Why did citizens in ancient Rome have a lower life expectancy than people in medieval Europe?

Although childhood was not a definite notion, one speaks of “Infans” up to ca. 7 and over “Puer” from 7 to 14 years.By vitamin deficiency and incomplete nutrition the girls became Wsch. Apply organic woman around their 15 ° instead of 12 and the growth spurt of the boys also went slower than it is now.

The antique authors Unfortunately speak a lot more about boys: they were more important.The girls are more covered in the chapters on child labor and sex.

The terribly low lifespan was mainly caused by the infant mortality rate: 35% died for the 1 ° year of life, 50% was only 10 years, 25% was 50, 15% extracted 60, 10% was 70 or more.The major causes of death were plague, cholera, malaria, infections, diarrhea, typhoid fever, Salmonella, TB, smallpox and lack of sufficiently varied food.
The marriage age was sometimes very low (12 – 14), but was on average 19 for girls and 25 to 30 for boys.The marriage lasted on average only 14 years, among other things because 2% of the mothers died in childbirth. The number of births was between 4 and 6, of whom a few remained alive.

Remarkably, the allegation that overcrowding was a problem in Late Antiquity (p. 25).So far, we generally read that the population, especially in Rome, was very much back in the imperial era.
70 to 80% of the (maximum) 50 à 60 million inhabitants of the empire lived in the countryside and was a farmer.We have little data on this silent majority.
The cities were horribly dirty and unhealthy.Here 70% lived closely on each other, in “insulae” (apartment blocks) of four floors with up to 950 inhabitants; The poorest had to set it up with a flat of one room. 30% had more happiness and lived in Domus (mansions). Few houses had a toilet or sewer. Privacy was unknown.

Mothers kept 1 to 2 children from 6 births or died themselves in childbirth.With every childbirth a midwife was present, in wealthy families also another slave-doctor. The State recognized the child after the name day. Nutristers, slaves or simple free women, were a widespread phenomenon. So many babies were not given breast milk and protein-poor food. If a child was breastfeeding, it was for 2 to 3 years.

In The Middle Ages it was something else.

There were studies on medieval cemeteries on the demography of the people who lived from the fifth to the eighth century.

  • The infant mortality rate was very high: 4.5%.
  • The life expectancy for newborns was less than 30 years.
  • The average life span for men was 45 years.
  • The average life span for women was 30-40 years.

They often died between their 18th and 29th due to a failed delivery or by Kraamvrouwen fever.

So, to make society survive, many children and many women were needed.

  • The society consisted of 60% of people under 25. So the society was dynamic and young.
  • The marriage age was around 12 years.

At the end of the eighth century in some Merovingian villages doubled and even fivefold.There was a lot of mortality among the children, but the fertility of the women was also apparently high.

  • On average, 2.9 children survived within a family.
  • Apparently there were more girls than boys.


Reproduction was very important for the Franks .The killing of a young, free woman in her fertile years, was fined with 600 schelling. If one killed a free woman before her first menstrual period or after her menopause, the fine was only 200 schelling.Killing a pregnant free woman cost 700 Schelling. At the end of the sixth century the killing of a pregnant woman took 600 schelling and 600 Schelling extra if the expected child would have been a boy and 200 schelling extra if the expected child would have been a girl.

However, abortion was perpetrated by herbal women using herbal drinks.The penalty for this was 100 Schelling.

Sascha and Veronica have actually already answered this question to a large extent, but there are two relevant factors that have been overlooked or partially explained.

The difference in the average life expectancy between a (European) middle century and a Roman has two main causes, namely a social and a religious cause.

The social cause is by far the most relevant, because despite everything, medieval society was more egalitarian than Roman society.Veronica is quite right when she states that a number of philosophers and wealthy patricians, such as Cicero’s wife (Terentia) who became 103 years old, if they survived childhood, could reasonably often reach a high age. In fact, the life expectancy of good Roman citizens was as high as those of our early 20th century ancestors. They had a varied diet, a private bathhouse, their houses (Domi) were connected to the sewer, they had many slaves at their disposal and they spent most of the year in their outside villas.

However, as is known, the Republic was but ruled by six families and also in the imperial era there was only a small wealthy elite.These wealthy Roman citizens, the patricians, had a higher life expectancy than the medieval nobility and clergy.

However, the life expectancy of slaves-except house slaves of the patricians, teachers, doctors and clerks, was particularly low.And this was also for the poor free citizens, the plebejers, who lived in the cities in unsanitary insulae, dependent on grain that was provided by the State and who did not have a fixed work (dagloners). In the countryside it was not much better, because in Roman times the most fertile land was in the hands of large landowners-the same wealthy 1%-who let the country edit by slaves.

Where in Roman times perhaps up to 20 -25% of people lived in the unhealthy cities, this was only 3 – 5% in the Middle Ages.Slavery was hardly in Europe-unlike the Arab world. However, there was a feudal system, but although serf farmers had to give up half of their products to their lord, they usually had enough to live and had a more varied diet than most Romans except the wealthy Roman patricians.

Finally, there is also a religious cause, because Christianity was the strictest of infanticide. After all, every man was created in God’s image, everyone possessed a certain dignity (to some extent)

In The Rominse Society, infanticide (childhood murder) was quite normal when it came to a sick child, an undesirable girl or because it originated from an extramarital affair.In short, the pater familias could or did not accept a child. He had life or death. The relationship between the father and his children was sometimes compared to the relationship between master and slave. (The German philosopher Hegel has written about this, because this is also reflected in Roman family law)

Conclusion: The wealthy Roman patricians (except the imperial family itself because of intrigues) and philosophers (often also slave) had a much higher average life expectancy than the medieval nobility, but the vast majority of Roman plebejers, Slaves or other inhabitants of the Empire, had a much lower average life expectancy than a medieval (horige) farmer, citizen or merchant.(Striking is that some Roman slaves, such as doctors, teachers and clerks, had a higher standard of living than most plebejers)

The average age in the Middle Ages differs not so much from that in the Roman Empire, namely Rep.25 and 22 years. In doing so, you should keep in mind that the Roman Empire ran from about the sixth century before Christ to the fifth century AD, so a period of 1100 years. The Middle Ages immediately closed. Both at the time of the Roman civilization and in the Middle Ages, people could become quite old, alone, as has been said before, it was the great infant mortality but the many deaths during various field trips that took the average age down.

Frankly, I don’t have enough info on this subject to give you an answer.

In any case, I love philosophy and especially of the stoïcism, so I often read books of philosophers like Epictetus.Of the biographies of these philosophers, I am always amazed that-unlike the stereotypes-, some of them have lived longer than 60 years. All in all, not bad for an era where penicillin was unknown.

That certainly has to do with the fact that philosophers had no heavy work (or not often..?).I can imagine that the “average Roman citizen”, the certain Caius Tertius, lived in other circumstances.

Better quality of life, medicines, technology, to name a few.

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