January 15, 2011

Quality of Life in Classical Antiquity

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens has posted a video of Walter Scheidel's talk entitled "Quality of Life in Classical Antiquity." It's quite interesting, and the last 20 minutes or so summarize some of the bioarchaeological findings to date, particularly in Rome. I'm pretty sure the sites I studied were name-checked in the slide on health in the Empire, but the quality of the video isn't great. Scheidel is amazing at this sort of synthetic analysis across time periods and cultures; it's exhilarating to see the broad picture of health trends in the Roman Empire but also humbling to know that I've produced only a small fraction of the data that went into this.

My one comment is on the same slide about health in the Empire - Scheidel seemed surprised that the Britons, living in the backwater of the Empire, had a lower frequency of porotic hyperostosis than did people in Italy and Egypt. Italy and Egypt had malaria; Britain did not. Rome was densely populated; Britain was not. The disease ecology of Rome was complex - there were hills and marshes and volcanoes; they had flush toilets but probably also endemic malaria - and to an extent, I think that showing trends in frequency of diseases with increasing distance from Rome glosses over the ecological complexity. At some point, I'll write an article on this, perhaps sooner rather than later, as disease ecology will be in the discussion portion of my PPA talk in a few months.


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