Disability in Antiquity  book cover
1st Edition

Disability in Antiquity

Edited By

Christian Laes

ISBN 9781138814851
Published October 13, 2016 by Routledge
506 Pages

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Book Description

This volume is a major contribution to the field of disability history in the ancient world. Contributions from leading international scholars examine deformity and disability from a variety of historical, sociological and theoretical perspectives, as represented in various media. The volume is not confined to a narrow view of ‘antiquity’ but includes a large number of pieces on ancient western Asia that provide a broad and comparative view of the topic and enable scholars to see this important topic in the round.

Disability in Antiquity is the first multidisciplinary volume to truly map out and explore the topic of disability in the ancient world and create new avenues of thought and research.

Table of Contents

    Preface and Acknowledgements

    Note on the Bibliography

    List of Contributors


    1. Introduction: Disability History and the Ancient World. Past, Present and Future - Christian Laes
    2. Disability and Infirmitas in the Ancient World: Demographic and Biological facts in the longue durée - April Pudsey

      The Ancient (Near) East

    4. Disabilities from Head to Toe in Hittite Civilisation - Richard Beal
    5. Mesopotamia and Israel - Edgar Kellenberger
    6. Ancient Persia and Silent Disability - Omar Coloru
    7. Egyptian Medicine and Disabilities: from Pharaonic to Graeco-Roman Egypt - Rosalie David
    8. India: Demystifying Disability in Antiquity - M. Miles
    9. Disability in Ancient China - Olivia Milburn

      The Greek World

    11. The Greek vocabulary of disabilities - Evelyn Samama
    12. Ability and Disability in Classical Athenian Oratory - Martha Lynn Rose
    13. Disabilities in Comedy and Tragedy - Robert Garland
    14. Legal (and Customary?) Approaches to the Disabled in Ancient Greece - Matthew Dillon
    15. The Hellenistic Turn in Bodily Representations: Venting Anxiety in Terracotta Figurines - Alexandre Mitchell
    16. Plutarch's 'Philosophy' of Disability: Human after All - Michiel Meeusen

      The Roman World

    18. Roman Perfect bodies. The Stoic View - Bert Gevaert
    19. Foul and Fair Bodies, Minds, and Poetry in Roman Satire - Sarah Bond and T.H.M. Gellar-Goad
    20. The 'Other' Romans: Deformed Bodies in the Visual Arts of Rome - Lisa Trentin
    21. Mobility Impairment in the Sanctuaries of Early Roman Italy - Emma-Jayne Graham
    22. Mental Disability? Galen on Mental Health - Chiara Thumiger
    23. Madness and Mad Patients According to Caelius Aurelianus - Danielle Gourevitch
    24. Disability in the Roman Digest - Peter Toohey

      The Late Ancient World

    26. Hysterical Women? Gender and Disability in Early Christian Narrative – Anna Rebecca Solevåg
    27. Augustine's Sermons and Disabilities - Martin Claes and Anthony Dupont
    28. Infirmitas in Monastic Rules - Jenni Kuuliala
    29. The Coptic and Ethiopic Tradition on Disabilities - Carol Downer
    30. The Disability Within: Sexual Desire as Disability in Syriac Christianity - John Martens
    31. The Disabled in the Byzantine Empire - Stephanos Efthymiadis
    32. What Difference did Islam Make? Disease and Disability in Early Medieval North Africa - Matthew Gaumer
    33. Impotent Husbands, Eunuchs and Flawed Women in Early Islamic Law - Hocine Benkheira
    34. Disability in Rabbinic Judaism - Lennart Lehmhaus and Julia Watts Belser

      The endurance of tradition

    36. Then and now. Canonical law on disabilities - Irina Metzler
    37. The Imperfect body in Nazi Germany: Ancient Concepts, Modern Technologies - Toon Van Houdt




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Christian Laes is Associate Professor of Latin and Ancient History at the University of Antwerp (Belgium), and Adjunct Professor of Ancient History at the University of Tampere (Finland). From 2014–16, he has been a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Social Research, University of Tampere. He has published five monographs, four edited volumes and over seventy international contributions on the human life course in Roman and Late Antiquity. Childhood, youth, old age, family, marriage and sexuality as well as disabilities are the main focuses of his scholarly work.


"After two millennia the voices of some of the most silent people of antiquity are finally being heard. This volume opens up a world previously all but unknown to us. It is an important collection of essays, in terms of both content and approach, that every ancient historian and classicist, as well as anyone interested in the history of disability, needs to read." 

- Tim Parkin, University of Manchester, UK

"Christian Laes and the contributors to this volume emancipate the disabled in antiquity, not only in the Greek and Roman world, but also in the Near, Middle and Far East. They show them in their social and cultural context and in comparative perspective, making visible the invisible."

- Manfred Horstmanshoff, Leiden University, The Netherlands

"...the volume’s strength is the breadth of material that has been selected for inclusion ... the volume serves as a fitting starting point for a new era in disability history focussing on the ancient Mediterranean."

- Jane Draycott, University of Glasgow, UK, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017

"Disability in Antiquity is a valuable contribution to the recent field of historical disability studies ... The strength of this book lies in its endeavor to be comprehensive and comparative: collating a wide range of materials from different eras and cultures provides the reader with a holistic understanding of the topic at hand ... this book is an excellent addition to any scholarly library and a must-read for anyone interested in the history of disability. Readers are left not just with a thorough understanding of the topic but also an invitation for future research, as the authors put forth compelling and insightful questions to continue the conversation regarding disability in antiquity."

- Heidi De Baerdemaeker-Poole, The Waterford School, USA, The Classical Journal 2018

"This collection, richly diverse, holds much of use for the future work in the field. The bibliographies at the end of each chapter are extensive and current and care has been taken by the editor to locate the individual studies in the context of the history of disability studies as a whole."

- Patricia Clark, University of Victoria, Canada, H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online