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An Interdisciplinary Investigation into Carolingian Medical Knowledge and Practice

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Burridge, Claire Pippa Saling  ORCID logo


My Wellcome Trust-funded PhD dissertation integrates textual and osteological evidence to explore the relationship between medical knowledge and practice in eighth- and ninth-century western Europe. The guiding questions of my work consider the potential practicality and applicability of the medical knowledge circulating during this period: is there a correlation, a connection, or any overlap between the medical issues recorded in the texts and those seen on skeletons? Could those individuals in possession of the recorded medical knowledge have attempted to treat the ailments from which people suffered? To investigate the applicability and practicality of the medical knowledge circulating in the Carolingian world, I first identified, transcribed, and translated remedies recorded in eighteen eighth- and ninth-century Latin manuscripts. I then analysed the potential practicality of the ingredients listed in these remedies, asking: do they rely on products that could have been obtained in western Europe in this period? To assess the applicability of this medical knowledge, I compared the symptoms recorded in these texts to evidence of disease preserved in roughly contemporary skeletal remains. Although bringing together textual and skeletal evidence poses a number of significant methodological challenges, this combined approach has made it possible to explore topics that neither category of material could effectively investigate in isolation.
After an introduction (Chapter 1), Chapters 2-5 concentrate on the textual analysis of the medical recipes from the eighteen manuscripts under consideration: Chapter 2 introduces these manuscripts and the method of analysis while Chapters 3-5 focus on individual case studies. Chapters 6-9 assess the written record in light of osteological evidence: Chapter 6 addresses my approach to the question of applicability and Chapters 7-9 highlight specific pathologies. Ultimately, this interdisciplinary project has produced a more nuanced picture of early medieval health and medicine, revealing that a significant proportion of the medical recipes in circulation were both practical and applicable, thereby suggesting that these texts were intended to be used in the practice of medicine.





McKitterick, Rosamond Deborah


History of medicine, Medieval history, Carolingian history, Interdisciplinary, Manuscript studies, Archaeology, Osteology, Medicine


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
My PhD has been generously supported by the Wellcome Trust via a Medical Humanities Doctoral Studentship [203431/Z/16/Z].