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The Make-Up of the City

ABOUT the project

Between 1000 and 1800, the Low Countries were among the most densely urbanised regions of Europe. City-dwellers came to represent an ever-growing portion of the population and were the prime drivers of social, economic and cultural (ex)change. Despite this significance and an impressive tradition of urban historical research, our knowledge of the actual composition of these urban societies remains highly fragmentary. Due to the absence or biased nature of written records, often the most basic questions concerning the make-up of medieval cities are overlooked. This problem can be overcome by adopting a transdisciplinary investigative approach.


In this project, two PhD researchers trained in osteoarchaeology and isotopic analysis respectively will analyse a collection of 1,200 skeletons from medieval Ieper (Ypres), assisted by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel’s leading researchers in urban history, archaeology, chemistry and anatomy. Isotopic and elemental analyses of human remains will be used to reveal the diets and geographic origins of city-dwellers, while an osteological investigation will provide essential information about their age, sex, health, activities and living conditions. Our findings, which will be made available in a series of publications in peer-reviewed journals, hold the potential to completely transform current understandings of Ieper, once a textile boomtown and medieval giant.

"[S]ix things [...] are necessary for every man in the daily preservation of his health[...]. The first is the treatment of air, which concerns the heart. The second is the right use of foods and drinks. The third is the correct use of movement and rest. The fourth is the problem of prohibition of the body from sleep, or excessive wakefulness. The fifth is the correct use of elimination and retention of humours. The sixth is the regulating of the person by moderating joy, anger, fear, and distress. The secret of the preservation of health, in fact, will be in the proper balance of all these elements, since it is the disturbance of this balance that causes the illnesses which the glorious and most exalted God permits."

- from the 14th c. medieval handbook on health: Tacuinum Sanitatis, 14th c.

Agentschap Onroerend Erfgoed