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Keywords:

  • Gompertz hazard;
  • religion and health;
  • paleodemography;
  • Medieval

ABSTRACT

Scholarship on life in medieval European monasteries has revealed a variety of factors that potentially affected mortality in these communities. Though there is some evidence based on age-at-death distributions from England that monastic males lived longer than members of the general public, what is missing from the literature is an explicit examination of how the risks of mortality within medieval monastic settings differed from those within contemporaneous lay populations. This study examines differences in the hazard of mortality for adult males between monastic cemeteries (n = 528) and non-monastic cemeteries (n = 368) from London, all of which date to between AD 1050 and 1540. Age-at-death data from all cemeteries are pooled to estimate the Gompertz hazard of mortality, and “monastic” (i.e., buried in a monastic cemetery) is modeled as a covariate affecting this baseline hazard. The estimated effect of the monastic covariate is negative, suggesting that individuals in the monastic communities faced reduced risks of dying compared to their peers in the lay communities. These results suggest better diets, the positive health benefits of religious behavior, better living conditions in general in monasteries, or selective recruitment of healthy or higher socioeconomic status individuals. Am J Phys Anthropol 152:322–332, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.