Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

A Population Falling Ill: The Poor Health of Saxons in the Long Eighteenth Century

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

A Population Falling Ill: The Poor Health of Saxons in the Long Eighteenth Century

Article excerpt


a. Focus of the Paper

This article is not about military medicine in Saxony in the early-modern period as such. The focus is more upon health, nutrition, and physical infirmity of Saxon soldiers during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Nevertheless, in order to analyze these issues in more detail, this article also explores past administrative activities of military medicine. The rich surviving records of the Saxon army on the physique and health of its servicemen allow for an in-depth analysis of health and related issues. Moreover, based on the data provided by these records, the so-called biological standard of living of Saxons as indicated by health, nutritional status, and physical infirmity of the population will be analyzed as well. Presumably, the biological standard of living was correlated to economic development and economic growth. Hence, whether early industrialization in Saxony had any impact on the biological standard of living of the population, and whether its impact was either negative or positive, also will be examined. Thus, the findings presented here contribute to the long-standing debate about the consequences the Industrial Revolution had for material as well as for immaterial living standards. (2)

b. Health and Nutritional Status in Early Industrialization: The Case of Saxony

Rich data alone cannot be the main reason for a historical analysis. So, why look at Saxony? Saxony is certainly an important case for the history of early industrialization and the economic and social spin-offs coming from this transition. As elsewhere in Europe, some German regions underwent substantial economic changes during late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Well before the core phase of industrialization, beginning around 1850, the population had started to grow constantly. Some sectors of production had already become mechanized, markets were more integrated, people had started to work in factories, and they were more market-dependent than before, especially in relation to foodstuffs. Saxony, promoted to a kingdom in the Napoleonic era, was one of the German territories that experienced an economic take-off quite early, from around 1800 onward. In particular, the regions in the South alongside the Ore Mountains, which were densely populated, exhibited proto-industry mainly in textiles well before the Napoleonic Wars. (3) Together with the Rhineland, Saxony is the very model of a pioneering state of German industrialization. Hubert Kiesewetter has very plausibly distinguished the pattern of early-industrial structural change that can be observed in Saxony from other types of economic development in nineteenth-century Germany. In contrast to Saxony or the Rhineland, Hesse, Baden, and Wuerttemberg experienced industrialization only after 1850 with a specialization in light industries. And in Bavaria (with the exemption of Munich, Nuremberg, and Augsburg) as well as in Mecklenburg, industrialization was almost non-existent. (4) Thus, the pattern of early industrialization in Saxony resembles the English one, with a similar initial emphasis on textiles, and the subsequent emergence of a strong machinery industry.

The economy's transition toward industrialized production and modern economic growth certainly raises the question of how living standards develop. Does a growing economy always mean an increase in human welfare? Regarding the level of material wealth, it is undeniable that people in Germany at the end of the nineteenth century on average are better off than their ancestors were a century before. However, does this qualification hold also for welfare more broadly defined, for the issues of health and nutrition, for example? (5)

Regarding the case of Saxony, an early answer to this question was given by the statistician Ernst Engel (1821-1896), who was a director of the kingdom's newly founded statistical office. …

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