The Fixed and the Fluent

Geographical determinism, ethnicity and religion c. 1100–1300 ce

Authored by: Claire Weeda

The Routledge Handbook of Identity and the Environment in the Classical and Medieval Worlds

Print publication date:  December  2015
Online publication date:  January  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415738057
eBook ISBN: 9781315686622
Adobe ISBN: 9781317415701


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From about 1100 ce, medical scientific theories on the humours and the impact of environment on human physiognomy again began to influence how people viewed the ethnic, religious and social Other. These theories offered a blueprint for categorizing and explaining the perceived physical and psychological make-up of individuals and members of ethnic, religious and social groups. As such, these theories partially embedded cultural, social and religious differences in a comprehensible, explanatory scientific framework, which could subsequently inform opinions and shape actions regarding these Others. 1 Environmental factors that purportedly impacted the body included geographical location and its topography, such as mountainous terrain or lowlands, and climatic features. Doctors advised patients to take heed of these influences and endeavoured to manipulate the complexional make-up (phlegmatic, sanguine, choleric, or melancholic) of individuals and groups by means of so-called ‘non-naturals’, such as diet, sleep and the environmental conditions in which people lived. 2

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