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Mothering and Motherhood in Ancient Greece and Rome

Mothering and Motherhood in Ancient Greece and Rome

Using a wealth of evidence from legal, literary, and medical texts, as well as art, architecture, ritual, and material culture, the contributors to this volume offer the first extensive study of the private and public roles of mothers in the Classical world.

Series: Classics endowment

March 2012
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272 pages | 6 x 9 | 49 b&w illus. |

Motherhood played a central role in ancient Greece and Rome, despite the virtual absence of female participation in the public spheres of life. Mothers could wield enormous influence as the reproductive bodies of society and, in many cases, of culture. Yet motherhood and acts of mothering have received relatively little focused and sustained attention by modern scholars, who have concentrated almost exclusively on analyzing depictions of ancient women more generally.

In this volume, experts from across the humanities present a wealth of evidence from legal, literary, and medical texts, as well as art, architecture, ritual, and material culture, to reveal the multilayered dimensions of motherhood in both Greece and Rome and to confront the fact that not all mothers and acts of mothering can be easily categorized. The authors consider a variety of mothers—from the mythical to the real, from empress to prostitute, and from citizen to foreigner—to expose both the mundane and the ideologically charged lives of mothers in the Classical world. Some essays focus on motherhood as a largely private (emotional, intimate) experience, while others explore the ramifications of public, oftentimes politicized, displays of motherhood. This state-of-the art look at mothers and mothering in the ancient world also takes on a contemporary relevance as the authors join current debates on motherhood and suggest links between the lives of ancient mothers and the diverse, often conflicting roles of women in modern Western society.

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
    1. Introduction: The Public and Private Faces of Mothering and Motherhood in Classical Antiquity
      Lauren Hackworth Petersen and Patricia Salzman-Mitchell
    2. Maternity and Miasma: Dress and the Transition from Parthenos to Gun\e
      Mireille M. Lee
    3. Motherhood as Teleia: Rituals of Incorporation at the Kourotrophic Shrine
      Angela Taraskiewicz
    4. Collaboration and Conflict: Discourses of Maternity in Hippocratic Gynecology and Embryology
      Yurie Hong
    5. Citizen-Mothers on the Tragic Stage
      Angeliki Tzanetou
    6. Working Girls: Mother–Daughter Bonds among Ancient Prostitutes
      Anise K. Strong
    7. Tenderness or Taboo: Images of Breast-Feeding Mothers in Greek and Latin Literature
      Patricia Salzman-Mitchell
    8. Mater Patriae: Cleopatra and Roman Ideas of Motherhood
      Prudence Jones
    9. Mater Amoris: Mothers and Lovers in Augustan Rome
      Genevieve Liveley
    10. Per hunc utero quem linquis nostro: Mothers in Flavian Epic
      Antony Augoustakis
    11. Imperial Mothers and Monuments in Rome
      Margaret L. Woodhull
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

Lauren Hackworth Petersen is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Delaware, where she specializes in Roman art and archaeology.

Patricia Salzman-Mitchell is Associate Professor in the Department of Classics and General Humanities at Montclair State University. She specializes in Latin poetry, gender studies in Classical literature, film and the Classics, and the Classical tradition.



The Public and Private Faces of Mothering and Motherhood in Classical Antiquity

Lauren Hackworth Petersen and Patricia Salzman-Mitchell

Friend, I have not much to say; stop and read it.
This tomb, which is not fair, is for a fair woman.
Her parents gave her the name Claudia.
She loved her husband in her heart.
She bore two sons, one of whom
she left on the earth, the other beneath it.
She was pleasant to talk with, and she walked with grace.
She kept the house and worked in wool. That is all. You may go.
Epitaph, Rome, Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 12.1211 (= CIL 6.15346); Lefkowitz and Fant [2005], no. 39


I would very much rather stand three times
in the front of battle than bear one child.
Euripides, Medea 250–251; trans. Warner (1944)


Many women at the nation's most elite colleges say they have already decided that they will put aside their careers in favor of raising children. . . . [And they] say they will happily play a traditional female role, with motherhood their main commitment.

Story (2005)

Women and motherhood. Given their very definitions, these two nouns are inextricably intertwined, as a woman's primary role has traditionally been defined vis-à-vis her ability to reproduce and/or care for offspring. (Try "men" and "fatherhood"—the impact of the pairing of the words is simply not as vivid.) While images of ancient women, in either literary or visual testimony, have received ample scholarly attention, the diverse, if sometimes conflicting, roles of women as mothers in ancient sources—for both Greece and Rome—have received relatively little focused and sustained treatment. This is not to suggest that discussions of ancient mothers have been neglected in scholarship. It is widely known, for example, that the mothers of classical antiquity could wield enormous influence, as the reproductive bodies of society and, in many cases, of culture. Impressive and inspiring, recent studies have delved into the constructions of ancient Greek and Roman mothers, who are typically placed within discourses of archetypal female behavior for the respective societies—as paragons of female virtue and, by extension, as good mothers (e.g., Claudia from the epitaph above), or as the polar opposite (e.g., Medea, who murders her own children). Furthermore, scholarly interest in ancient families has, by necessity, brought to the fore the roles of mothers in shaping civic and personal identities.

But not all mothers and acts of mothering can be easily categorized. There is still much ground to cover in revealing the complexities of ancient mothering. To this end, this volume brings together scholars whose expertise in a diverse range of areas permits us to explore notions of motherhood from new perspectives, with many tackling topics that have yet to be discussed with respect to motherhood and others challenging existing scholarship. In examining different kinds of representations of mothers from Greece and Rome, the authors explore the multilayered dimensions of motherhood. This collection also seeks to demonstrate that the notion of motherhood was not uncontested territory, but rather could be fraught with tension and contradictions. Even today, pointed discussions on the competing roles placed on mothers in modern society persist and reveal just how challenging—and precarious—motherhood can be. It is our hope, then, that the essays in this book not only contribute to our knowledge of motherhood in the ancient world, but can also be inserted into larger, current debates on motherhood, such as the conflict mothers may feel in choosing between work and family life and the controversies surrounding appropriate forms of rearing and feeding children (e.g., breast or bottle). This book thus intimates links between the lives of ancient mothers and the various roles of women in modern Western society and ideology.

Although the themes approached by the essays ahead are wide-ranging, they variously explore how mothering and motherhood—although traditionally located in the private, domestic sphere of Greek and Roman life—were topics that found plenty of exposure in the public domain and were even deployed to political (dis)advantage. To this end, this study reveals how ancient motherhood—in both reality and rhetoric—was negotiated along a continuum of private and public. This public–private dynamic is but one theme that is touched upon throughout this collection. In this regard, some essays focus on motherhood as largely private, that is, as an emotional, intimate experience, but also as physical work, as work of the body on public display. These contributions include Mireille Lee's on pregnancy and Greek dress, Angela Taraskiewicz's on Greek rituals of incorporation, Yurie Hong's on embryology in Greek discourse, Anise Strong's on Greek and Roman prostitute mothers, and Patricia Salzman-Mitchell's on images of breast-feeding in Greek and Latin literature. In contrast, the pieces by Angeliki Tzanetou on citizenship and motherhood in Greek drama, Prudence Jones on the public uses of Cleopatra's own motherhood, and Margaret Woodhull on imperial mothers and their Roman monuments explore the ramifications of public, if politicized, displays of motherhood; the private experiences of these mothers are subsumed in the name of ideology. Genevieve Liveley's piece straddles these two facets of mothering, unveiling the contradictions of a character like Venus, an intimate and sexual mother, and yet a deity recognized as having tremendous political importance for the Augustan regime. In a similar vein, Antony Augoustakis' discussion of motherhood in Flavian epic reveals how the constructions of motherhood could address ideals of Romanness and otherness not only in Roman Italy, but also in peripheral societies beyond the peninsula as the empire underwent expansion (see too Jones on this topic).

These private/public faces of motherhood resonate as well in issues concerning modern motherhood, and are especially crystalized in the dilemmas mothers with careers face: should a recent mother disclose in a job interview that she has young children, for example? Should she ask for a place to pump or breast-feed in her workplace? Does the public display of motherhood help or harm a mother in a position of power, such as a political candidate today (for example, Sarah Palin's 2008 bid for the U.S. vice presidency as the mother of an infant)? While talking about or showing that one has young children may be useful in certain situations (such as getting through a line for "kids or people with strollers" in an airport), it might be detrimental for a woman who aspires to be CEO of a company. Also, the question of whether to conceal or reveal publicly the motherly body (in pregnancy or lactation) is of pointed concern for modern mothers. Generally speaking, the essays here confront these types of issues, albeit in an ancient context, and in so doing, reveal the common ground some modern mothers share with their ancient counterparts. Mothering, it would seem, was to be intensely private, and its place on the public stage oftentimes met with contestations and frustrations.

Ideals and Realities of Motherhood

A related thematic thread running through these essays is the potential misfit between the realities of mothers on a day-to-day basis and the ideals of motherhood as presented in ancient visual and verbal testimony. For example, it is widely recognized that motherhood could bestow honor on Greek and Roman women. Both literary and archaeological sources indicate that to have borne children and raised them well was considered a virtue, if not a necessity. Of the many Greek written sources, two examples will suffice in suggesting how pervasive prescriptions were for women to aspire to motherhood. In Xenophon's famous and oft-cited dialogue, from the fourth century BCE, Ischomachus describes to Socrates his method for training his wife, a method that he presents as "natural" and ordained by the gods:

"It is important then, when the provisions are brought into the home, for someone to keep them safe and to do the work of the household. A home is required for the rearing of infant children, and a home is required for making food out of harvest. Similarly a home is required for the making of clothing from wool. Since both indoor and outdoor matters require work and supervision," I said, "I believe that the god arranged that the work and supervision indoors are a woman's task, and the outdoors are the man's. . . . With this in mind the god made the nursing of young children instinctive for woman and gave her this task, and he allotted more affection for infants to her than to a man." (Xenophon, Oeconomicus 7.21–7.24)

This passage firmly places women and mothers in the private sphere, more specifically, inside the home. To be a proper Greek woman, according to Xenophon, is to be a mother working industriously inside the house.

Also from the fourth century BCE, Hippocrates provides advice for treating virgins afflicted with hysteria, that is, his advice is for young females who fell decidedly outside the ideals of Greek womanhood (on account of being virgins and afflicted with a disease). Nonetheless, his recommendation is straightforward enough—become pregnant, and, by extension, enter motherhood:

My prescription is that when virgins experience this trouble, they should cohabit with a man as quickly as possible. If they become pregnant, they will be cured. If they don't do this, either they will succumb at the onset of puberty or a little later, unless they catch another disease. (Hippocrates, On Virgins = 8.466–470)

Hippocrates thus suggests that a sick woman can be healed by becoming a mother, a notion that conforms suspiciously well with Greek thought about the proper roles of women in society, despite the very real physical and emotional demands of motherhood that must have taken some toll on an already fragile woman.

Greek vases adorned with scenes of domestic life, including images of mothers tending to their children, celebrate motherhood and seem to affirm the literary tradition. A red-figure, fifth-century BCE Greek vase depicts a private scene of domestic harmony, for example, in which a mother, seated on a high-backed chair (klismos), hands her child to her nurse-servant, who will tend to the child. To the left stands a loom, a symbol of female domestic activity and virtue. Behind the mother stands a man, perhaps the husband or an older child. It is tempting to read this picture as a slice of everyday Greek life, precisely because it offers a glimpse of a mother and mothering (the nurse-servant). But it is also important to bear in mind that this pot comes from a funerary context and was likely a tomb gift intended to honor the deceased female with the trappings of motherhood and domesticity, and thereby virtue.

In a somewhat similar vein, a red-figure, fifth-century BCE chous (squat jug) depicts a playful scene in which a mother (or caregiver) gently lifts a child so that he can grab a bunch of grapes. Although a vessel like this is typically used in an Athenian festival (the Anthesteria), it may have also been offered as a funerary gift for a child, as many such objects were found in tomb settings. The image, if of a mother and child, would thus depict the very centrality of mothers in both rituals and the daily lives of children; and if from a funerary context, the mother has been, in a sense, buried with her child.

Much of our knowledge of the lives of mothers in Rome comes from the realm of commemoration. From a relatively modest context, a husband records the virtues of his wife in a second- or third-century sarcophagus inscription:

Of Graxia Alexandria, distinguished for her virtue and fidelity. She nursed her children with her own breasts. Her husband Pudens the emperor's freedman [dedicated this monument] as a reward to her. She lived 24 years, 3 months, 16 days.

Pudens praises his young wife as having borne and lovingly raised their children; the image he projects of his wife is of the genuine, intimate, and selfless bond a mother nurtures with her own offspring. Here we observe the private experience of nursing made public by a male. The evocation of the female body in the act of breast-feeding is poignant as a sign of female virtue and, by extension, the family's good name.

The theme of female virtue as directly connected to motherhood is also apparent, for example, in Roman writings of the Augustan period. In Propertius (4.11) the honorable Roman matron Cornelia speaks "from her grave," as a woman proud to have had three children:

et tamen emerui generosos vestis honores,
nec mea de sterili facta rapina domo.
et bene habet: numquam mater lugubria sumpsi;
venit in exsequias tota caterva meas.
tu, Lepide, et tu, Paulle, meum post fata levamen,
condita sunt vestro lumina nostra sinu.
filia, tu specimen censurae nata paternae,
fac teneas unum nos imitata virum.

Yet I lived long enough to earn the matron's robe of honour, nor was I snatched away from a childless house. So all is well: never as a mother did I put on mourning garb; all my children came to my funeral. You, Lepidus, and you, Paullus, my consolations after death, in your embrace were my eyelids closed. Daughter, born to be the model of your father's censorship, do you, like me hold fast to a single husband.

This passage, and indeed the entire poem, is particularly striking not only because it provides direct testimony of the expectations Roman society had of mothers, but also because it clearly reflects the then-current Augustan ideology concerning morality and the family. The Augustan sets of laws regarding marriage—which we know as the Lex Julia et Papia Poppaea and to an extent also the Lex Julia de adulteriis—are outstanding and unusual in the ancient world, as they interfere with and legislate directly on matters of motherhood and mothering. An experience that is generally performed in the privacy of the family is here brought out into the public and even political domain. Indeed, a whole system of rewards and penalties was involved in these laws. For example, families that did not conform to the Augustan ideology suffered in matters of inheritance. Likewise, women who complied with it were liberated from the oppressive tutela muliebris. If a freeborn woman had three children or a libertina four, she was free from the guardianship of a male. Further, as in the case of Cornelia, they were granted the honor of wearing the stola. The inheritance situation of mothers who bore many children was also greatly improved by the Augustan legislation.

Often, however, the realities of motherhood were far removed from the ideals depicted on pots, written in stone, or presented in literary, medical, and legal discourses, suggesting that motherhood was not as unproblematic as some of these ideologically charged testimonies imply. For example, maternal death in childbirth was a much more common occurrence than today. Grave stelai of Greek women who died in childbirth offer vivid reminders of the physical and emotional hardships that many mothers and their families endured. On a fourth-century BCE stele, a woman in distress leans back on a kline (small bed or couch). A female supports the dying woman from behind, while an older man holds her right hand as he bids her farewell. The pose, loosened garments, and accentuated belly all work together to inform viewers that the seated woman who is commemorated here has tragically died in childbirth. The suffering and hardship of motherhood are depicted in stone for public display in the cemetery to memorialize a woman as mother, commemorating what would otherwise remain an intensely private, domestic scene.

As maternal death in childbirth was of significant concern, so too was the high child mortality rate in the Greek world (with survival rates at roughly one in three). As John Oakley has argued, the emotional toll of losing a child is given greater visual expression for mothers, however, than for fathers, which is not to imply that Greek fathers did not mourn the loss of their own children but that conventions dictated that they did so less freely than mothers. Illustrating Oakley's point is a late fifth-century BCE white-ground lekythos (slender oil or perfume vessel), upon which a young boy is depicted in Charon's boat. Before the youth departs the world of the living and crosses the river Styx, he reaches out to his mother, who stands grieving at the shore. She, too, attempts to touch her child one last time, but that effort is only in vain. Although the father is seen standing in the background, the story told here is of the grief of the mother at the premature loss of her son.

All of these images of mothers come from and/or represent the private world of the fairly well-to-do, that is, of established, traditional families. In fact, many essays within this volume confront evidence that reveals the various dimensions of mothering and motherhood, but usually within prescribed (normative) maternal patterns of ancient Greece and Rome. Much more difficult to locate are the lives of mothers who lived humbly and thus left little record of their existence. Paradoxically, these mothers, whose presence was commonplace in the ancient world, are rarely the subject in ancient writings and art. For example, the private life of the prostitute-mother is elusive, although Strong's essay in this volume provides us with methodologies for thinking about these mothers in ancient Greece and Rome. Much is still to be gained by thinking about the lives of slave-mothers in the Roman world, whose own children (vernae)—or those of others—they could rear, should the master not break the already fragile mother–child bond by selling the slave-mother or -child to another household. Slave-mothers are notoriously silenced in the archaeological record and literary texts, but the exploitation of slave-mothers' productive and reproductive capacities has received recent, much-needed attention. Telling, too, is the evidence from an ergastulum (slave prison) at Chalk, Kent; within the floor were cut three pits that held the remains of three infants. These remains have a story to tell about motherhood, a story that we can at best only imagine. Vivid and haunting, too, are the bodies left in the wake of Pompeii's destruction. One pair is typically read as a mother clutching her child one last time—a gesture made permanent through plaster casting. This mother's remains provide only a limited view into the lived lives of mothers, even if that view rests largely in our own desires to see real mothers in the material record. It is our hope that the authors here offer ways to advance even further our discussions of the lesser-known testimonies of ancient motherhood.

Although women themselves left little trace of their own existence, the study of ancient mothers, mothering, and motherhood can be accomplished through the lens of (elite) men—that is, through male-authored words, rituals, and artifacts. This lack of direct evidence from a female perspective is not prohibitive. Indeed, the contributors to this volume attempt to get behind the rhetoric to explore, on one hand, everyday realities of motherhood and, on the other hand, the constructions of motherhood used to fulfill social and political agendas. This is not to suggest two mutually exclusive categories. Rather, this volume examines different aspects of motherhood and reveals that despite the very real marginalization of women in nearly all aspects of ancient life, mothering and motherhood were sites for both private/self- and public/civic definition in ancient Greece and Rome. From mother as healer, lover, devoted parent, and family member, to mother as murderer and enemy of the state, mothers could also be viewed as cooperative and/or antagonistic within their respective societies. The authors thus seek to expose the complexities that the idea of mothering could engender and how the private world of women and children in the household negotiated with public and political displays of motherhood on civic monuments, within cemeteries, and in the thought-worlds of the ancients.

On Ancient Motherhood

Different work on aspects of motherhood in either Greece or Rome has added much to our current state of knowledge, although no one study attempts the chronological and geographical breadth and the diversity of approaches that this collection of essays offers. Nonetheless, the individual authors of this volume are deeply indebted to earlier groundbreaking work on motherhood in ancient societies, even as each contributor strives to advance conversations on ancient mothers in new and exciting directions. What follows is a brief outline of some of the more salient and influential works on the subject.

Critical for any study of Greek and Roman mothers are the outstanding studies by Nancy Demand and Suzanne Dixon. Demand's Birth, Death, and Motherhood in Classical Greece (1994) carefully illuminates many issues surrounding pregnancy, as well as the female role in reproduction in the Greek world. Demand's review of the medical texts, specifically Epidemics, and the attention she gives to childbirth are particularly insightful and have informed essays within this volume. In addition, focusing on women as child-bearers for the polis and the family, Demand explores their roles in the state and male control of women's reproductive lives, an important theme that many of the authors in this edited volume bring to the fore.

Most notable in studies of Roman motherhood are two books by Dixon, The Roman Mother (1988) and The Roman Family (1992). In The Roman Mother, Dixon explores crucial issues regarding the place of motherhood within the Roman family: its legal implications; the official encouragement of motherhood; and the more specific relations of the Roman mother with her sons, daughters, and infant children; it also provides some insight on substitute or surrogate maternity. The Roman Family, though focusing on the family more generally, provides some key insights on the roles of mothers and their children in Roman society. Each volume offers excellent overviews of motherhood in Roman society, and they are both innovative regarding Roman attitudes toward young children, which are unavoidably interlinked with the question of maternity and a topic that had been somewhat understudied. Dixon's approach is developed primarily from a historical and legal perspective.

More recently, the theme of Roman mothers was the focus of an issue of Helios (Sept. 2006). The five articles, by leading scholars of ancient women, present mothers from a largely literary perspective, thereby complementing Dixon's work as well as the contributions on Roman mothers presented here. Another timely and enlightening volume on the subject is Madres y maternidades: Construcciones culturales en la civilización clásica, edited by Rosa María Cid López (2009). This collection of essays explores motherhood as a stereotype created by men to assert their own power and legitimize their superiority over women. While there are some points of contact between this volume and our current work, the texts and material approached in each collection are fundamentally different. Finally, a significant study in the area of Latin literature is Augoustakis' book on mothers in Flavian epic, Motherhood and the Other: Fashioning Female Power in Flavian Epic (2010), a topic that will be newly addressed in this volume by the author.

A number of books focus on specific aspects of mothering. For example, Patricia Watson's Ancient Stepmothers: Myth, Misogyny, and Reality (1995) concentrates on the figure of the stepmother in myth and the historical reality of fifth-century Athens and Republican and early Imperial Rome. Because Watson's book addresses aspects of mothering and its surrogacy, its methodologies are useful for thinking about acts associated with mothering. Likewise, a thought-provoking, recent addition to this growing body of work on ancient mothering is Sabine Hübner and David Ratzan's Growing Up Fatherless in Antiquity (2009). Given that about one-third of children in the ancient world grew up fatherless and thus were raised by single mothers, stepmothers, or other relatives, this study sheds light on the everyday lives and responsibilities of motherhood in Greece and Rome (while also participating in debates on modern families). Meanwhile, Aline Rousselle's Porneia: On Desire and the Body in Antiquity (1988) also deserves mention here. Although her book is not focused on motherhood per se, in her discussions of the female body Rousselle makes sharp observations about the bodies of mothers, their lives, and the expectations laid on them.

It is our desire that this collection of essays will also complement recent scholarship on childhood in antiquity, namely Jenifer Neils and John Oakley, eds., Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past (2003), Beryl Rawson, Children and Childhood in Roman Italy (2003), Jeannine Uzzi, Children in the Visual Arts of Ancient Rome (2005), and Ada Cohen and Jeremy B. Rutter, eds., Constructions of Childhood in Ancient Greece and Italy (2007). These texts, among others, are fundamental in shedding some light on the rather understudied topic of the relationship of mothers with their young children.

Organization of the Volume

Mothering and Motherhood in Ancient Greece and Rome builds on these pioneering studies, among others, by focusing on topics and problems related to mothering in antiquity that have been left largely untouched, such as relations between prostitutes and their daughters, dress in pregnancy and motherhood, and specific religious rituals involving mothers. The collection of essays deals in its first half with considerations of motherhood in ancient Greece; the second half of the volume is dedicated to evidence derived from Rome. While the essays are organized loosely by chronology, the contributors variously navigate the perceived dichotomy between the private world of motherhood as physical and social work inside the house and the public displays of motherhood as political asset.

The first two essays, by Lee and by Taraskiewicz, explore the important transition from maiden to mother in the Greek world, that is, the rituals of pregnancy and childbirth. Here we see the overlapping interaction between transformations in the female body and the female's transformations in the social sphere. Novel in her approach, each author makes judicious use of visual and material evidence, in addition to making cross-cultural comparisons. Their essays also reveal some of the Greek anxieties surrounding pregnancy and childbirth, alongside the rituals designed to reintegrate mothers into their households and, by extension, society.

Despite rituals meant to recognize the transformed body of females and mothers, not all mothers and acts of mothering were perceived as ideal. Hong examines the Hippocratic treatise On the Nature of the Child, and explores how the physiological process of birth is actually coded as a violent struggle between mother and child. The author identifies the maternal body as the physical point of origin for potential familial conflict and highlights cultural ambivalence regarding the nature of a mother's relationship both to her child and to her household.

That the private lives of mothers could be made part of public discourse is also evident in the pieces by Tzanetou, Strong, and Salzman-Mitchell. Tzanetou explores representations of motherhood in Greek tragedy from the vantage point of female citizenship in classical Athens. This essay focuses on the woman on stage and her social and political relationships as a mother; it emphasizes the civic implications of maternal agency in tragic poetry through the oftentimes highly charged characters of Praxithea, Aithra, Creusa, Clytemnestra, and Medea. But what might we know of actual mother–child relationships? Strong's essay begins with the premise that one of the only means of understanding ancient familial relationships is to examine atypical familial structures. In an innovative study on the private lives of marginal mothers, Strong analyzes the figure of the mother-prostitute. Her essay explores the dynamics of both the economic and the emotional relationships between prostitute-mothers and their children and offers a fascinating alternative to the conventional narrative of the ancient family. Salzman-Mitchell offers a study on women's use of their bodies in the work of motherhood and explores ideologically loaded images of breast-feeding in Greek and Latin literature. She offers interpretations for what seem to be conflicting views of breast-feeding in the ancient world, as an act that is both nurturing and virtuous, and also potentially destructive.

Turning to Rome, the last four essays explore the extent to which ideals of Roman motherhood were deployed for exclusively political gain. The essays by Jones and Liveley focus on the precarious moment when Octavian/Augustus asserted his imperium, with motherhood as a central component of his political campaign. Specifically, Jones investigates the similarities in the political uses to which both Cleopatra and the Romans put motherhood as a way to explain the advantage Octavian gained by suppressing this important aspect of Cleopatra's self-presentation (in Egypt) to Roman audiences. Meanwhile, Liveley examines both textual and visual exempla to extrapolate models of good and bad mothering in Augustan Rome. In particular, she focuses on the tensions and paradoxes between mother and lover, and maternal and erotic love.

The concluding essays focus on mothers on the periphery and mothers in the center of the empire, while building on themes presented by Jones and Liveley. Augoustakis addresses the role of non-Roman mothers in Flavian epic poetry and explores the dynamics of a renegotiated Romanness through the representation of otherness. Back in Rome, the concluding essay carefully examines how ideals of motherhood were inscribed on the cityscape of Rome, beginning with the radical transformation of the urban space begun under Augustus and moving through the second century. We see here emphatic public displays and uses of motherhood created for political advantage.


Whereas most studies of women tend to engage either literary or visual source material—one to the exclusion of the other—we hope that readers find that one of the merits of this book, which focuses solely on mothering and motherhood in antiquity (rather than on women more broadly), lies in both its interdisciplinarity and its chronological range, covering an expansive period from the Archaic period in Greece (ca. 600 BCE) to late imperial Rome (ca. 400 CE). In addition, the authors consider different kinds of mothers—from the mythical to the real, from empress to prostitute, and from citizen to foreigner—to expose both the mundane and ideologically charged lives of mothers and the attendant discourses of motherhood in ancient Greece and Rome. Rituals, dress, legal and medical texts, literary testimony, art, and architecture are all brought together in various ways to reveal the centrality of motherhood in ancient Greece and Rome, despite the virtual absence of overt female participation in the public and political spheres of ancient life.

So, where do we go from here? There is, to be sure, much work still to be done. For example, we hope to encourage further research on highly visible female figures such as Cleopatra and Julia Domna, who are often studied in their political/public roles but not commonly seen as mothers who mothered. Regarding the latter, Julia Domna was the biological mother of co-emperors Geta and Caracalla and the recipient of various titles, all naming her as an imperial mother figurehead in no uncertain terms: Mater castrorum/Mother of the Military Camps; Mater senatus/Mother of the Senate; Mater Augustorum/Mother of the Emperors; Mater patriae/Mother of the Native Land; and Mater populi Romani/Mother of the Roman People. On the reverse of one coin, minted in ca. 200 CE, Julia Domna's biological motherhood is presented for political gain. She appears at the center of the coin with her two sons, each shown in profile facing her. The legend—felicitas saeculi, a slogan of sorts for the Severan dynasty—ended up being utterly false, as Caracalla murdered his own bother so as to claim the throne for himself. As Natalie Kampen has shown, the attempts to publicize and politicize Julia's motherhood as a harbinger of happy times concealed the very instability of family and dynasty at this point in history. Moreover, this visual campaign was a public one; we have yet to ask what actual motherhood might have meant in daily life for this particular mother.

While previous discussions of ancient motherhood have focused on the mother's role in society and the family, more recently studies of the female body have been in the ascendance. These studies, however, tend to focus on ideals of femininity and womanhood rather than on the woman as mother. With this book we hope to stimulate research that focuses on the centrality of the female body in the task of mothering. In addition, there is a relative paucity of work on the lives of mothers from an archaeological perspective, a need that some of the essays will begin to fulfill. It is our goal that this book will also identify opportunities to delve into relatively humbler expressions of the lived lives of mothers, such as epitaphs, which can perhaps help us to identify working mothers and maybe even slave-mothers.

As readers move through the essays, it will be important to bear in mind that the rhetorical and visual constructs of motherhood were surely contested, with ideals often masking the realities and complexities of motherhood in the classical world. In spite of the relative silence of ancient mothers themselves, the contributors to this volume, by undertaking new and often un- or understudied topics, seek to expose some of the many facets of ancient motherhood, both lived and imagined. In so doing, they invite us to think further about how motherhood made the woman—a statement that has at least some resonance even today.


“A recent collection of essays on motherhood and mothering in antiquity, Mothering and Motherhood in Ancient Greece and Rome, reminds us that questions about what it means to be a mother were also present in ancient Greek and Roman societies, despite some significant differences.”
Times Literary Supplement