1st Edition

Becoming a Woman and Mother in Greco-Roman Egypt
Women’s Bodies, Society and Domestic Space

ISBN 9781138099852
Published February 3, 2019 by Routledge
286 Pages

USD $155.00

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Book Description

How did Greco-Roman Egyptian society perceive women’s bodies and how did it acknowledge women’s reproductive functions? Detailing women’s lives in Greco-Roman Egypt this monograph examines understudied aspects of women's lives such as their coming of age, social and religious taboos of menstruation and birth rituals. It investigates medical, legal and religious aspects of women's reproduction, using both historical and archaeological sources, and shows how the social status of women and new-born children changed from the Dynastic to the Greco-Roman period.

Through a comparative and interdisciplinary study of the historical sources, papyri, artefacts and archaeological evidence, Becoming a Woman and Mother in Greco-Roman Egypt shows how Greek, Roman, Jewish and Near Eastern cultures impacted on the social perception of female puberty, childbirth and menstruation in Greco-Roman Egypt from the 3rd century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D.

Table of Contents

List of figures




1. Overview of the chapters

2. Ethnicity, gender and class in Greco-Roman Egypt

1. Women’s social status in Greco-Roman Egypt

1.1 The status of girls

1.2 Coming of age  

1.3 Adult women

1.4 Old women

1.5 Women’s legal status in Greco-Roman Egypt

1.6 Preliminary conclusions

2. The role of midwives in Dynastic and Greco-Roman Egypt

2.1 Midwives in the Dynastic period

2.2 Change and continuity in the Greco-Roman Period

2.3 Preliminary conclusions

3. Childbirth and domestic cults in Greco-Roman Egypt

3.1 Protection of the birthing room and the domestic space

3.2 Votive images of women

3.3 Bes and his companions

3.4 Preliminary conclusions

4. The liminal status of the unborn and the newborn child in Greco-Roman Egypt

4.1 The unborn in Dynastic Egypt

4.2 The medical and philosophical debates: is the unborn a human being? When does the ensoulment happen?

4.3 The unborn and the newborn among ordinary people: the uses of magic

4.4 Social recognition of children observed through the burial practices

4.5 The legal recognition of unborn and newborn children

4.6 Preliminary conclusions

5. Pollution and purification in women’s reproduction

5.1 Pollution and purity

5.2 Pollution of menstruation

5.3 Pollution from childbirth and postpartum

5.4 Preliminary conclusions

6. Childbirth, menstruation and domestic space in Greco-Roman Egypt

6.1 Housing in Greco-Roman Egypt: the sources

6.2 A discussion on a possible gendered division of the house in Greco-Roman Egypt

6.3 Menstruation and childbirth in domestic contexts 6.4 Preliminary conclusions

7. Conclusions

7.1 Reproductive processes and a synthesis of cultures in Greco-Roman Egypt

7.2 Changes in the social status of women and children from the Dynastic to the Greco-Roman Period

7.3 Scope for future research


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Ada Nifosi gained a BA in Classical Archaeology at the University of Padua, Italy, and an MA and MPhil in Egyptian Archaeology at the University of Bologna, Italy. She was awarded her PhD at the University of Kent, UK, where she is now a Lecturer in Ancient History.


"Through the discussion of an impressive range of evidence, Ada Nifosi sheds new light on everyday lives of women in Egypt from the Pharaonic to the Greco-Roman period. The author focuses her attention on many aspects of women’s functions in society, from childbirth and reproduction to professions and the administration of family wealth; a vital part not only of their households but also of village and city communities, women played a significant role in the shaping of the multicultural society of Egypt. Becoming a Woman and Mother in Greco-Roman Egypt is an important reading for anyone interested in gender and women studies and social history of ancient Egypt."

- Roberta Mazza, The University of Manchester, UK