment, the doctor was first in the hierarchy of resort in early medieval Italy, and that the medical recipes contained in medical collections and as added notes to other manuscripts need to be seen in an alternative light, as possible repositories of knowledge for lay as well as ecclesiastical users. In gathering such an extensive range of evidence, and signposting how to use it, Pilsworth has made a valuable contribution to our knowledge of this region." (Patricia Skinner, in: Early Science and Medicine 21, 2016, p. 78-80)

“(…) Pilsworth’s methodological flexibility and historical imagination produce valuable findings for an epoch that rarely divulges new insights about how its people understood their bodies and their health.” (Benjamin Graham, in the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 71/4, 2016, p. 471)

“I have no doubt that scholars and students will find that each of those vignettes presents a fascinating facet on ‘healthcare’ in early medieval Northern Italy.” (Penelope Nash, in Parergon, 34/1, 2017, p. 188)


After the fall of the last Western Roman Emperor in 476 AD, Northern Italy played a crucial role - both geographically and culturally - in connecting East to West and North to South. Nowhere is this revealed more clearly than in the knowledge and practice of medicine. In sixth-century Ravenna, Greek medical texts were translated into Latin, and medical practitioners such as Anthimus, famous for his work on diet, also travelled from East to West. Despite Northern Italy’s location as a confluence of cultures and values, modern scholarship has thus far ignored the extensive range of medical practices in existence throughout this region. This book aims to rectify this absence. It will draw upon both archaeological and written sources to argue for redefinitions of health and illness in relation to the Northern-Italian Middle Ages. This volume does not only put forward new classifications of illness and understandings of diet, but it also demonstrates the centrality of medicine to everyday life in Northern Italy. Using charter evidence and literary sources, the author expands our understanding of the literacy levels and social circles of the elite medical practitioners, the medici, and their lesser counterparts. This work marks a significant intervention into the field of medical studies in the early to high Middle Ages.


Preface: More to Life than Leeches? Medicine in Post-Roman Italy

Part I: Illness, Disease, and Treatment

Introduction: Blood and Ink – Health, Medicine, and the Body in Early Medieval Northern Italian Books
Chapter 1: Disease, Medicine, and the Law
Chapter 2: Live, Eat, Die: Health, Diet, and Life Expectancy
Chapter 3: Treating Illness – Herbs, Scalpels, and Cupping Vessels

Part II: Healing – People and Places
Chapter 4: Shrines and Healing
Chapter 5: The Age of Anxiety? Homes, Hostels, and Unsanctioned Healers
Chapter 6: Doctors – in Search of the Early Medieval medicus