Past Pandemics and Modern Misconceptions

Research output: Contribution to specialist/vulgarizing publicationArticleVulgarizing


To many, the government-mandated quarantine measures of the last few months may have seemed unprecedented and unparalleled. Remaining indoors, staying distanced from friends, loved ones, and even strangers on the street, planning grocery shopping ahead of time like a military operation and being constantly aware of your surroundings was draining and definitely not what we’re used to.

The notion of these regulations as purely modern is, however, inaccurate. The same is true of the image often portrayed in popular culture of medieval Europe as a filthy hotbed of disease governed by superstition. In fact, medieval cities throughout Europe had many regulations regarding public hygiene that were strictly and regularly enforced with a view towards preserving the maiori sanitate hominum (the people’s greater health).

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel has recently launched a new interdisciplinary research project, the Make-Up of the City, to provide an in-depth analysis of the inhabitants of Ypres through time. The project will run from 2019 to 2024. It will supplement the limited historical information on medieval Ypres with archaeological data from the burial record. We will analyse the skeletal remains of over 1,200 individuals who lived and died between the 12th and 16th centuries, shedding light on the health, diets, and geographic origins of the city’s population with a particular focus on the health of medieval urban-dwellers.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationEOS magazine
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2020


  • pandemic
  • health
  • medieval
  • archaeology
  • bioarchaeology
  • osteoarchaeology
  • isotopes
  • Ypres
  • osteology


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