Disease and death in Ottoman Crete: continuities and changes in social attitudes and state policy
This essay tackles the issues of disease and death in Crete during the Ottoman period through the evidence primarily of Ottoman archival sources and epitaphs. It focuses on three aspects, namely state policy, medical services and social attitudes towards disease and death. As far as state policy is concerned, it is argued that an important criterion for the Ottoman state to intervene in matters of public health was when public or social order was threatened. Regarding medical practitioners, Ottoman sources differentiate between physicians (hekim, tabib) and surgeons (cerrah). People made use of their services, and even religious-minded texts, such as epitaphs, suggest that Cretans were much more active in fighting disease than is often assumed. Ultimately, the study of the questions of disease and death allows us to revise stereotypes about the fatalism of traditional societies. Even though there was belief in the inevitability of God’s will, submission to it was not unconditional.