Technology and Disability


“Hegesistratus had once been taken captive by the Spartans, who, considering that he had done them many grievous injuries, laid him in bonds, with the intent to put him to death. Thereupon Hegesistratus, finding himself in so sore a case, since not only was his life in danger, but he knew that he would have to suffer torments of many kinds before his death,- Hegesistratus, I say, did a deed for which no words suffice. He had been set with one foot in the stocks, which were of wood but bound with iron bands; and in this condition received from without an iron implement, wherewith he contrived to accomplish the most courageous deed upon record. Calculating how much of his foot he would be able to draw through the hole, he cut off the front portion with his own hand; and then, as he was guarded by watchmen, forced a way through the wall of his prison, and made his escape to Tegea, travelling during the night, but in the daytime stealing into the woods, and staying there. In this way, though the Lacedaemonians went out in full force to search for him, he nevertheless escaped, and arrived the third evening at Tegea. So the Spartans were amazed at the man’s endurance, when they saw on the ground the piece which he had cut off his foot, and yet for all their seeking could not find him anywhere. Hegesistratus, having thus escaped the Lacedaemonians, took refuge in Tegea; for the Tegeans at that time were ill friends with the Lacedaemonians. When his wound was healed, he procured himself a wooden foot, and became an open enemy to Sparta. At the last, however, this enmity brought him to trouble; for the Spartans took him captive as he was exercising his office in Zacynthus, and forthwith put him to death”.

Herodotus, Histories 9.37 (transl. G. Rawlinson)

Disability and Technology. With a little help from technology, animals, and people”

This talk looks at how instruments, animals or members of the household (slaves or family members) assisted in securing wellbeing and health for those facing the challenges of impairment. ‘Spontaneous’ yet hard to answer questions will be dealt with. Were wheelchairs, blind dogs, and ear trumpets in use in Antiquity? And how far did people identify with such aid, and recognised it as “being part of themselves”?

Christian Laes (University of Manchester)

Christian Laes is Professor of Ancient History at the University of Manchester. He has published extensively on both life course in Antiquity and disabilities in the ancient world. On the latter subject, he also runs a website.

Respondent: Jane Draycott (University of Glasgow)

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