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France’s King Louis IX May Have Suffered From Scurvy

Monday, June 24, 2019

King Louis scurvyPARIS, FRANCE—Live Science reports that Philippe Charlier of the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques-Chirac and his colleagues examined a medieval jawbone that was buried in Notre Dame Cathedral and said to belong to Louis IX, also known as St. Louis, who was king of France during the Eighth Crusade. The researchers found that the jawbone’s owner suffered from a severe case of scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency and characterized by gum disease, loss of teeth, anemia, and a weakened immune system. Charlier said the jawbone had the right shape to have belonged to a 56-year-old man—Louis’ age at death—and resembled sculpturesof the king in the cathedral. Louis died in 1270 while besieging Tunis, where he ate a diet comprised mostly of fish, which is low in vitamin C. Medieval chronicler Jean de Joinville wrote that the soldiers in Louis’ army suffered from gum necrosis, and barbers had to cut the dead tissue out of their mouths. Radiocarbon dating of the jawbone indicated its owner died between A.D. 1030 and 1220, but the king’s low-carbon fish diet may have skewed the results, potentially making the bone seem older than it really is, the researchers explained. For more on medieval France, go to “Islam North of the Pyrenees.”

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