Merovingian medicine between practical art and philosophy

James Trevor Palmer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Downloads (Pure)


This essay offers a new examination of medical knowledge in Merovingian Gaul (c. 500-c.750) and the ways that it became part of non-specialized learning. In most histories of medicine, the Merovingian world is seen at best as offering limited continuities with antiquity, and at worst as rejecting medicine outright. A significant problem, however, is that there has been no study of what medicine was known since 1937, and even that study can now be seen to be built on false premises. The first part of the present paper offers a new conspectus of Merovingian medical knowledge based on the earliest manuscripts and argues that this new overview changes where we can see continuities in content and practice with Carolingian medicine. The second part builds on this to explore the intersections between religious and secular study, and how medicine fitted within a generalist rather than specialist education. The final section looks at how this learning fitted within understandings of the miraculous and nature – and in the process helped to deal with challenges from folk practice and the failures of medicine to offer effective aid during pandemics. It is concluded that medicine was in good health in the Merovingian period as it contributed useful ways to see natural order in Creation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-45
Number of pages29
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2023


  • Narbonne
  • Paris
  • Early medieval medicine
  • Merovingian
  • Carolingian
  • Manuscripts
  • Miscellanies
  • Education
  • Miracles
  • Hagiography
  • Gregory of Tours
  • Bourges


Dive into the research topics of 'Merovingian medicine between practical art and philosophy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this