Four different ways of philanthropic aid to the blind in medieval Eastern Christendom



The care of the blind, either as medical treatment or as divine therapy, has probably been the most ancient form of help for ill people. However, it was during the Byzantine Empire (325 – 1453 AD) that the state organized a ‘blindness relief’ plan as part of a widespread public health system. Our sources for the subject include medical writings, state decrees, Saint's ‘vitae’ and representations of relevant works of art. Based on the above data we classify the health care for the blind in Byzantium as: (a) support of ophthalmological education as evidenced by an abundance of medical writings on the subject; (b) establishment of charitable institutions exclusively or partially for the blind, where there was not only medical care but also provision for a wide range of social aid – the most advanced being specially trained escorts for each blind person; and (c) support by the state of an extended chain of religious institutions where miraculous help for the blind was promised. We conclude that the public health policy in Byzantium made adequate and very early provision for the blind.