Leprosy in the Byzantine Empire

Timothy S. Miller and John W. Nesbitt

in Walking Corpses

Published by Cornell University Press

Published in print March 2014 | ISBN: 9780801451355
Published online August 2016 | e-ISBN: 9780801470776
Leprosy in the Byzantine Empire

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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This chapter recounts the history of leprosy in Byzantine society beginning in the fourth century. Cases of elephantiasis seem to have multiplied at the very time when the Eastern Empire was still evolving into its new identity as the Christian Roman Empire. There is evidence that cases of leprosy in Constantinople and Asia Minor became a major health issue during these years, a problem that required attention from both the state and the Christian Church. The ecclesiastical leaders of the day discussed how to assist lepers and worked to alter society's attitude toward them. They renamed leprosy the “Holy Disease” to convince people that God had used this illness not to punish lepers as sinners but to purify them for Heaven—to make them holy.

Keywords: Byzantine society; Christian Church; Holy Disease; history of leprosy; society's attitude toward lepers

Chapter.  7994 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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