Cities and syphilis in Europe (16th-21st centuries)

Cities, Urban Societies and Syphilis in Mediterranea and beyond (16th-21st centuries)

Colloquium (Mixte Research Unit 7268) ADèS - Bio-cultural anthropology, Law, Ethics & Health

Faculty of Medicine, Marseille

25, 26 and 27 October 2017

Submission for podium and poster presentations (in French or English) are welcome. Deadline was 25th April 2017.


urban societies cities syphilis Mediterranean sea

Faculté de Médecine 27 bd Jean Moulin, 13385 Marseille France


With almost 500 cases diagnosed in France in 2015, syphilis has not disappeared yet. After decades of dormancy that followed the spread of treatment through antibiotics, the pale Treponema, which has been on a constant rise, is now emerging, and taking advantage of the slackening of STD prevention practices. On a local scale, the disease may even become epidemic (44 cases were diagnosed in Brive-la-Gaillarde in 2015 alone). Still, the current sanitary conditions are not comparable at all with those of the mid-19th century, and not even to those of 1922 when, as reported by Virginie De Luca, “the commission on prevention of venereal diseases estimated they cost 140.000 lives” (stillbirths, abortions due to pathologies, infant or adult deaths) and caused a ratio of 1 sick adult out of 10. And yet, the “scourge of Naples” is still challenging society and medicine. The very nature of syphilis both frightens and fascinates. A shameful disease contracted in the intimacy of the bedroom, it has been questioning our societies for many centuries now, notably their morals, their capacity to medically and therapeutically innovate, as well as their arrangements for the enforcement of a public health policy or their will to assume an efficient healthcare policy. Although those questions are not recent, they remain deeply rooted in our relationship to the disease and to the bodies, which can be severely bruised in the third stage of its evolution.


Coming from ancient times, syphilis (along with other venereal diseases), maybe more than any other contagious disease, embodies the tensions of a world that started globalising from the 16th century on, with a pace quickening in the 19th century. If we stick to Alain Corbin’s description of “the composite image of the venereal peril, an unprecedented spectre whose original features […] were to last until the mid-20th century”, we cannot but study a slowly-spreading epidemic whose dynamics Peter Baldwin situates between “prostitution and promiscuity” before shedding light on the “vague desire for control” that is attempting to superimpose on the dynamics of movement. Under the supervision of these two references made by historians, the main topic of this symposium is to propose a convergence between thoughts emanating from historians, anthropologists and doctors with a focus on the “shock” caused by the encounter of the pale Treponema with societies on a municipal scale, and particularly in harbour cities. We would like this symposium to be placed in the context of a global thought on Cities, Urban Societies and Syphilis in the Mediterranean (from the 16th to the 21st Centuries), without excluding the propositions that would go beyond this strict geographical context. Therefore, the symposium aims at combining a multiplicity of contexts (colonial, metropolitan…) and a long-time perspective with the contemporary experience of a growing syphilis epidemic.


The symposium’s epistemological choice is to propose miscellaneous views and approaches. Joint analyses of historical and biological archives reveal the need for patterns of diffusion and expression of syphilis on the scale of a city, a merchant harbour or a military one. The paleopathological and archeothanatological evidences are scarce in the modern and contemporary periods, notably concerning Mediterranean shores, Thus they do not allow either grasping or supporting the sociological and anthropological context that shrouds the cases of persons struck or killed by “smallpox”. On the long term, and logically, the paleopathological and historical debate on the origins of syphilis seems to have remained a central question. Far beyond the question of its origins, the contributions to the symposium are expected to propose extensive readings of the relationship between syphilis and harbour societies. This symposium is therefore unusual in its ambition to initiate a dialogue between diverse subjects (medicine, epidemiology and public health, history, geography, funeral anthropology, social anthropology, sociology) on a single topic and in a common scope.


The symposium will be articulated in 3 sessions aiming at documenting and giving useful information about the spread of the disease on the scale of a city, a harbour and notably a Mediterranean territory. In the concern of comparing the ways of diffusion as well as the sources, contributions about other geographical areas will obviously be welcome. As long as they concern a municipal scale or harbour context (be it civil or military)--- or if they deal with enclosed spaces l(ike enclaves or geographically, culturally or socially-isolated populations).


The symposium will start with communications dealing with very contemporary medical issues (Session 1 - Cities, Urban Societies and Syphilis in the Mediterranean: Current Medical Data). These contributions will be based on issues linked with the diagnosis and the epidemiology of syphilis, with the methods of prevention and the way public health policies get down to work, or with the available therapeutic solutions. The symposium will then move on to diachronic perspectives (Session 2 - Cities, Urban Societies and Syphilis in the Mediterranean: Historical Context and Medical-historical Inferences). To finish, the anthropological dimension will be taken into account (Session 3 - Cities, Urban Societies and Syphilis in the Mediterranean: Anthropological Approach). Beyond the paleopathological and archeothanatological contexts, this final session will try to broach the evolution of social constructions or the field of the different representations of the disease.





Villes, sociétés urbaines et syphilis en Méditerranée et au-delà (XVIème-XXIème siècle)


Marseille, Faculté de Médecine 25, 26 et 27 octobre 2017


Comité d’organisation


  • Benoît Pouget (IEP d’Aix-en-Provence/CHERPA/ADèS)
  • Yann Ardagna (UMR 7268 Adès)
  • Michel Signoli (UMR 7268 Adès)
  • Laetitia Delouis (Chargé de Communication faculté médecine Marseille)


Email de contact :


Comité scientifique


  • Yann Ardagna (UMR 7268 Adès)
  • Philippe Berbis(APHM/ UMR 7268 Adès)
  • Philippe Biaggini (UMR 7268 Adès)
  • Philippe Bourmaud (Lyon III/LAHRAT)
  • Patrick Bourreille (Service Historique de la Défense)
  • Walter Bruyère-Ostells (IEP d’Aix-en-Provence/CHERPA)
  • Dominique Chevé (UMR 7268 Adès)
  • Guillemette Crouzet (Univ. Genève)
  • Michel Drancourt (IHU Méditerranée Infection)
  • Nicolas Dupin (APHP)
  • Yannick Jaffré (CNRS/UMI Environnement, Santé, Société)
  • Pierre Le Coz (UMR 7268 Adès, EEM)
  • Patrick Louvier (Montpellier III/ CRISES)
  • Jean Jacques Morand (HIA Sainte Anne – Toulon)
  • Benoît Pouget (IEP d’Aix-en-Provence/CHERPA/ UMR 7268 Adès)
  • Isabelle Renaudet (AMU/TELEMME)
  • Lisa Rosner (Stockton University – New Jersey)
  • Michel Signoli (UMR 7268 Adès)
  • Salvatore Speziale (Université de Messine)
  • Thomas Vaisset (Service Historique de la Défense)


Villes, sociétés urbaines et syphilis en Méditerranée et au-delà (XVIème-XXIème siècle)




Les frais de participation au colloque seront de l’ordre de 60 euros pour les statutaires et de 25 euros pour les étudiants

De plus la participation au dîner du colloque (26 octobre 2017) sera de l’ordre de 30 euros


Registration fees will be 60 euros (25 for students). Moreover the participation in the meeting dinner will be about 30 euros


Modalités d’envoi des propositions

Les propositions d’intervention doivent être rédigées en français ou en anglais (les deux langues du colloque)

Le résumé (maximum 1000 mots) rappelant clairement l’objectif de la proposition éventuellement ses méthodes, l’échantillon d’analyse et les résultats discutés à défaut de conclusion. Le résumé doit également mentionner :

- Le type de communication (orale ou bien affichée). En effet, Pour les sessions 1 et 3 il est également possible de proposer des communications affichées pour des informations ponctuelles, des « case report » par exemple paléopathologique ou encore médico-historiques

- La session concernée

- 3 à 5 mots clés

- Le titre

- Les auteurs avec appartenances institutionnelles

- L’émail et l’adresse de l’intervenant

Les propositions doivent être soumis (texte format word ou équivalent) par email à l’adresse suivante :

avant le 25 avril 2017










Oral and poster communications

posters can be included only for the session 1 and 3 (palaeopathological case reports for exampale, short report etc..)

Abstracts, posters and oral communication files: exclusively in French or English

Spoken language of the oral communication : French or English

the abstract should include :

- a text (in Microsoft Office Word or compatible format) containing informations concerning the main goals (and eventually sample, methods) results, discussion or final considerations;

- Title;

- Author(s) and institutional address(es);

- Email;

- Text (maximum of 1000 words

- The session in which you will present

- Keywords between 3 and 5 (which shall not appear in the title of the abstract)

Those interested in participating must submit by email (  until april, 25th 2017