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Old age in Byzantine society

Gilleard, C; (2007) Old age in Byzantine society. Ageing and Society , 27 (5) 623 - 642. Green open access

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Abstract

This paper examines the status afforded old age in the Byzantine Empire. Frequently neglected in accounts of state formation or comparative history, this Christian imperial state transformed the moral ordering of the lifecourse. In contrast to both classical Greek and Roman society, old age acquired a distinct moral authority in Byzantine society. This status was not confined to a few mernbers of the elite as in Sparta or Rome. The economic vulnerability, physical frailty and social marginality accompanying old age conferred an equal moral claim upon society that the state actively addressed. A mix of institutionalised and individual charities created a prototype 'welfare state' within which provision for old age played a significant part. Despite its neglect by most social historians of cold age, the Byzantine Empire is of considerable historical significance in the development of the contemporary constructions of old age. Just as the Byzantine Empire helped erode the practice of slavery that had been widespread in the ancient Greek and Roman societies, so too did it help to create a prototype welfare state in which individual enterprise was tempered by a collective sense of inclusive Christian responsibility. The consideration extended by Byzantine society, to old age, to Its weakness as well as to its wisdom and authority, instituted a step change from earlier classical traditions.

Type: Article
Title: Old age in Byzantine society
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: © Cambridge University Press 2007.
Keywords: Old age, Byzantine society, Iconography, Church and state, Charitable institutions, 324-1453 AD, Medicine, Roots
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Division of Psychiatry
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/99274
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