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Arch Hellen Med, 17(3), May-June 2000, 326-331


Pediatric practice during Byzantine times

International Hippokratic Foundation of Kos

The possibility of the existence of a self-contained pediatric specialty as a separate part of medical practice during the Byzantine millennium has been explored. Chronologically placed between 330 and 1453 the Byzantine civilization encompassed many kinds of human activities, including medicine. The scientific thought of the period is considered to be the natural evolution of the medical knowledge of classic antiquity, enriched with new theories and inventions but also mixed with older traditions of folk medicine. The investigation of a variety sources revealed an absence of specialists in childhood diseases, a lack of pediatric department in the hospitals and the application of common healing methods for adults and children with no differentiation. The health of children was consistently connected with their position in the Byzantine society. Factors such as the structure and function of the family, education, and social and economic situation had a great influence on diseases and their treatment. Engagement and marriage under the legal age of 7 and 12 years respectively, sexual abuse, the laws related to protection for the fetus and the newborn were also important agents of psychological problems and the high rates of infant mortality. The contribution of the Orthodox Church to pediatric care focused on miraculous healings achieved by Holy Saints, each usually specialized in certain cures, but included the establishment of welfare institutions. Medical, historical, theological and hagiographical sources were studied in order to present a panoramic view of pediatric practice in a medieval society, according to the definition of health as mental, somatic and social well-being.

Key words: Byzantine medicine, Byzantine social welfare, History of pediatrics.

© 2000, Archives of Hellenic Medicine