Old Rulers of the Middle Ages. Kings, Doges and Popes. A Contribution to Gerontological Medieval Studies

Dr. Christian Alexander Neumann

Old age is a universal phenomenon that has multiple facets: on the one hand it is a gradual and continuous biological process, while on the other hand it is a cultural construction and therefore a variable research object. The overarching question is that of the relevance of the factor “age” on the nature of human behaviour, with particular focus on holders of political power. In concrete terms, the aim is to analyse the period of old age of selected medieval sovereigns from a "geronto-medieval" perspective and in comparative terms. The mentioned term is used here to mean a specifically medievalist approach to the field of gerontology. The topic of elderly rulers has already attracted a certain amount of attention, but not to the degree that would have been desirable, especially with regard to the late Middle Ages: the empirical basis could be widened and the empirical findings could be theorised more intensively. The project is positioned at the crossing point of three research traditions that are to be brought together: medieval research on old age, medieval research on kingship, dogeship and papacy, and modern gerontological research. The aim of this intertwinement is to give an innovative view on old age and power in the Middle Ages. The extent to which gerontological theories are time-bound will be assessed on the basis of historical examples. Selected Venetian doges, kings of England and popes are to be considered as case studies. This choice is motivated by the existence of numerous elderly sovereigns among the doges and popes, as well as by the great wealth of sources that are supposed to complement each other well. Three perspectives will be adopted: a discoursive, a discoursive-praxeological and a praxeological. For each of them, a specific body of sources will be analysed on the basis of a specific catalogue of questions, although possible overlaps cannot be excluded. Some of the fundamental issues addressed include: concepts of old age and power and representations of elderly sovereigns, narratives referring to specific old sovereigns and in how far they are influenced by norms and ideals, and, finally, the sovereigns’ actions and to what extent they were conditioned, or changed, by ageing and old age.

Dr. Christian Alexander Neumann
Visiting Scholar (Heidelberg University, Partnership Positions Programme of the Max Weber Foundation) (2023–2024)
Researcher Middle Ages DHI Rome (2017–2023)