Monograph Proposal


Motherhood and infancies in the Mediterranean in Antiquity 


Margarita Sánchez Romero. University of Granada, Spain

Rosa María Cid López. Deméter. University of Oviedo, Spain


Motherhood and childhood are social and cultural constructions that have their origins in prehistoric times and are visible through Greek and Roman discourses in Antiquity. In this volume we will explore the various images of maternity and infancy and the identification with women and womanhood in prehistoric and classic societies. For these reasons aspects such as the crucial role of maintenance activities and care, the processes of socialization and learning, the impact of the infant death, the figure of the mother queen, the religious discourses about motherhood, the rules on parental rights, the transgressions of traditional motherhood or the emotional aspects of the mother-child relation will be analyzed. The book will search in the ancient Mediterranean area, from Mesopotamia to the Iberian Peninsula and from prehistoric communities to classic societies with examples of Mesopotamian, Phoenician or Iberian societies. Our aim is to go deeper into the gender analysis considering motherhood and its plurality, and the diversity of women´s agency through history.

Word count (approximate)

130.000 aprox. (6000 x 21 chapters + presentation)

Proposed timetable for submission of manuscript

Chapter must be sent to the editors in September the 1rst 2017. Editors will do the revision of the contents during September and October. The book will be sent to oxbow for November the 1rst 2017.

List of contents and abstracts


  1. Presentation
  2. Motherhood technologies in prehistoric societies

Margarita Sánchez Romero. University of Granada

In this chapter I will discuss technologies of motherhood in prehistoric societies. Firstly, I will look to the concept of technology in order to observe and reconsider several works, strategies and mechanisms that not always have been considered full of technology such as care, food preparation, breastfeeding and weaning processes, etc.; secondly, I will argue how this activities and productions are essential for the cohesion and survival of human groups, and for that reason must be considered as central elements in the organization, explanation and understanding of past communities.

  1. Learning to be: Maternal practices and ceramic productions in the Bronze Age of the peninsular southeast, Spain

Eva Alarcón García. University of Granada and Juan Jesús Padilla Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Learning processes play a prominent role in the analysis of past maternal practices. Among other issues because they allow a real approximation to the dynamics of socialization set up amid juvenile individuals groups and an accurate approach to the behaviours of specific communities. This work intends to study the assimilation of knowledge to produce pottery during the Bronze Age in the site of Peñalosa (Baños de la Encina, Jaén). To date, a total of forty-eight fragments have been documented, which seem to be closely related to each of the phases associated to the acquisition of an essential everyday life technical habitus. In order to assert the inherent complexity that resides in this type of patterns, a methodology based on a contextual, morphological, technological and chemical analysis of the ceramics containers has been developed.

  1. The child is dead: decision-making and emigration in Bronze Age Iberia

Paloma González Marcén. Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona

Prehistoric research has studied multiple episodes of abandonment of settlements and burial sites which, in most cases, have been associated with profound socio-economic and cultural changes of these communities leading to new ways of life. However, it has hardly been analyzed how these changes are linked to the singular decisions that force a human group to abandon its traditional way of life forever.

In the cave of Forat de Conqueta, in the Pyrenean area of northeastern Iberia, a child burial was documented sealing that karstic cavity which had been used as collective burial place during great part of the second millennium BC. The end of the funerary use of the cave coincides with the abandonment of settlement in this area and suggests that the death of this child may have triggered the emigration of part of the community to other territories looking for a new social and economic context to live in.

For illustrating this interpretation of the Forat de Conqueta child burial some examples of prehistoric and historical planning abandonment will be revisited and linked to the social and symbolic meaning of children’s deaths and graves.

  1. From loving mothers to childfree women: motherhood(s) in ancient Near Eastern sources and studies

Agnès GarciaVentura. IPOA, Universitat de Barcelona

The about 3000 years of cuneiform written sources offer us a rich and varied panorama to reflect on how motherhood was constructed in the ancient Near East. Taking advantage of this richness of the sources, in this chapter I present a selection of written sources which may help us to figure out this diversity of motherhood, aiming to show that motherhood was neither constant nor unchanging, but that different motherhoods were constructed and portrayed in different sources and different chronologies. In addition, I will also discuss, applying an intersectional approach, how motherhood was also constructed diversely depending on age or status of potential mothers, for instance.

Besides, I aim to reflect on the way this diversity has been portrayed in secondary literature, proposing as well a historiographical overview. In doing so, I aim to proof that too often no diversity, but an idealized and totalizing ideal of motherhood, influenced by nineteenth century constructed ideals of femininity, has been portrayed in secondary literature. Developing these two main approaches to the topic I aim to follow recent proposals by scholars such as Stephanie Lynn Budin (2011, Images of Woman and Child from the Bronze Age: Reconsidering Fertility, Maternity, and Gender in the Ancient World) or M. Erica Couto‐Ferreira (2016, “Being mothers or acting (like) mothers? Constructing motherhood in ancient Mesopotamia”, in Women in Antiquity. Real Women across the Ancient World). My aim then, as that of both scholars, is to collect primary sources in order to reassess the interpretations proposed so far applying the perspectives of gender studies in an attempt to confer complexity to our analyses of ancient women, motherhoods and infancies.

  1. Mothers, motherhood and mothering among the Phoenician and Punic communities

Ana Delgado Hervás and Aurora Rivera Hernández. Universitat Pompeu Fabra

This article explores ideologies of motherhood and mothering practices that occur in diverse Phoenician and Punic communities along the First Millenium B.C. These communities constitute a network of groups which extend across the several Mediterranean and Atlantic regions, and that emerged due to multiple migration and entanglement experiences between Levantine groups and local populations. This study is focused in the everyday practices and ritual actions related with sexuality, conception, pregnancy, childbirth and childcare which are documented in different domestic spaces as well as burial and religious contexts of diverse Phoenician and Punic centres. Our study shows firstly, the diversity of experiences of motherhood and mothering practices in Phoenician and Punic communities and highlight likewise how these practices transformed over time; Secondly, it points out the central importance of the politics of sexuality and mothering in the different diasporic and colonial contexts analysed; Thirdly, it permits to consider how the ideologies of motherhood and mothering practices acted at the same time as spaces of oppression and also of empowerment, love and joy of these women who were mothers in these communities. This study supports the idea that motherhood and mothering are not only socially but also historically constructed through daily actions that occur in particular scenarios of action and relation. And far from being limited to the personal, individual and private spheres, they generate political concerns of first order in the heart of these communities.

  1. Mothering dead infant: The materialization of grief in Sicilian infant burials, 10th – 4th centuries BC

Meritxell Ferrer, Universitat Pompeu Fabra

In the archaeology of infant death and burial, some traditional narratives have argued that infant death had a very small impact on the society that the infant belonged to. This limited impact has mostly been explained by alluding to the high level of infant mortality in the pre-industrial age, as well as to the circumscribed social relationships that young children and infants maintained beyond the family in their short lifespans.

In opposition to these traditional views, the aim of this chapter is to analyze in comparative terms the materialization of grief, as well as the care of dead infants, in three coetaneous communities that inhabited Sicily during the First Millennium BC: Sicilian native peoples, Phoenicians and Greeks. Through a cross-cultural perspective, the study of the practices and materialities documented in some of their cemeteries highlights the differences and similarities in mothering and dealing with the death of a young family member between three communities that lived in close contact with each other.

  1. Children corporalities in Iron Age Mediterranean

Mireia López Beltrán. University of Valencia

This chapter will focus on the social construction of children bodies in two different contexts of the Iron Age Western Mediterranean. More specifically, I will analyse how children corporalities are created through material connections with other beings like ancestors, divinities and animals. Childhood is a complex category that can be assessed from relational and bodily perspectives especially keeping into consideration that children are dependent on their communities. From this point of view, children bodies are understood as the accumulation and reinvention of biographies of other people and objects. It is my intention, then, to study in which ways these ideas were influential or not in forging children’s identities in different Mediterranean societies.

In order to do that, I have chosen two archaeological case-studies: children tombs below houses in eastern Iberia (5th- 2nd centuries BCE) and the so-called Phoenician and Punic tophets of the Central Mediterranean (Sardinia and Sicily) 7th-2nd centuries BCE. Tophets are defined as sacred places that contained urns with cremated bones of very young persons and animals. The comparative perspective will be useful to show the heterogeinity of the construction of childhood in Iro Age Western Mediterranean.

  1. Maternities in Iberian societies. Strategies, regulations and representations in the ritual context (4th-2nd centuries BC)

Carmen Rueda Galán, Carmen Rísquez Cuenca and Ana B. Herranz Sánchez. Instituto Universitario de Investigación en Arqueología Ibérica. University of Jaén

The analysis of maternal practices brings us closer to the multidirectional readings of the societies of the past. As a historical and cultural construction, maternal practice in Iberian societies is perceived as a process that involves not only physiological aspects, but also others of a formative and learning nature. Thus, the religious dimension of maternity in the Iberian ritual context provides us with the fundamental keys for understanding the different moments or phases of this practice, taking into account its cyclical nature.

In this way, we observe how the biological experience of pregnancy and birth, as well as the psychological dimension of maternity, is very rich in its religious consequences and ritual materiality. There are symbolic devices supported by mechanisms of learning and ritual sanction that are likewise based on the reiteration of behaviours. This ritual liturgy as a vital sequence in what demarcates the frontier stages is documented at numerous sanctuaries in the south-east of the Iberian Peninsula and contributed to the conservation of the roles and systems of collective identification. It also contributed to the transmission of values as tools that were included in the mechanisms for teaching certain functions and for the introduction of habits in celebrations and social events. This accumulation of aspects is the reflection of the complex relations between the male and female environments, which are integrated as attributable aspects in the official religious structures.

  1. Maternity, gender and identity in the Greek polis

Maria Dolors Molas Font. University of Barcelona

Pericles Citizenship Law of 451 BC gave to the Athenians maternity a deeply political meaning, since politeia started to be an exclusive prerogative of those who were born in the monogamous and legitimate marriage, contracted between a citizen and the daughter of another citizen, that is to say between a polites and an asté. In this way, the motherhood of the Athenians was placed in the neuralgic center of the organizational system, being the legitimate motherhood indispensable for the continuity and survival of the polis. This gave rise to such a powerful image of woman as a wife and a mother that transcends the ideological and socio-political framework to become an almost essentialist and universal idea of woman, biased image of reality that masks the existence of other maternities that do not occupy the center of the organizational system. From the reading of some texts of attic oratory, the essay raises the need to create new words that make visible the existence of these other maternities, such as concubines, foreigners or slaves.

  1. Childhood and Maternity in Ancient Greece: Images and texts      

Susana Reboreda Morillo. University of Vigo

The purpose of this chapter is to analyse how Ancient Greek civilization, during Archaic and Classic period, looked upon and transmitted the relationships between mothers and their sons and daughters up to the age in which they became adults. I must point out that I will limit this study to the context of women citizens, since this is the social group about which we have more information. Two types of sources will be analysed: iconographic and written, particularly literary ones. The context in which this relationship develops will basically be in the oikós, that unit of reference where women and mothers carried out the main activities assigned to them by society. I will also analyse the rituals that accompany the different stages of the life of the mothers with respect to their descendants, such as giving birth and the acknowledgement of the legitimacy and the marriage. In between both stages, a process of nurturing is established in parallel, which begins with breast feeding, and another of an educational nature in which beyond teaching the basic traits of life (walking, talking, eating, …) mothers inculcated in their children the need to respect the norms of a patriarchal and poliade society.

  1. Maternity and Childhood in Ancient Greece: a Legal Perspective

Laura Pepe, Università degli Studi di Milano

This essay aims at comparing the legal systems about women and maternity in two different Greek cities: Athens and Gortyn. In Athens, no law is specifically dedicated to the relationship between a mother and her son (who are not even considered relatives), and the only interest of the lawgiver, when a mother or a pregnant woman are mentioned in his law, is the financial aspect of their status. This happens for example in a Solonian law, where we read that the archon had to take care of pregnant widows and orphans (namely children with no father, but not necessarily with no mother); the only concern here, far from being the ‘wellness’ of a woman and her child, is the protection of estates in families where the head of the household is lacking.

In the ‘Lawcode of Gortyn’, instead, there are some provisions that clearly demonstrate the interest of the law in the relationship between mothers and children. In the Doric city of Gortyn was in fact possible for a pregnant woman who had divorced his husband to keep the baby and raise her in her family, in case the ex husband had refused to accept her. This is just one of the many aspects that prove the ‘emancipation’ granted to women in Doric societies.

  1. The Queen Mother and her children: Royal motherhood in Hellenistic Greece

María Dolores Mirón Pérez. University of Granada

This article aims to study the role and image of Greek Hellenistic queens as mothers of princes and kings. Although their relationship with their children, as they were portrayed by ancient literary sources, varied highly, from affection and collaboration to conflict, or even violence, dynastic propaganda usually presented it as harmonious. Nevertheless, the queens’ virtues as mothers were rarely central in their official image.

Attalid queens were the exception, especially Apollonis, mother of Kings Eumenes II and Attalus II of Pergamon. She was unanimously portrayed by ancient sources (literary, epigraphic and iconographic) as an ideal mother in harmonious relationship with her children, and her perfect motherhood was at the core of dynastic image. Beyond propaganda, it is possible to trace the reality of the relationship with her children, her agency and authority in the domestic and public realms, her role as educator of princes, her mediation in family/political conflicts, her influence as model of royal motherhood for her daughter-in-law Queen Stratonice, and her active participation in the construction of her own image as a successful mother.

  1. Mothers, sons and daughters. Maternal relationships in the carmina epigráfica on the Iberian Peninsula

Rosa María Cid López. University of Oviedo

This paper analyses motherhood and childhood through the maternal-filial relationships reflected in the Carmina Epigraphica of Ancient Rome. Bücheler catalogued these epigraphs in 1889, drawing the interest of specialists in classical philology, but less so of historians. The epigraphs’ number is large and typology diverse, but funeral poems stand out, especially those that are dedicated to children by their fathers and/or mothers. Children’s premature passing resulted in emotionally-charged texts of great literary beauty.

Compared to the Greek-Roman literature or the juridical norms, the funerary Carmina Epigraphica undeniably show very different images of maternal bonds. In addition to displaying the deep grief of a mother after the death of a child, it is worth noting that the discourses chosen for the inscriptions vary depending of the sex of the child. This suggests that different qualities were already attributed to men and women in the early stages of childhood.

A gender analysis of the inscriptions found in the Iberian Peninsula, studied as an indication of what happened in the Roman Empire as a whole, help us delve into a better understanding of the bonds between a mother and her offspring.

  1. Mater civitatis, patrona civitatis: forms of sponsorship, charity and foundations for children.

Almudena Domínguez Arranz. University of Zaragoza

This paper aims at analyzing public activities of prominent Roman matrons with control of their own fortune and connections to the imperial family, who took part in the public life as benefactores, and they were rewarded with public portraits that expressed the gratitude of their communities. They, too, would have enjoyed rights and freedoms not available to most Roman women and to be entitled matres and patronae of the towns. These aristocratic ladies must have exercised very real and practical influence over the cities near which they owned property. We know these wealthy matres had public and charitable actions that brought about positive economic and social benefits for the communities they was involved in. The fact that the children benefited from the the child-assistance schemes had a clear ideological significance for the imperial domus and provided self-advertisement for local elites who contributed with endowments in their wills. This is supported by contemporary texts and the evidence of iconography and inscriptions.

  1. Mothers and Sons in Plutarch’s Roman Parallel Lives. Auctoritas and Maternal Influence during the Roman Republic

Borja Méndez Santiago. University of Oviedo

The aim of this paper is to unravel some aspects of the childhood which are dealt with in Plutarch’s Roman Parallel Lives. Firstly, if offers a general perspective about the treatment of childhood, not only in the Parallel Lives, but also in some treatises often included in the so-called Moralia. Then, it will focus on the difference between ‘auctoritas’ and ‘potestas’, in the belief of their centrality for standing out the powers of men and women, and the ways they affect children. The last part of the work will try to offer some examples in order to confirm or reject some of the hypotheses given before.

In this sense, the Lives of Coriolanus, Cato The Younger or the Gracchi Brothers could give us some relevant information to illustrate the main role of mothers in their children’s education. This close relationship, which lasts until the mother’s —or son’s death, will affect both in all aspects of life.

  1. Seruae and Mothers in Roman Italy. The Analyses of the Epigraphic Evidence (AD I-III)

Carla Rubiera Cancelas.

This chapter aims to examine the information belonging to slaves quoted as mothers in the Latin inscriptions of Italy. Despite the fact that slave families were not respected by the Romans, some female slaves appear in the epigraphic evidence, mainly funerary, as mothers. The analysis of these remains allows us to know how motherhood worked in slavery and how this kind of relationship could be a bond between not only people bound into slavery but also between slaves and ex-slaves. Taking into account the entire context, it will also study if the nuclear family within slavery was mother-children.

Out of the legitimate motherhood, slaves could be used for breeding (as a source of Roman slavery supply), but they could become mothers as epigraphy shows (through long relationships with their progeny). Hence, the experiences of these women as mothers comes to light, so an important point will be to count how many women were commemorated as mothers in the epigraphic remains from Roman Italy.

In conclusion, in order to interpret epigraphic information, this chapter will envisage different scenarios, supported not only by epigraphy but sometimes by other sources, where enslaved women played the role of mother. Otherwise, other scenarios show how they were not capable of being close to their children. Therefore, we will study this topic from slave’s point of view and from the consequences in their life.

  1. On the margins of motherhood: images of the puella docta and the lover-poet in the Latin love elegy

Rosa Mª Marina Sáez. University of Zaragoza

Latin love elegy presents a literary universe on the margins of conventional gender relations, in which women appear in a very different role from matrona, faithful wife and selfless mother in Roman traditional family. The way of life of the elegiac puella seems incompatible with motherhood, in a world such as the Roman, in which the social, gender or age-related roles were very clearly delineated.

This paper analyzes the literary universe created by the Roman elegiac poets of Augustan age around the figures of the puella docta and the lover-poet, regarding their attitudes towards motherhood and traditional family. The definition of elegiac puella as anti-mother leads the poets to reelaborate some traditional literary topics, such as the beatus ille, replacing the typical familiar images described in Virgil or Horace by other countryside scenes whose protagonist are two lovers immersed in a relationship without commitment. This reelaboration of the topic contrast with other more traditional formulations in which the poet’s character changes his mask and is adapted to this new frame, while the puella disappears and is replaced by a traditional uxor with children. In contrast to these examples, in which the puella appears as a non-mother, there are others in which she appears as a maternal figure and familiar reference of the lover-poet.   This in turn adopts the role of a dependent son, within his characterization as an adulescens of Roman comedy.

The latin texts discussed are a sample of the complexity of the Latin love elegy characters, and they show the difficulty to extrapolate their literary universe to the study of the real gender roles in the Augustan Rome.

  1. Childhood and food assistance: Legal norms related education and custody of minors, from Antonino Pio to Justinian.

María Isabel Núñez Paz. University of Oviedo

The present study takes as historical starting point the long survival of the alimentary obligation in favor of the minors in cases of orphanage, cohabitation or divorce of the progenitors. The sources review the basis of the subjects and the legal content of the obligations corresponding to the right to adequate food (nutrire, allevare, educare), since Antonino Pio, that it is the first time that the mother is allowed to retain the son or daughter next to her, in case of nequitia or father proven misconduct. It analyses into the Diocletian period, the establishment of the best interest of the child. In the time of Justinian, the criterion of morality of the parents is replaced by the pragmatic criterion that gives the custody of the minors to the father or the mother according to which one of them has greater patrimony.

  1. The Power of the Augustae in the governaments of Heliogabalus and Alexander Severus

Pedro David Conesa Navarro. University of Murcia

In this paper, we pretend to validate the influence exerted by empresses Julia Maesa, Julia Soemias and Julua Mamaea on emperors Heliogabalus and Alexander Severus. For that purpose, we will mainly consult literary, epigraphic and numismatic sources. The significant role that these Sirian Women played in those emperor´s reigns who, due to their youth, resorted to said powerful women as defenders of the Dynasty´s stability, has been traditionally accepted. Starting from the honors reflecte don the epigraphs, coins and some literary testomony, the image od some vital and powerful women for the Empire has been reconstructed by the historiography. Our main is to try to evidenciate wether they really were key to these emperor´s reigns.

  1. Nuclear families in Antiquity? Discourses about families in the interpretation of the past.

Laura Bécares Rodríguez. Departament of History. University of Oviedo

Which kind of families can we find in permanent exhibitions of archeology? Have families changed throughout history? What is the “institutional” representation of families? What are the roles of the family member? Which is the process of constructing family identities in archaeological museums?

This paper focuses on this questions and the challenges that archaeological museums face (or should face) and in which they represent families. My practical examples consist of Spanish archaeological permanent exhibitions dealing with subject matter ranging from prehistoric times to ancient times and focus on images and visual displays. This will allow us to analysis the museums as product of modernity where families are represented or not as western families, and search for alternatives.

Taking the studies of Eilean Hooper-Grenhill and Gaby Porter (HOOPER-GRENHILL, 2000 and POTER, 2012), who first used Foucault´s concept of the major epistemes to discuss museums and modernity where the feminine values are subordinate and families are not an important part inside the exhibitions. In addition, I also work with the Foucault’s definition of museums as heterotopia used by Beth Lord (LORD, 2006) no only to overcome the problems about family representations inside museums but also to critique and transgress those problematic notions.

  1. Motherhood and children representations in the textbooks

Silvia Medina Quintana. University of Córdoba

Although Gender Studies have proved the important role played by women in the past, it is not as present as it should be in the History taught at school. Taking that into consideration, we have to include women in our lessons in order to avoid prejudices and to make children aware of gender (in)equality. As textbooks continue to be nowadays the main didactic resource in the schools, this proposal analyses the representations of motherhood and children to know how they reproduce, or not, the gender stereotypes and relationships.

  1. Women and children omitted in the teaching of history: causes and consequences.

Antonia García Luque. University of Jaén.

Women and children have traditionally been omitted from the processes of teaching and learning of History. In this paper we will analyze the possible causes of the patriarchal transmission of historical knowledge, as well as the consequences. To this end, we will analyze from a gender perspective the recent legislative changes and we will study the mechanisms of concealment of women and children in the transmission and dissemination of historical knowledge in classroom contexts. After this analysis we will present some strategies to visualize women and children in the teaching of history, both in initial teacher training and in professional practice.