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Chris Glleard (2009)

Old age in the Dark Ages: the status of old age during the early Middle Ages

Ageing & Society, 29:1065-1084.

This paper reviews the position of old age in the societies of post-Roman Europe, from the fifth to the Loth centuries. Drawing on both primary and secondary literary and material sources of the period, I suggest that living beyond the age of 60 years was an uncommon experience throughout the early Middle Ages. Not only was achieving old age a minority experience, it seems to have been particularly concentrated among the senior clergy. This, together with the growing importance of the Christian Church as the institution that stabilised post-Roman society, the decline of urban living and its attendant culture of leisure and literacy, and the transformation of kinship into a symbolic 'family under God' contributed to a snore favourable status for old age, or at: lease: one that was particularly favourable for older men. This was based not so much upon the accumulation with age of wealth and privilege, but upon the moral worth of old age as a stage of life. The early Middle Ages, the so-called 'Dark Ages', was in this respect a relatively distinctive period in the history of old age. With all around instability and the future uncertain and often threatening, survival into old age was a rare but frequently revered attainment.

tooth wear, old age, Christian Church, life expectancy, early Middle Ages


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