Book Series Antiquité et sciences humaines, vol. 10

‘Madness’ in the Ancient World: Innate or Acquired?

From Theoretical Concepts to Daily Life

Christian Laes, Irina Metzler (eds)

  • Pages: 360 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:11 b/w, 23 col., 1 tables b/w.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2023

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-60190-8
  • Paperback
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  • ISBN: 978-2-503-60191-5
  • E-book
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The first ever book volume study on congenital intellectual disability in the ancient world


“(...) a stimulating, state-of-the art take on sources and questions, taking into consideration the road travelled so far in ancient disability studies and the history of medicine (...), and not shying away from an ethical and personal engagement with history and our own position as historians and human beings (...). In addition, the editors have succeeded, across these eleven studies, in bringing together methodologies and voices various in focus, theme, period and angle, making the ancient Mediterranean more than just Greece and Rome (...)
(...) The book is rich in information on particular cases the ancient historian is unlikely to be familiar with, and it is an inspiring example of an interdisciplinary approach. It poses a clear question and frames it ethically as well as epistemologically. If the answer is, in part, revealed to be impossible to discover, the itineraries of inquiry and methodological probing are themselves valuable.” (Chiara Thumiger, in The Classical Review, publ. online 07.05.2024)


Christian Laes is Full Professor of Ancient History at the University of Manchester (UK).

Irina Metzler is a former Wellcome Trust University Award Fellow at the University of Swansea (UK).


This is the first book volume ever to study the ‘difficult’ subject of congenital, intellectual disability in the ancient world. The contributions cover the Ancient Near East, Egypt and the Graeco-Roman world, up to the late ancient period, China, the rabbinic tradition, Byzantium, the Islamic world, and the Middle Ages in the Latin West. The engaging and thought-provoking chapters combine careful textual analysis with attention to the material evidence and comparative perspectives, not the least those offered by disability history for recent periods in history.



Hidden in Plain Sight or Simply Untraceable? The Challenge of Studying Intellectual Disability in the Ancient World (Christian Laes)

‘Mad Bones’: Tracing Mental Disability in the Bioarchaeological Record and its Possible Socio-Economic Implications in Past Societies (Chryssa Bourbou)
Dagger of the Mind: Macedonian Kings and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) (Alexandra F. Morris)
The Quest for Down Syndrome (and Other Symptoms) in Antiquity (Edgar Kellenberger)
Excluded from the Kingdom or Leading the Revolution? Môroi and the Question of Intellectual Disability in New Testament Writings (Dominika Kurek-Chomycz & Emma Swai)
Brain Injury and Intellectual Disabilities in Early and Medieval China: Two Case Studies (Olivia Milburn)
The Shoteh in Rabbinic Sources: Intellectual Disability or Mental Illness? (Lennart Lehmhaus)
Searching for Intellectual Disability in Byzantium (Fotis Vasileiou)
Fools in Arabic Medicine and Hospitals: Medical, Social and Economic Studies (Peter E. Pormann)
Incapacitas mentis: Medieval Musings about Congenital Fools (Irina Metzler)
Living Creatively with Intellectual Disabilities: A Father’s Observations as an Opportunity for Historical Research (Edgar Kellenberger)

Source Index
General Index