Materiality, Quarantine and Contagion in the Early Modern Mediterranean

Marina Inì

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To fight the spread of the plague, early modern Mediterranean states commonly quarantined goods and people on the move inside complexes called lazzaretti. These institutions, managed by the health magistracies of different Mediterranean cities, formed a transnational plague-preventative system. Based on an exploration of both the early modern theory of contagion and the eighteenth-century quarantine procedures shared between Health Offices across the Mediterranean, this article demonstrates that goods were categorised into different levels of contagion depending on their materials. Different disinfection practices were followed according to the level of danger posed by different types of goods. Anxieties caused by the interaction between surfaces and the human body shaped the procedures, the architecture and the everyday routine inside lazzaretti. While analysing the materiality of quarantined goods, the regulations and the architecture of the lazzaretti, this article highlights the relevance of material culture to early modern medical preventative practices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1161-1184
Number of pages24
JournalSocial History of Medicine
Issue number4
Early online date21 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


  • architecture
  • contagion
  • materiality
  • plague
  • quarantine


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