Disability History and the Ancient World

(ca. 3000 BCE - 700 CE)


Dr. Mark Bradley
Associate Professor of Ancient History,
Department of Classics,
University of Nottingham,
University Park,
Nottingham NG7 2RD,
United Kingdom

Contact: mark.bradley@nottingham.ac.uk

Website: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/Classics/People/mark.bradley

Research: Mark Bradley is Associate Professor of Ancient History at the University of Nottingham in the UK. He has published widely on the theme of the senses in antiquity, ancient perception and colour. He is currently working on a project on 'Foul Bodies in Ancient Rome', which sets out to understand how Romans of the early Empire formulated and mobilized disgust as a response to bodies that were perceived to be 'out of place' in civilized society. Twenty-first century scholarship in anthropology and sociology has positioned 'disgust' as a critical factor in the value judgments of human society and its organization of customs, laws and hierarchies. This research project unites various threads - emotions, pollution, religion, law and medicine - and examines a rich body of evidence from the literature, rhetoric and art of early imperial Rome to explore the classification and evaluation of foul bodies in contemporary society and culture: the monstrous bodies of Roman myth and fiction; consumptive bodies; deformed bodies; bodies used in obscene ways; criminals; and bodies that are aged, diseased or dead. Finally, it examines the legacy of pagan bodies in the early Church from late antiquity through to Renaissance Italy, and in doing so considers the contribution made by ancient Rome and cultural memories of the pagan past to concepts of the deviant body in later western thought.

Drs. Bert Gevaert
Jan Britostraat 19
8200 Brugge

Contact: bert.gevaert@sint-lodewijkscollege.be

Research: Bert Gevaert does research on the epigrams of the Roman author Marcus Valerius Martialis (40-104 AD), who is well known for his huge corpus of about 1500 epigrams.
Martial is especially famous for the many invectives against his fellow Roman citizens, whose behaviour and appearance he viciously attacks. It is therefore no surprise that in this vast corpus, we can find more than 100 epigrams in which different kinds of impairments are mentioned or described.  The goal of his research is not only to map these forms of impairment, but also to do a lexical field study on the terminology Martialis uses.  The research aims at several questions: How does Martial's attitude towards impaired people fit in ancient and modern (anthropological) questions concerning humor?  Do the impairments in the epigrams refer to an osteological or palaeopathological reality?  Can we find traces back in art, e.g. of dwarfs and moriones?  And most importantly: Is Martial's attitude influenced by Stoic Philosophy, which neglects bodily malfunctioning and ugliness, calling it a form of indifferentia?
Besides his research on impairment in the epigrams of Martial, Bert Gevaert is also interested in mental disability in antiquity.  On this topic he wrote his master's thesis in 2000.

Drs. Caroline Husquin

Contact: caroline.husquin@gmail.com

Research: Caroline Husquin graduated from the University of Lille III in 2010 with a Master’s thesis entitled Recherches sur les remèdes et techniques de la medicine de l’oeil à Rome et dans le monde romain, under the direction of Professor Stéphane Benoist. She is currently preparing a PhD thesis under the direction of Professors Stéphane Benoist and Véronique Dasen in the university of Lille III (France) and the university of Fribourg (Switzerland). The PhD thesis is temporarily entitled : Penser le corps social en situation à Rome et dans le monde romain : perceptions et représentations de l’atteinte physique du Ier siècle avant  notre ère au IVe siècle de notre ère. Her interest is about the awareness and consideration of disabled persons in the Roman society.

Dr. Edgar Kellenberger
Dr. theol. (1982 University of Basel/Switzerland)
Passage 12
CH 4104 Oberwil

Contact: kellenberger-sassi@bluewin.ch

Research: Mental retardation and its perception in the Ancient World. First steps were his two publications in 2011  (monograph «Der Schutz der Einfältigen» and an article about Augustinus). The world of Old Testament and Mesopotamia are nearer to him than the Greek and Roman world. In view of the sparsity of sources in all ancient cultures a contact with other scholars is indispensable.

Dr. Lennart Lehmhaus
Freie Universität Berlin
SFB 980 - "Episteme in bewegung"
Schwendenerstrasse 8
14195 Berlin

Contact: lehmhaus@zedat.fu-berlin.de 

Research: He is currently working as a post-doc research associate at Freie Universität Berlin in a long-term project (with prof. Mark Geller) on the medical discourse in classical Jewish, i.e. rabbinic traditions in (Late) Antiquity from a comparative perspective. They are collaborating with scholars of Greek and early Byzantine medical traditions at Humboldt University Berlin (Prof. Philip van der Eijk) and with the BabMed project on ancient Babylonian medicine (Prof. Geller).
He worked on different subfields on ancient medicine , one of which is medical aspect of disabilities/ impairments and mental illness.

Their project site can be found here

Drs. Simone Pittl
Institut für Alte Geschichte und Altorientalistik
Universität Innsbruck
Langer Weg 11, 6020 Innsbruck

Contact: Simone.Pittl@uibk.ac.at

Research: In her PhD-thesis Simone Pittl deals with “the disabled body in selected Ancient Near Eastern omen-texts (working title)” by using the methodology of ‘disability history’. These texts from the 1st millennium B.C.E. consist of abnormal births (Šumma Izbu), abnormal inhabitants of a city (Šumma Alu ina Mēlē Šakin) and of abnormal features of the human body (morphoscopic texts). One can see these texts as an intellectual discourse on the abnormal and therefore disabled (as abnormality par excellence) human body in a magical-ominous setting. Within the texts considerations about normality and abnormality are made and the features that mark the normal and the abnormal body are designed and furthermore disability as a social category is created. It is the main goal of her thesis to analyze these boundaries within the omen-literature and to develop a body-concept of the abnormal and disabled body for the omen-texts.

Dr. Lisa Sabbahy
Assistant Professor of Egyptology                                  Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology and Egyptology
Humanities Building
American University in Cairo
AUC Avenue, P.O. Box 74
New Cairo, 11835, Egypt

Contact: lsabbahy@aucegypt.edu

Research: Dr. Sabbahy is Assistant Professor of Egyptology and Director of the MA Program in Egyptology and Coptology at the American University in Cairo. She has a Ph.D in Egyptian Archaeology from the University of Toronto. Her Egyptology research interests are diverse, and include: titles and iconography of the queen, gender and women, anthropoid clay coffins, chariot iconography, and paleopathology. In this last subject she has published an eBook, Paleopathology of the Ancient Egyptians: An Annotated Bibliography, 1998-2011, American University in Cairo Press, 2012; and articles: “A Decade of Advances in the Paleopathology of the Ancient Egyptians, Egyptian Bioarchaeology, Sidestone Press, Leiden, 2015, 113-118; “An Overview of the evidence for tuberculosis from ancient Egypt”, Palaeopathology in Egypt and Nubia: A Century in Review, Archaeopress Egyptology 6, 2014, 51-56; “The People of Deir el-Medineh: A Preliminary Paleopathology Study”, Anthropologie, XLVIII/2, 2010, 117-120.

Drs. William Southwell-Wright
PhD Candidate
Department of Archaeology
Durham University
South Road, Durham

Contact: w.a.southwell-wright@durham.ac.uk

Research: William Southwell-Wright's PhD project, 'Disability and Difference? Assessing social perceptions of physical impairment in Roman Britain', examines disability as a social identity in Late Roman Britain (C.3rd-4th AD) through examination of the burial treatment of individuals with osteologically-recognisable impairments. William's research is interested in applying broader understandings from Disability Studies and Disability Histories to look at the way in which impairments were perceived and reacted to in the various communities of Roman Britain, and is specifically interested in the relationship between Classical Literary and Iconographic sources and attitudes as seen in burial treatment, as well as archaeological evidence for burial treatment, aged and gendered identities, and deviant burial treatments for those with impairments in a range of ancient contexts.

Dr. Lisa Trentin
Archaeology & Classical Studies,
Wilfrid Laurier University,
Waterloo, Ontario,

Contact: ltrentin@wlu.ca

Research: Lisa Trentin's current research project explores the intersection of ancient (Roman) history and disability studies. Specifically, her research explores “disabling imagery”; Her goal is to engage disability studies perspectives to interrogate how the Romans constructed certain bodies as ‘abnormal’ or physically deviant, connecting both written and visual materials. Lisa Trentin is currently exploring the topic of visual impairment in the ancient Roman world.

Dr. Chiara Thumiger
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin,
Institut für Klassische Philologie,
Unter den Linden 6,
D-10099 Berlin

Contact: chiara.thumiger@hu-berlin.de

Website: http://www.classicsmedicine.org/staff/thumiger

Research: Chiara Thumiger works within a larger group of research on ancient medicine based at the Humboldt Universität in Berlin (the Alexander von Humboldt project ‚Medicine of the Body, Philosophy of the Mind‘). Her topic is mental life and mental disorder in fifth- and fourth- century medical sources, in dialogue with non-medical texts. Her main line of research is historical and philological, but important theoretical and methodological issues have emerged as necessary, such as: to what extent can current taxonomies of mental disorder be of help dealing with ancient material? how can one isolate mental experiences in texts which do not recognise a clear separation between mind and body? how can we translate ancient vocabulary of insanity into modern languages? what kind of relationship between mind and body emerges in the representations of the insane in ancient medical texts? to what extent, and when can we speak of an ancient psychiatry and psychiatric therapy? is there a way to conciliate awareness of biomedical facts and the demands of cultural anthropology when dealing with ancient material?

Chiara Thumiger has previously spent several years working on Greek tragedy, its stylistic features and poetic imagery. Her methodology is to consider ancient ‚technical text‘  not as categorically different from ‚poetic‘ texts but differently contextualised and motivated expressions of the same cultural paradigms, therefore best understood in dialogue with one another.

Korneel Van Lommel
Contact: korneel.vanlommel@gmail.com
Website: https://kuleuven.academia.edu/KorneelVanLommel

Research: Korneel Van Lommel graduated in 2012 with a master’s degree in Ancient History at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. His thesis, entitled Soldaten buiten strijd: verminking, ontreddering en ontslag in het Romeinse leger, looked into the lives of physically and mentally impaired Roman soldiers and their return to civil society. He has continued this research of which the results are published in a few articles.

We hope this site will be a tool to bring together scholars, interested in disability history of the ancient world.