The Epilepsy of Emperor Michael IV, Paphlagon (1034–1041 A.D.): Accounts of Byzantine Historians and Physicians
Article first published online: 2 AUG 2005
Volume 41, Issue 7, pages 913–917, July 2000
How to Cite
Lascaratos, J. and Zis, P. V. (2000), The Epilepsy of Emperor Michael IV, Paphlagon (1034–1041 A.D.): Accounts of Byzantine Historians and Physicians. Epilepsia, 41: 913–917. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1157.2000.tb00264.x
- Issue published online: 2 AUG 2005
- Article first published online: 2 AUG 2005
- Accepted March 10, 2000
- Byzantine medicine;
- History of medicine;
- Medieval literature;
- Michael IV, Paphlagon
Summary: Purpose: Presentation of epilepsy suffered by Byzantine Emperor Michael IV, Paphlagon (who reigned from 1034 to 1041 A.D.) and the attitude of his contemporary society to his disorder.
Methods: Research into the accounts of Byzantine historians and chroniclers referring to the case of the emperor and Byzantine medical texts revealing the opinion of official medicine about the disorder.
Results: Byzantine historians and chroniclers provide detailed clinical descriptions of the seizures of Emperor Michael IV. Nearly all, expressing popular opinion, considered his disease to be demonic possession that constituted a form of divine punishment for the emperor's adultery and act of murder; his royal entourage continually attempted euphemistically to present this condition as a psychic disease. On the contrary, research into Byzantine medical texts reveals that the physicians, already from the 4th century, following Hippocratic tradition, believed that epilepsy was primarily a brain-related disorder and based their treatment on this etiological principle.
Conclusions: From the study of the Byzantine histories and chronicles, it can be deduced that Emperor Michael IV, Paphlagon, suffered from generalized tonic-clonic epileptic seizures. Despite the concept then held by well-educated Byzantine doctors, who considered epilepsy a brain disorder, information indicates the deep prejudices of his social environment.