Inspired by a previous question on the historical treatment of the disabled, I wonder if there are any written sources from Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Babylonian and civilizations from before 1400BCE about the following things:

  1. What sorts of people would the early civilizations consider "handicapped", that is, distinguished from "normal" members of society due to what we would consider a disability today? (Based on contemporary textual sources, not archaeological inference.)

  2. How were these people treated? (May use textual sources and archaeology.)

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    @called2voyage OK, I've tried to reword the question to something clearer and without using terms such as "policy" in a sense completely different from commonly accepted meaning. Commented Sep 1, 2013 at 18:49
  • @LennartRegebro I like your edit, but I've added a small bit to it. Commented Sep 3, 2013 at 12:47
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    You can research also Taygetus mountain, where Spartans threw disabled people from.
    – Voitcus
    Commented Sep 6, 2013 at 20:56

2 Answers 2


Prof. Dr. Christian Laes and Dr. Dorien Meulenijzer have put together a web resource for scholarship on this very topic: Disability History in the Ancient World.

They have a nice bibliography (albeit in .PDF) that can give you an overview on how various ancient cultures defined and dealt with disability, from both primary sources and from archaeology. While many of the articles listed are not online, your friendly neighborhood librarian will be able to help you run down any that catch your eye.


I do not know about all the cultures but I would like to add a point how it was in ancient India.

  1. The first reference to disability is in ancient Vedic test 'Rig Veda'. There is a reference to Prosthesis for a queen named Vishpala. She loses her leg in a battle but gets Iron leg so that she could continue the battle. This incident dates earlier to Indus civilization.
  • Religious literature should not be mistaken for documentary evidence. In addition, the Rig Veda was not committed to writing until the 4th century CE, and the oldest surviving texts only date to the late middle ages. Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 13:04
  • @RISwampYankee: Vedas are not completely religious scriptures but also source of knowledge and gives historical details of early civilization. They have many important incidents which most of the people failed to translate properly. I just mentioned it as it happened in a battle.
    – Pradeep
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 13:43

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