The Skilliter Centre conference on The Ottomans and health: a comparative perspective was held from 3-6 July, 2013. The conference set out to consider health in the widest possible sense with papers on areas ranging from concepts of hygiene, morality and philanthropy, to healthscapes, architecture and gravestones.

Wednesday 3 July 



14.00-18.00 Registration

18.45-20.30 Reception

A reception will be given by the Principal of Newnham College, Professor Dame Carol Black, to be held at the Principal’s Lodge.

Thursday 4 July

09.30-11.00 Panel I – Morality

Chair: Professor Elizabeth Zachariadou (Crete)

  • Professor Angeliki Konstantakopoulou (Ioanina), Pure soul in unclean body: some remarks on Christian-Islamic divergences.
  • Professor John Alexander (Thessaloniki) and Dr Sophia Laiou (Ionian University, Corfu), Health and philanthropy among the Ottoman Orthodox population, eighteenth to early nineteenth century.
  • Dr Ebru Boyar (ODTÜ, Ankara), The moral road to health in the late Ottoman empire and early Turkish republic.

11.00-11.30 Coffee

11.30-13.00 Panel II – Cleanliness

Ch​air: Dr Colin Heywood (Hull)

  • Professor Elizabeth Archibald (Durham), Therapeutic bathing in the medieval West: literary and historical evidence.
  • Dr Svetla Ianeva (New Bulgarian University, Sofia), Hygiene in nineteenth-century Ottoman Bulgaria.
  • Dr Kate Fleet (Cambridge), The little frogs in Terkos: providing water to Istanbul in the late Ottoman empire.

13.00-14.30 Lunch

14.30-16.00 Panel III – Trade

Chair:Dr Kate Fleet (Cambridge)

  • Dr Tara Alberts (York), Rose water from Mecca and gall-nuts from the Levant: the trade in curative commodities between Southeast Asia and the Middle East in the early modern period.
  • Erol Baykal (Cambridge), Selling medicine in the late Ottoman empire.
  • Dr Vera Costantini (Venice), Well-protected remedies. The Venetian pharmacopoeia in the Ottoman empire.

16.00-16.30 Coffee

16.30-18.00 Panel IV – State and Health in the Late Ottoman Empire

Chair: Dr Gábor Ágoston (Georgetown)


  • Dr Tuba Demirci (Kemerburgaz University, Istanbul), Mother and children’s health in the late Ottoman empire: critical issues regarding welfare, pronatalism and population progeny between 1839-1908.
  • Dr Emine Ö. Evered (Michigan State), Confronting disease, controlling society: late Ottoman experiences with syphilis and regulation.
  • Dr Yücel Yanıkdağ (University of Richmond), Firar as psychogenic fugue: the dilemma of Ottoman military desertion in the Great War.

19.30 Dinner

Friday 5 July

09.30-10.30 Panel V – Medical Knowledge I

Chair: Professor Ben Fortna (SOAS)

  • Dr Debby Banham (Cambridge), ‘The East’ as a source of medical ideas and materials in early medieval England.
  • Dr Birsen Bulmuş (Appalachian State University), Feyzi Mustafa Hayatizade and the Ottoman conception of syphilis in the eighteenth century.

10.30-11.00 Coffee 

11.00-12.00 Panel VI – Medical Knowledge II

Chair: Professor Abdul-Karim Rafeq (College of William and Mary)

  • Dr Maurits van den Boogert (Leiden), Dr Russell’s clinical eye: western reports on Ottoman medicine from the eighteenth century.
  • Dr Kyle Evered (Michigan State), Locating malaria in the late Ottoman context: between republican narratives and the historical record.

12.00-13.00 Panel VII – Hospitals

Chair: Professor Filiz Yenişehirlioğlu (Başkent University, Ankara)

  • Dr Miri Shefer-Mossensohn (Tel Aviv), The many masters of early modern Ottoman hospitals: between the imperial palace, harem, bureaucracy, and the Muslim legal courts.
  • Dr Nina Ergin (Koç University, Istanbul), Healing by design? A multi-sensorial approach to early modern Ottoman hospital architecture.

13.00-14.30 Lunch

Afternoon free

Saturday 6 July

9.00-12.00 Panel VIII – City and Health

Chair: Professor Elizabeth Zachariadou (Crete)

  • Professor Abdul-Karim Rafeq (The College of William and Mary), Traditional and institutional medicine in Ottoman Damascus.
  • Dr Amina El-Bendary (AUC, Cairo), A social history of medicine in medieval Egypt and Syria.

10.00-10.30 Coffee

  • Dr Nükhet Varlık (Rutgers), Imagined healthscapes: places of health and disease in early modern Ottoman cities.
  • Dr Colin Heywood (Hull), Edirne-Izmir-Larnaca, 1690-1710: experiences of disease and death in three Ottoman milieux.
  • Dr Antonis Anastasopoulos (Crete), Communicating death: Ottoman gravestones from Crete.

12.00-13.00 Roundtable Discussion: 

Discussant: Dr Gábor Ágoston (Georgetown)

13.00-14.30 Lunch

The organizers gratefully acknowledge the support of the George Macaulay Trevelyan Fund and Newnham College

For further details please contact Kate Fleet ( or Ebru Boyar (



Rose water from Mecca and gall-nuts from the Levant: the trade in curative commodities between Southeast Asia and the Middle East in the early modern period

Tara Alberts (University of York)

Recent scholarship has stressed the vibrant trade in spices and other commodities between Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Historians have explored the effect of these diplomatic, mercantile and religious exchanges on the societies, cultures and economies of both regions. The arrival of Europeans in Southeast Asia brought added complexity to these trade networks: disrupting some established connections and influencing the creation of new diplomatic and mercantile links between the two regions. European accounts are frequently very detailed about the commodities available in the entrepôts of Southeast Asia. In particular, these accounts can reveal the flourishing medical market place which existed in many port-cities, illustrating the wide range of medicines, ritual objects and other materials which could be used for healing. This paper explores European perceptions of the trade between the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and in particular of the curative commodities (purportedly) arriving in Southeast Asia with Middle Eastern merchants. Many European accounts made rhetorical reference to the supposed struggle between cross and crescent in the region, as Islam and Christianity both gained converts. Against this backdrop, medicines and ideas about health and healing often took on added significance in narratives of the encounter. Some missionaries expressed concern, for example, that Muslim proselytisers would be able to persuade Southeast Asians of the veracity of Islam through providing access to novel cures. This paper will explore the ways in which monitoring the exchange of curative commodities between Southeast Asia and the Middle East became linked to wider European objectives and anxieties in the region and the wider world.

 Health and philanthropy among the Ottoman Orthodox population, eighteenth to early nineteenth century

John Alexander (Thessaloniki) and Sophia Laiou (Ionian University, Corfu)

For the Orthodox Christian urban population of the Ottoman Empire the eighteenth century was identified with demographic and economic development. This development resulted in obvious socio-economic differentiation between the Orthodox urban strata and the formation of “internal” elites, which interacted with the Ottoman administrative system  and/or participated in the commercial networks within or outside the Ottoman empire.

A means of reproduction of the power structure within the boundaries of the Orthodox Ottoman population was the practice of philanthropy. In the second half of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century in large Ottoman cities wealthy Christian reaya funded the building of hospitals, aiming at the comfort of the co religious lower social layers. On the other hand, Orthodox bishops, continuing the philanthropic tradition of the Orthodox Church, donated money to the monasteries for the relief of the ill and infirm people.

In this paper the above mentioned aspects of the philanthropic activity will be addressed, focusing on issues referring to: a) the restriction of this activity in large urban centers, in full correspondence with the restricted number of the hospitals established as vakıfs by members of the Ottoman dynasty; if in the case of the Ottoman Muslims the offer of food was considered a more significant act of philanth