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Infant Death and Burial in Roman Italy, Journal of Roman Archaeology 24, 2011 99-120

© Journal of Roman Archaeology 24 (2011)
Infant death and burial in Roman Italy
Maureen Carroll
In Virgil’s Aeneid (6.426-29), Aeneas travels to the Underworld where he hears voices,
sobs and ‘a loud crying of voices ... , the spirits of weeping infants’. These babies had been
stolen by fate ‘at the rst threshold of this sweet life ... torn from the breast, and drowned in
bier death’. Nearby were people who had died on false charges and those who had taken
their own lives. In this group of unjustly treated and miserable souls, newborn children
appear most pitiable because they had only just begun their lives, and were now doomed
to a marginal existence at the gates of Hades. The marginal and ambiguous position of
very young children in Roman society is also a feature of Plutarch’s Leer of Consolation to
his Wife 4 and 11, on the death of their two-year-old daughter.1 He stresses the importance
of restraint in mourning, for infants ‘have no part in earth or earthly things’ and do not
require any of the rites normally performed for the dead.
Literary sources such as these have often inuenced our understanding of the rôle and
place of newborn children and infants in Roman society, particularly in Italy. Such children
have been seen as ‘marginal’, occupying a place at the ‘edge’ of the household.2 When their
babies died, parents in Italy are said to have exhibited an “indierence to burying children,
especially infants, carefully”.3 These inuential Roman texts, however, were penned by
men whose Stoic world-views typied an aristocratic world of restraint and self-control.
Their writings can hardly be considered a reection of what the general population, both
men and women, thought and felt when their children died. Furthermore, there has never
been a study of the archaeological evidence in Italian cemeteries for the burial of the young-
est children, from prematurely born babies to infants just months old.4 As recently as 2003,
B. Rawson could write that excavations in Italian cemeteries have not provided useful or
accessible material for an investigation of child burials.5 Claims of outright neglect or lack
of care in burying infants in Roman Italy are thus without an evidential basis.
The importance of such remains for understanding aitudes towards infancy is obvious.
Equally, it is critical to study all children in skeletal assemblages to reconstruct population
size and mortality, fertility and birth rates in Roman society in this region.6 In light of the
apparent invisibility of the youngest children in Italian cemeteries and the unreliability
of contemporary wrien comments on social aitudes and decorum, my study focuses
primarily on the mortuary evidence for children under the age of one year in Italy from
1 For a discussion of this document in the context of the genre of consolation, see Baltussen 2009.
2 Wiedemann 1989, 179.
3 Russell 1985, 49. He also posits an “indierence to infanticide morally”. See also Sallares et al.
2004, 319: “Infants rarely received proper burial in Roman times”.
4 In France, Germany and Swierland, on the other hand, more has been done on the topic of
infant death and burial in the Roman period: cf. Mackensen 1978; Berger 1993; Blaizot et al.
2003; Laubenheimer 2004; Gourevitch et al. 2004; Coulon 2004; Durand 2008; Baills-Talbia and
Dasen 2008. For infant burials in N Africa, see Norman 2002 and 2003.
5 Rawson 2003, 341. Hänninen (2005, 54) reiterates this: “Very few graves for babies under one
year old are known in Italy”.
6 Baker et al. 2005, 3-5.
M. Carroll
© Journal of Roman Archaeology 24 (2011)
approximately the 1st c. B.C. to c.A.D. 300. Cemetery data has been gathered from sites
throughout Italy in order to explore the relationship between the daily realities of, and the
literary rhetoric about, earliest childhood. It is important to be able to ascertain whether
children who were only beginning their lives were perceived as persons and members of
the community, and whether their presence in the community of the dead, the necropolis,
is as tangible as the presence of older children and adults in that context. Furthermore, the
relationship between archaeology and the information provided by epigraphy, literature
and art is of vital importance to understand the discrepancies between public displays of
mourning and private expressions of grief as recognisable in the burial and other artefact
assemblages. The following is an aempt to analyse some of the relevant data gathered in
the rst stage of my project.
The bias of Roman literature and art
A degree of ambivalence towards the child before it was born and in the days follow-
ing birth is apparent, with Soranus (Gyn. 1.12.43) concluding that only once an embryo
had formed after about 30 to 40 days had the child become ‘to a certain degree a soul’, and
Plutarch (Quaest. Rom. 102) claiming that a newborn, until the umbilical cord fell o on the
seventh day, was ‘more like a plant than an animal’. The child gained a rudimentary form
of personhood by being named on its dies lustricus (the eighth day for girls, the ninth for
boys), and with this the infant had ocially entered into the family and society.7
Literary sources are often marshalled as indicative of the aitudes of Roman society
towards infants, in particular when they died in the rst days, weeks and months of their
lives. Cicero’s comments (Tusc. 1.39) on the death of children seem callous in the extreme:
‘If a young child dies, the survivors ought to bear this loss with equanimity; if an infant
dies in the cradle, one doesn’t even complain’. ‘The younger the child, the less it counted’,
seems to be the message. Both Ulpian (FIRA 2, 536) and Plutarch (Numa 12) also allude to
the social norms of mourning according to age of the deceased. According to Ulpian, ‘chil-
dren younger than three are not formally mourned, but are mourned in marginal form; a
child less than a year receives neither formal mourning nor marginal mourning’. The for-
mal mourning (lugetur) referred to probably relates to rules of behaviour and dress, such
as abstaining from banquets and baths and from certain forms of ornamentation, and/
or wearing black, white or purple garments and cropping one’s hair (Plutarch, Leer of
Consolation to his Wife 4 and 6; Paulus, Sent. 1.21.14; Plut., Quaest. Rom. 14, 26). It is not clear
what marginal morning (sublugetur) involved. The ruling of the jurist Paulus (Sent. 1.21.13)
includes no direct statement on marginal mourning: ‘Minors up to the age of three years
should be mourned for one month for each year of their age at the time of their death’. This
suggests that a one-year-old child would be mourned for a month, but for children who
had not yet lived a year there was no mourning period according to law.
But such regulations on mourning relate to the public sphere, not necessarily to senti-
ments expressed or activities conducted in private. There are various stories about and
criticism of the public display of parental distress at the death of a child. According to
Plutarch (Leer of Consolation to his Wife 6), most Roman mothers gave themselves up totally
to grief and to wild, frenzied mourning when their children died. Seneca (Ep.Mor. 99) was
7 Dasen 2009, 207-8; ead. 2011, 303-4.
Infant death and burial in Roman Italy 101
© Journal of Roman Archaeology 24 (2011)
particularly hard on his friend Marullus whose young son died, claiming that such a loss
‘is a mere sting’ and a ‘slight burden’ and that, in openly grieving, his friend was behaving
like a woman. Even the emperor could come under criticism, as Nero did when his infant
daughter died at less than 4 months of age and he ‘showed himself incontinent in sorrow’
(Tac., Ann. 15.23).8
Although children who were old enough to begin walking, talking, playing and learn-
ing were relatively popular subjects in art at least since the Augustan period, newborns and
very young children are almost completely absent.9 Only in private funerary sculpture are
they the focus of occasional aention. From the 1st c. A.D., the various stages in the short
life of a child can be depicted on biographical sarcophagi, the standard scenes being the
infant’s rst bath, the child being breastfed, playing games, and learning from its teacher
(g. 1).10 A short life terminated by a premature death is made more poignant in what is
sometimes a central scene on these sarcophagi by depicting the dead child in the presence
of the family and household. The children shown on their death beds, however, are never
newborns. They are older children who had been the focus of the family’s investment and
aspirations for at least a few years.11 Even the clearly very young child allegorically taking
his last ride with his parents is not a baby, as he is shown running and playing in other
scenes on his sarcophagus at Rome (g. 2).12 Like the literature that portrays and advises
a stoic and aristocratic aitude towards the loss of children, the idealised parents of noble
8 For grief-stricken fathers, see also Fronto, Ep. M. Caesar 1.6.7 and 1.8. On the gender dierence
in the expression of grief, see Prescendi 1995.
9 Manson 1983; Huskinson 2005, 94-95; Diddle Uzzi 2005.
10 Amedick 1991; Huskinson 1996; Dimas 1998; George 2000.
11 Rawson 2003, 354-57; Laes 2004. A poignant deathbed scene is found on a child’s sarcophagus
in the Museo Regionale in Agrigento: Amedick 1991, 121, cat. 2, pl. 53; Tusa 1995, 9-10, cat. 9, pl.
15; George 2000, 195, g. 3.
12 Amedick 1991, 153, pl. 45, cat. 190; Rawson 2003, pl. 3.1; Huskinson 2011, 534-36, g. 31.8.
Fig. 1. Scene of infant’s rst bath on marble sarcophagus, c.A.D. 100 (Rome, Museo Nazionale Romano, inv.
125605; author).
M. Carroll
© Journal of Roman Archaeology 24 (2011)
status in the deathbed scenes on sarcophagi are contrasted in their composed and noble
demeanour with individuals of servile status such as slaves and child-minders who com-
municate their distress through bodily poses and gestures.
In the end, both the wrien and the visual sources portray a world of privilege, wealth
and social conformity according to status. They neither give any real insight into the emo-
tional engagement of the upper class with their infants, nor do they help one judge how the
less advantaged and the poor engaged with their children or coped with their premature
death. The archaeological evidence for burial of infants oers a beer chance to explore
these issues, especially since many of the excavated cemeteries, particularly those investi-
gated in Rome’s suburbium, were used by people who were not of high social rank.
Evidence from cemeteries in Roman Italy
The child remained in a state of infantia until its seventh year when it began its educa-
tion — provided, of course, that it lived that long.13 Infant mortality was very high, and
modern estimates suggest that 50% of children would not have lived to see their tenth
birthday.14 Recent excavations in a necropolis of the Imperial era at Quarto Cappelle del
Prete in Rome’s suburbium reveal that almost 60% died before they reached their sixth
birthday.15 In the rst year of life alone, a mortality rate between 20 and 40% has been
13 Harlow and Laurence (2002, 34-53) give a good overview of infancy and childhood, as do Raw-
son (2003) and Dasen (2011).
14 Hopkins 1966; Garnsey 1991, 51-52.
15 Catalano et al. 2006.
Fig. 2. A child with its parents at the end of its brief journey through life on a marble sarcophagus, c.A.D. 100
(Rome, Museo Nazionale Romano, inv. 65199; author).
Infant death and burial in Roman Italy 103
© Journal of Roman Archaeology 24 (2011)
suggested.16 Nutritional deciencies through weaning, lack of sunlight, contaminated
water and infections led to anaemia, rickets and other illnesses, all of which could contrib-
ute to infant mortality.17
Modern views on the Roman indierence to burying infants carefully or properly need
to be tested against the physical evidence from a variety of Italian cemeteries not only to
determine the presence of this age group, but also for information on the treatment of the
body and any protection oered the tiny corpse, along with indications of care invested in
providing these children with grave goods.
a) Presence of infants
Children older than one year are routinely
found in excavations of Roman cemeteries in
Italy. The remains of infants younger than 12
months old survive in the regions of Piemonte,
Lombardia, Emilia Romagna, Umbria, Marche,
Lazio, Campania, Puglia, and Basilicata, although
they are not everywhere present in the same num-
bers or percentages.18 Furthermore, in the last
decade or more, several necropoleis of diering
sizes in Rome’s suburbium have been intensively
explored in advance of the construction of high-
speed rail networks, providing new and valuable
data on life expectancy, health and living condi-
tions in the 2nd and 3rd c. A.D.19 Infants under
the age of one year are found in many of these
necropoleis. The graves of infants are normally
found scaered throughout the cemetery, rather
than concentrated in one area, and they are often
buried together with older children and adults
(g. 3).
Some of the numerical data can be quantied
in a preliminary overview. Infants less than one
year old make up only 1.6-2.2% of the burials at
Gubbio (Umbria) and Portorecanati (Marche)
far too low if the cemeteries were reecting true
16 Hopkins, 1983, 225; Golden 1988, 155; Parkin 1992; Volk and Atkinson 2008, 250.
17 Mallegni et al. 1982, 64-65; Goodman and Armelagos 1989; Kaenberg et al. 1996; Dupras et al.
2001; Facchini et al. 2004; FiGerald et al. 2006; Prowse et al. 2008.
18 Filippi 1982; Malegni et al. 1982 (Alba, Piemonte); Massa 1997 and 2001 (Salò, Lombardia); (Baggiovara di Modena, Emilia Romagna);
Cipollone 2000 (Gubbio, Umbria); Mercando et al. 1974 (Portorecanati, Marche); Paine et al. 2009
(Urbino, Marche); Olivieri 2007 (Saxa Rubra-Groarossa, Lazio); Sperduti 1995 (Ostia); Lepe
and Van Andringa 2010; Duday 2008 (Pompeii); Craig et al. 2009 (Velia); Prowse and Small 2009;
Small and Small 2007 (Vagnari, Puglia); Becker 1997 (Metaponto).
19 Bedini et al. 1995; Brasili and Belcastro 1998; Catalano et al. 2001; Catalano et al. 2001a; Buccel-
lato et al. 2003; Egidi et al. 2003; Catalano et al. 2006; Cucina et al. 2006; Musco 2006; Catalano et
al. 2009.
Fig. 3. Burial of an adult (Tomb 74) and a
neonate (Tomb 75, right) at Gubbio, Hadrianic
(del. J. Willmott).
M. Carroll
© Journal of Roman Archaeology 24 (2011)
demographic structures with an estimated infant mortality of c.30%.20 At the cemetery of
S. Donato and Bivio CH at Urbino (Marche), in use from the 1st to the 3rd c. A.D., 2.5% of
the burials belonged to infants younger than 1 year old.21 At the cemeteries at Osteria del
Curato/via Lucrezia Romana, on the via Latina outside Rome, 5.8% of the burials were
those of children under the age of 1.22 The proportion of infants this age in the necropolis
on the via Basiliano (Invaso Occidentale) on the via Collatina in Rome’s suburbium was
considerably higher, at 11%.23 In yet another cemetery (viale Serenissima) on the same
road, 2220 graves have been excavated, generating much valuable data on age at death and
revealing that c.12.5% of the burials are of children younger than 1 year; some 30% died by
the time they were 6 years old.24 The mortality rate for children in this age group was lower
at a site whose necropolis on the via Aldini southeast of Rome has been excavated: 17% of
children died under 6 years of age, with infants under the age of 1 comprising 8% of the
deaths of the total population.25 At sites explored thus far around Rome, only Quadraro
has a higher proportion of infant burials, at 13.9%.26
At Portus, c.10% of the burials in the Isola Sacra cemetery belong to children of perinatal
or neonatal age, at the most 1 year of age, although this increases to 17% when children up
to the age of 2 are included.27 In contrast, a much higher proportion of infant burials is in
evidence at the port of Velia in a cemetery outside the Porta Marina Sud dating to the 1st
and 2nd c. A.D.:28 children under the age of 1 comprise 31% of the total assemblage, sug-
gesting that (estimated) Roman infant mortality rates are reected fairly accurately at this
There is no clear correlation between the size of the cemetery and the number of chil-
dren under the age of 1. Although 2.8% of the 69 individuals buried at Vagnari were
children less than 1 year old, for example, at Portorecanati infants make up only 2.2% of a
much larger assemblage of 357 excavated individuals. This is even clearer when we com-
pare these ratios with Velia where, out of c.230 burials, children under 1 year comprised a
considerable 31%. The general range, then, generally seems to be either well under 10% or
in the 10-14% range, with one extreme at over 30%.
Overall in its range the Italian data is roughly comparable to that from Roman Gaul
and Germany, where considerable advances in our knowledge of child death and burial
have been made recently. Infant burials account for only 3% at Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux,
just over 8% at Marseilles (Ste. Barbe), c.15% at Kempten (Auf der Keckwiese), and 26%
at Argenton.29 Only the cemetery at Les Bolards à Nuits-Saint-Georges (Burgundy) is
20 Cipollone 2000.
21 Paine et al. 2009.
22 Egidi et al. 2003. Osteria del Curato I and II are considered by Buccellato et al. 2003 to be one
cemetery, and Osteria del Curato III another: in the histogram in g. 22, children under the age
of 1 account for 4% at Osteria del Curato I and II, and for 2% at Osteria del Curato III (there is
no mention of the other sections Osteria del Curato III-V or of via Lucrezia Romana).
23 Buccellato et al. 2003, 337.
24 Catalano et al. 2003, gs. 1-2; Musco 2006.
25 Catalano et al. 2009, 4.
26 Catalano et al. 2003, g. 1. Almost 40% of the individuals at Quadraro died before the age of 13:
see g. 2.
27 Sperduti 1995.
28 Craig et al. 2009.
29 Bel 1992; Moliner et al. 2003; Mackensen 1978; Allain et al. 1992.
Infant death and burial in Roman Italy 105
© Journal of Roman Archaeology 24 (2011)
absolutely exceptional, with 109 adult burials and 113 infants of premature or neonatal
age. This cemetery is unusual in its location next to a sanctuary, possibly a healing shrine,
where children whose parents had sought divine assistance might not have been healed
but were buried in its proximity.30
b) Treatment and protection of the body
It was a sorrowful occasion, according to Juvenal (15.139), ‘when the earth closes over a
babe too young for the funeral pyre’, although he does not specify what age is ‘too young’
for cremation. The Elder Pliny (NH 7.68 and 7.72) is more specic, writing that ‘children
cut their rst teeth when 6 months old; it is the universal custom of mankind not to cremate
a person who dies before cuing his teeth’. But is this borne out by the physical evidence in
Italy, and was this dierential treatment according to age always adhered to?
In the tomb precinct of P. Vesonius Phileros outside the Porta Nocera at Pompeii, inhu-
mation and cremation burials of infants and children have recently come to light. The
excavations indicate that young children were inhumed, including a baby of 6-9 months in
age (in an amphora) and a 2-year-old child (in a tile cist); a child of less than 6 months was
cremated (g. 4).31 It would appear that, at least here, the age of 6 months as the cut-o for
the change in the rite of disposal from inhumation to cremation was not strictly observed.
Pliny’s claim of the universality of burying, rather than cremating, infants until they started
30 Planson et al. 1922; Planson and Pommeret 1986; Laubenheimer 2004, 298, g. 1. A high infant
mortality rate is also apparent at Sétif (Algeria), where 39% of the burials in the E necropolis
belonged to children under 1 year of age: Février and Guéry 1980.
31 Lepetz and Van Andringa 2011.
Fig. 4. Infant of 6-9 months in age buried in an amphora, mid-1st c. A.D., in the Porta Nocera cemetery, Pom-
peii (A. Gailliot/École française de Rome).
M. Carroll
© Journal of Roman Archaeology 24 (2011)
teething is further undermined by the discovery of newborns burned on the funeral pyre
at several sites in Gaul, such as Argenton, Martigny, Fréjus, and Chantambre.32
In the Porta Nocera cemetery at Pompeii, the vertebrae at the base of the skull of the
infant in the amphora burial were positioned in such a way as to suggest that the child’s
head might have been supported on a small cushion (g. 4).33 This is a valuable indication
of aention paid to the dead child, both protecting it and making it comfortable, a kind of
aention that is not mentioned in any of the literary sources under examination.
It is unlikely that the mixed rites for infants seen at Pompeii would have been excep-
tional, although the Italian evidence currently suggests that children this young generally
were inhumed in grave pits dug for them. Sometimes the grave pits were backlled with
no slab or cover to seal them, and often no container for the body can be detected.34 There
is evidence at several sites, however, that neonates were interred in wooden cons, a
‘halo’ of iron nails around the body being the only evidence for the perishable materi-
als.35 Recently excavated and intact wooden cons containing neonatal burials at the site
of Drapers’ Gardens, London, give a good idea of what the originals in Italy would have
looked like.36 Tiles, on their own or in combination with stone slabs, were often used to
form a cist or were arranged roof-like, alla cappuccina, above the body.37 The neonate in
Tomb 150 at Gubbio appears to have been buried between or protected by two imbrices,
the whole assemblage then being placed in a wooden con, of which only 10 iron nails
survive.38 At Vagnari, infants of between 9 and 12 months of age were buried under and
on tiles constructed alla cappuccina.39 At this site children older than 1 year were buried in
a wooden con and covered with tiles in the same arrangement, suggesting that there
might have been a dierentiation in burial rite according to age. As in the tomb precinct
of P. Vesonius Phileros at Pompeii, the container used to bury an infant might also be an
amphora, or the baby might be buried under part of an amphora.40
Infants were also included in built tombs and family mausolea, as on the via Basiliano
outside Rome: a surviving funerary inscription from a plundered mausoleum of the late
2nd or early 3rd c. names a Gaius Iulius Romanus who died at 8 months and 17 days.41
32 Allain et al. 1992, 34, 52-55, 170 and 172, gs. 64-65 (Tombs 1, 74, 78, 85, 121); Laubenheimer
2004, 302; Gébara and Béraud 1993; Girard 1997; Murail 1997.
33 Duday 2008, 215.
34 Egidi et al. 2003, Osteria del Curato III, Tomb 62; Osteria del Curato IV, Tomb 103.
35 Cipollone 2000, 202, g. 198 (Tomb 150); 208, g. 203 (Tomb 156); 232-37, g. 231 (Tomb 183);
Mercando et al. 1974, 252-54, gs. 112, 140-41 and 144 (Tomb 70); Prowse and Small 2009, 5-6,
g. 11 (Tombs F202 and F228).
36 Ridgeway 2009, 10-11. I thank J. Butler of Pre-Construct Archaeology for further information on
these burials.
37 Filippi 1982, 12, pls. 7-8; Mallegni et al. 1982, 56-58, pl. 39 (Tombs 4, 5 and 7); Egidi et al. 2003,
Lucrezia Romana I, Tombs XXX and XLII; Osteria del Curato IV, Tomb 97; Osteria del Curato
V, Tomb 53.
38 Cipollone 2000, 202, g. 98 (Tomb 150).
39 Small and Small 2007, 172-73, g. 19 (Tomb F36); 175-76, g. 22 (Tomb F38); Prowse and Small
40 Fasold et al. 2004, 22-23 (Tomb 9); Egidi et al. 2003 (Osteria del Curato IV, Tomb 98; Osteria del
Curato V, Tomb 42; Lucrezia Romana I, Tomb CLX); Carbonara 1999, 83; Becker 1997 (Tomb 5);
Mercando et al. 1974, 370, gs. 294 and 296 (Tomb 273).
41 Buccellato et al. 2003, 322-28, gs. 10-14; the inscription is illustrated in g. 16.
Infant death and burial in Roman Italy 107
© Journal of Roman Archaeology 24 (2011)
c) Grave goods
In general, common oerings in Italy include glass or ceramic vessels, lamps and coins,
as well as beads and pendants of various materials. A single bone pin or bronze needle
found in some infant burials might have been used to hold a wrapped shroud together,
rather than being an ‘oering’.42 Strings of apotropaic amulets worn as necklaces can be
found in the graves of newborns and nurslings, perhaps because they had been worn by
the child in life and in some way were thought to continue to protect it even in death.43
Thus, a necklace in an inhumation burial of a child between the ages of 6 and 12 months
at a necropolis on the via Lucrezia Romana in Rome’s suburbium included bone and glass-
paste beads and fragments of silver; another in the grave of a newborn at Salò (Lombardy)
was strung with green glass beads.44 At Gubbio, grave goods given to the children under
the age of 1 include ceramic cups, dishes, glass or ceramic balsamaria, occasionally an oil
lamp or a coin or a pierced one worn as an amulet (g. 5).45 At Portorecanati, grave goods
included objects such as a terracoa gurine, a feeding bole, a cup, a lamp or a coin
(g. 6).46 An inhumed 1-year-old child in the via Triumphalis cemetery at the Vatican was
42 Small and Small 2007, 195 (Tomb F43); Cipollone 2000, 202, g. 198 (Tomb 150). I am preparing
an article on wrapped and dressed children in funerary contexts for M. Carroll and J. P. Wild
(edd.), Dressing the dead in classical antiquity.
43 Jelski 1984; Mastrodonato et al. 2002; Dasen 2003 and 2004.
44 Egidi et al. 2003, 86, cat. 19 (Tomb XLII); Massa 1997, 81, pl. XVI.1 (Tomb 135).
45 Cipollone 2000, 202, g. 98 (Tomb 150); 283-94, g. 281b-c (Tomb 220).
46 Mercando et al. 1974, 252-54, gs. 112, 140-41 and 144 (Tombs 70 and 183).
Fig. 5. Cup, glass and ceramic balsamaria, and a bronze
needle from tombs of neonates (Tombs 150 and 190) at
Gubbio, 2nd c. A.D. (del. J. Willmott).
Fig. 6. Ceramic feeding bottle from the grave of
a newborn (Tomb 70) at Portorecanati, late 2nd-
early 1st c. B.C. (del. J. Willmott).
M. Carroll
© Journal of Roman Archaeology 24 (2011)
buried not only with 2 ceramic vessels, but also an egg, the laer found near his right
hand.47 Infant burials at Vagnari contained glass and poery vessels, and a child under
12 months of age had been given a blue glass phallic amulet to ward o evil.48 At Osteria
del Curato/via Lucrezia Romana, excavations retrieved grave goods associated with new-
borns such as a glass balsamarium, whilst older children of 4 or 5 months or more were not
provided with anything, nancial considerations perhaps being the determining factor.49
At Fidene (Lazio), an as of Domitian was placed in the mouth of a 1-year-old infant; at
Portorecanati, a nursling held a coin of the same emperor in his hand.50 A single iron nail
might also be placed in the grave.51 A complete iron nail was placed in or under an African
Red Slip dish in the grave of a nursling at Vagnari.52 This might have had some magical
signicance, perhaps as an object ‘nailing’ down the dead and preventing the baby from
returning, but the inclusion of iron nails in burials in Roman Italy is by no means spe-
cic only to children or infants.53 A single pig’s tooth was found in inhumation burials
of neonates at Gubbio.54 In Italian cemeteries, only children older than 1 year were given
anything precious such as gold jewellery.55 Perhaps the value of a child in this age category
was greater, due to the longer investment in its survival; or perhaps the parents used the
burial of children of this age to display their own wealth and status.
From a consideration of the range of grave goods, evidently some objects were chosen
for their suitability for children this age. This includes the feeding boles, as well as the
apotropaic amulets, although these were given to older children too. On the other hand,
coins, lamps, cups, dishes and balsamaria are common oerings in Roman Italy for adults
too, so there is nothing specically related to childhood about these provisions.
Missing children and the nature of the evidence
One group of youngest children that appears to be missing from Italian cemeteries in
the Imperial period are those babies who were born very prematurely before the tenth
lunar month (= ninth calendar month). Stillborn births may also be missing, although it is
very dicult to determine whether a child died shortly after birth rather than leaving the
womb stillborn.56 Religious factors might have played a rôle here; in the Christian buri-
als of the 3rd and 4th c. in the Kellis 2 cemetery at Dakhleh, for example, even foetuses
routinely were carefully wrapped and deposited in a small grave cut.57 But this cannot be
47 Liverani and Spinola 2006, 66, g. 65.
48 Small and Small 2007, 174-76, g. 23 (Tomb F38). Almost identical blue phallic amulets are
known from Tomb 32 at Rebibbia near Rome: Angelini and Quaranta 2006, 262, cat. II.335, with
gure, although the age of the child is unclear.
49 Egidi et al. 2003, Osteria del Curato III, Tomb 62 (balsamarium), Osteria del Curato III, Tombs
131-132 (no nds).
50 Ceci 2001, 92; Mercando et al. 1974, tomb 183.
51 Egidi et al. 2003, Osteria del Curato IV, Tomb 97; Osteria del Curato V, Tomb 23.
52 Small and Small 2007, 172-73, g. 19 (Tomb F36).
53 Small and Small 2007, 145-46; Ceci 2001.
54 Cipollone 2002, 208, g. 203 (Tomb 156); 240, g. 233d (Tomb 190).
55 Egidi et al. 2003, 91, cat. 21 = Osteria del Curato II, Tomb 10 (a ring); Egidi et al. 2003, list = Lucre-
zia Romana I, Tomb CXVI (earrings); Carbonara 1999, 75, g. 3 (earrings); Small and Small 2007,
198-200, g. 43, Tomb F48 (earrings).
56 Dasen 2009.
57 Marlow 2001; Tocheri et al. 2005.
Infant death and burial in Roman Italy 109
© Journal of Roman Archaeology 24 (2011)
the only possible reason for their absence in Italy, since foetuses and premature or still-
born babies are aested at various ‘pagan’ sites of Roman date in France, Germany and
Britain; such babies could be buried in the ground under tiles, in wicker baskets or on reed
mats, and be given poery vessels or other oerings — none of which speaks for indier-
ence towards them.58 Careful excavation and awareness of the possibility of such remains
should result in their future discovery in Roman Italy too.
There are many variables that could account for the discrepancies between infant mor-
tality rates and the number of infants in communal burial grounds. We must keep in mind
that rarely has any cemetery been explored in its entirety.59 If there were a concentration
of newborns and infants in a particular section of a necropolis, as there was occasionally in
Roman Gaul, this might have eluded excavators.60 And there has still to be an Italian cem-
etery to parallel the Greek necropolis at Kylindra on Astypalaia (Dodecanese), in use from
the mid-8th c. B.C. to Roman times: it was reserved exclusively for children under the age
of 2 years.61 The varying degrees of preservation of infant remains also need to be taken
into account. At Saxa Rubra-Groarossa, for example, the acidic soil removed all trace of
infant bones and even many adult bones, only the small size (55-65 x 30 cm) of some of the
grave pits indicating that very young children had been interred here.62 Moreover, as at
Castelraimondo (Udine), the small bones of human infants have been mistaken for animal
bones, being recognised (out of context) only during post-excavation analysis for what
they really are.63 Not that long ago, human bone might even have been re-buried after the
excavation of a cemetery without skeletal analysis being conducted.64 The evidence for and
against the practice of Roman infanticide and child exposure has often been discussed, but
it is most unlikely that either could account for any serious under-representation of infants
in Italian cemeteries.65 Finally, Italian archaeological publications often make it dicult to
recognise specic age groups of children, as specialists tend to group children in the age
category “Infans I” (anything up to 6 years), or in categories up to 9 or 13 years, or simply
refer to a child as a “bambino”.66
In light of the evidence discussed, it is untenable to make a blanket statement that the
Romans rarely buried their infants properly. Nevertheless, there are cemeteries in which
infants under the age of 1 are not present, leading us to ask where these children might
have been interred. We might ask too whether there is a dierence between Roman urban
and rural selements, and whether, if less babies are buried in one or the other context, this
58 Allain et al. 1992; Struck 1993a; Hölschen 2002; Beilke-Voigt 2008.
59 An exception is the fully-excavated necropolis of the 2nd-3rd c. A.D. at Musarna, where no
remains of children under one were found: Rebillard 2009.
60 At Argenton (Champ de l’Image cemetery) premature births and neonates were buried in a
reserved area: Allain et al. 1992. At Fréjus (St. Lambert cemetery), a zone appears to have been
reserved for infant burials: Gébara and Béraud 1993.
61 Hillson 2009.
62 Olivieri 2007.
63 Giusberti 1992. See also Cueni 1997 and Berger 1993, 320, for similar situations in Gaul.
64 Massa 2001, 267, n.21.
65 Golden 1988; Smith and Kahila 1992; Mays 1993; Harris 1994; Krauße 1998; Gowland and
Chamberlain 2002.
66 Passi Pitcher 1987; Brasili and Belcastro 1998, 174; Buccellato et al. 2003, 337, g. 21.
M. Carroll
© Journal of Roman Archaeology 24 (2011)
reects varying mortality rates depending on where these children were born and lived
their short lives. Those living under harsh and poor conditions at rural sites such as Valle-
rano in Rome’s suburbium, for example, where no infants and few sub-adults were found
and where 73% of the population died between 20 and 40, might have been less protected
against disease, food scarcity and damage than those living in Rome itself.67 On the other
hand, the Urbs had its own disease and sanitation problems, and children died frequently
here too.68 B. D. Shaw was able to demonstrate a correlation between birthing cycles and
infant mortality in Rome and peninsular Italy from the 1st to the 5th c. A.D., which indi-
cates that many infants died in the same month they were born.69
Dead children might have been deposited in places within selements. In Roman Gaul,
infant burials have been located both in cemeteries and in and around domestic buildings.70
T. Wiedemann claimed that children this age were normally buried in the town and within
domestic buildings, but babies and infants are fairly well represented in Italy in the extra-
mural cemeteries where Roman law says the dead should be deposited.71 Burying an
infant within or next to buildings is what a literary source of the late 5th or 6th c. refers
to as suggrundaria. Fabius Planciades Fulgentius (The explanation of obsolete words) writes:
‘In former times the ancients called suggrundaria the burial places of infants who had not
yet lived 40 days, because they could not be called graves since there were no bones to be
cremated nor a big enough corpse for a cenotaph to be raised’. This source is highly prob-
lematic, although it is quoted repeatedly in scholarly literature in an uncritical fashion.
Fulgentius’s muddled explanation of a word that was obsolete by his time should warn
us against using his denition in an archaeological sense with any condence. After all,
even tiny babies have bones, while the whole point of a cenotaph is that it is a memorial set
up to commemorate an individual in the absence of a body, so Fulgentius’s reference to a
‘corpse’ is misleading.
Only in the Late Roman and post-Roman periods in Italy do perinatal, neonatal and
post-neonatal burials appear in any quantity in locations outside the cemetery.72 The
best-known of these sites is Lugnano (Umbria) where 47 skeletons of premature infants,
neonates and post-neonatal children were found in 5 rooms of an abandoned villa in the
mid-5th c.73 It has been suggested that they are victims of a plague, possibly malaria. There
are other Late Roman and Early Mediaeval sites in Italy, usually rural in nature, as at
Loppio–S. Andrea and Mezzocorona (both Trentino), where neonates are found buried
under the oors of buildings or along their walls, and where no epidemic or catastrophe
needs to have been responsible for their disposal there.74 They might also be disposed of
67 Bedini et al. 1995; Cucina et al. 2006.
68 Scheidel 2009.
69 Shaw 2001, 99.
70 These might be in poery ateliers or other workshops, as at Lezoux, Sallèles d’Aude and Nyon:
Vertet 1974; Laubenheimer 1994, 310-13; Duday 2009, 63-69, gs. 49-55; Hauser and Rossi 1998;
Nyon 2003; Dasen 2011, 305-7. Infant burials are also found on farm sites (e.g., Sontheim and
Neftenbach: Hölschen 2002; Langenegger 1996).
71 Wiedemann 1989, 179.
72 Struck (1993a, 317-18) also noticed an increase in infant burials in selements in the 4th c. A.D.
in Britain, which she aributes to the resurgence of a native tradition. For similar comments, see
Sco 1999, 114.
73 Soren and Soren 1999.
74 Gaio 2004; Cavada 1994, 70-76, g. 37; Griesbach 2007, 128, cat. 32; 198, cat. 36.
Infant death and burial in Roman Italy 111
© Journal of Roman Archaeology 24 (2011)
in a midden associated with a derelict building, as at S. Giovanni di Ruoti in the late 5th or
early 6th c.75 Certainly the burial in selements of babies in ceramic containers has a long
history in Italy, S Gaul, the Alpine regions, and the E Mediterranean.76 The burial of infants
within selements and buildings may have been an ancient tradition that was uninu-
enced by Roman law, or one that was resuscitated after the breakdown of Roman society.
As for the possibility of the burials of infants in courtyards or under oors or next to the
walls of buildings in the Late Republican and Imperial periods, much greater aention is
required by the excavators of domestic structures in both urban and rural selements if
this gap in our knowledge is to be lled.
Commemorating infants
Statistics show that only c.1.3% of the tens of thousands of inscribed funerary monu-
ments from Rome and the rest of Italy record the death of babies younger than 1 year, and
this particular group has not beneted from any in-depth analysis.77 Combing through
CIL VI (roughly 31,000 funerary inscriptions from the city of Rome), I found 116 children
commemorated under the age of 1, which is 0.37% of the total (g. 7). In this age group
there are more boys (72) than girls (44). These children are often referred to as the sweet-
est, the dearest, most charming, and well deserving, sometimes even the most innocent.78
Most frequently, it is the parents who jointly commission and set up a memorial, fol-
lowed by the father as the only named dedicator, and then the mother, but occasionally
grandparents and even the wet-nurse also claim responsibility (presumably because no
75 Steele and MacKinnon 1994.
76 Modica 1993; Fabre 1996; Becker 1997; Vokotopoulou 1999; van Rossenberg 2008; Dedet 2008.
77 Hopkins 1983, 225.
78 Such epithets were chosen particularly often in the commemoration of young children in
general: Nielsen 1997.
Fig. 7. Graph of funerary monuments from Rome commemorating children under the age of 1 year (mo =
M. Carroll
© Journal of Roman Archaeology 24 (2011)
parents were alive to perform this act of piety).
Many of them ‘simply’ record the name of the
child and its age at death, as well as the name
of the commemorator, but others are elaborate
enough to give a portrait (imagined or real) of
the child.79 Imagined portraits are the images of
children who appear older than the age of the
child stated in the epitaph, as in the case of the
7-month-old Sextus Ruus Achilleus (g. 8);
this child who stands on his own is clearly older
than 7 months.80 But real portraits of infants
did exist, even as sculpture in the round. The
mould of an infant’s face found in a Late Roman
burial in Paris, for example, indicates that a por-
trait could be made from a negative form taken
when a child died or was on its death-bed, the
death mask then being buried with the body.81
Such an image of a loved child would preserve
its memory and act as a focus of grief, com-
forting the eyes and soul of the survivor, as an
epitaph in Ammaedara says.82
The extreme rarity with which an infant
under the age of 1 year might be portrayed
on its own on a grave stele or as the subject of
a portrait is a tangible reection of the impor-
tance to those particular families of the children
whose images were commissioned. The age at
death in epitaphs is often very specic, includ-
ing months, days and hours, such data visibly
highlighting that the memory of a child was at
stake and that the commemorators of the child
had hoped to see it reach maturity.83 Although
it is not certain how much a stone marker or a
portrait bust would have cost, the commission-
ing of such monuments represents a nancial investment that was beyond the possibilities
of the poor.84 Even if one could aord such a monument, it is not necessarily a given that
a stone would be purchased and set up. Doing so reects the will and intent of the sur-
vivors to preserve the memory of a loved child. But other factors, aside from expressing
79 One of the most accomplished depiction of infants is on a Claudian funerary altar (CIL VI
21805) set up at Rome for Maena Mellusa and her sons Dexter (11 months) and Sacerdos (3
months, 10 days): see Boschung 1987, 114, cat. 964, pl. 57; Rawson 2003, 42-44, g. I.8.
80 CIL VI 25572.
81 Dasen 2010, 131-33, g. 5.8a-b; Carroll 2011, 68-69, g. 4.2. The baby was plainly only months
82 CIL VIII 434 (the image in this case was of an adult).
83 McWilliam 2001, 93; Rawson 2003, 352.
84 Duncan-Jones 1974, 79-80 and 127-31.
Fig. 8. Gravestone of Sextus Ruus Achilleus
who died at 7 months, 9 days and was commem-
orated by his father, 2nd c. A.D. (Rome, Museo
Nazionale Romano, inv. 29739; author).
Infant death and burial in Roman Italy 113
© Journal of Roman Archaeology 24 (2011)
love, might also have played a rôle in commemorat-
ing a dead infant. In the case of freedmen parents, for
example, the birth of a free-born child whose death is
recorded in the epitaph also celebrated the most crucial
change in their own legal status from slave to freed.
Tiny infants also are sometimes depicted on grave
stelae with their mothers. Portraits of Roman women
cradling a baby probably indicate that these women
died giving birth to a child, or shortly thereafter, as a
result of post-natal complications, even if the infant is
not included in the epitaph or the inscription is now
lost. The 18-year-old Scaevina Procilla from Ravenna,
for example, is commemorated by her parents, but
the swaddled baby in her arms is not referred to in
the epitaph (g. 9).85 The death of a young woman
in her reproductive years would have been acutely
felt in the family; in this context, it is the mother who
makes the visual depiction of an infant possible.
Roman infants: indierence or concern?
The rst hours, weeks, and months of a child’s life
were the most crucial period for an infant to survive,
and it was at its most vulnerable then. If the numbers
of surviving burials of children this age were accurate
reections of mortality rates in the period under dis-
cussion, we would expect newborns and nurslings to
be visible in far greater numbers. Likewise, an under-
representation of children younger than 1 year is noticeable in funerary epigraphy. As for
the commemoration of infants with texts and images, perhaps the commemorative habits
of Roman society did not relate as strongly to children of such a young age. This does not
mean that children were not loved. Equally, the apparent under-representation of infants
in Roman cemeteries does not entitle us to assume that babies were ‘discarded’ elsewhere
without any regard for them. Performing a burial is a public demonstration of pietas; every
infant buried in the community’s cemetery therefore had its existence recognised in a legal
sense and its place in the family and society publicly acknowledged. Those parents and
family who buried their infants in the communal cemetery chose a public way of dealing
with their loss; burying an infant in or around one’s dwelling, on the other hand, might be
considered more private. Some explanations for the low numbers of the youngest children
in Roman cemeteries have been oered; apart from poor preservation and the partial exca-
vation of cemeteries, they include inaccuracies in recording age data and a lack of awareness
of the possibility of infants being found in extramural and (especially) intramural locations.
85 CIL XI 212; Mansuelli 1967, 143-44, g. 48. See also Frenz 1985, cat. 71, pl. 30.4, for a mother and
swaddled child from Benevento. The motif is also found in the Rhine and Danube provinces:
Krüger 1974, 16-17, cat. 15, pl. 8 (from Savaria); Galsterer and Galsterer 1975, cat. 310, pl. 67;
Carroll 2006, 6, g. 3 (from Cologne).
Fig. 9. Gravestone of Scaevina Procilla
who died (with her child?) at age 18 and
was commemorated by her parents, at
Ravenna (Museo Arcivescovile) (del. J.
M. Carroll
© Journal of Roman Archaeology 24 (2011)
Although our picture is far from complete, the broad geographical span of infant buri-
als in Italian necropoleis suggests that infants and very young children were indeed buried
as part of the community, but not always. The cemetery evidence for burial in grave pits,
protective coverings or containers, for the inclusion of grave goods appropriate to children
this age, and for the sometimes close association with other family members, all point to
the youngest children being given aention in death. Whether infants were buried in the
necropolis or within selements, there is nothing to suggest that children that age were
impure, malign and taboo.86
In all societies, children can be desired by some and unwanted by others, and it would
be foolish to claim that Roman children were always welcomed by their parents. But
in Italy, there is substantial evidence for aention paid to rituals and practices thought
to aid fertility and ensure healthy childbirth. Cult images of Italic gods associated with
childbirth, such as Mater Matuta with her arms full of swaddled infants, indicate that
divine help was sought by mothers and parents who wanted to conceive or whose chil-
dren needed help (gs. 10-11).87 The “prayer(s) of women in childbirth” were oered also
to Juno Lucina during the Matronalia on the rst day of March (Ov., Fast. 3). Dozens of
other gods were associated with all aspects of childbirth and childhood.88 Furthermore,
from the 3rd c. B.C., the dedication in Italian sanctuaries of terracoa votive oerings, such
as life-size babies in swaddling clothes, uteri, and gurines of mothers and parents with
86 Néraudau 1984, 379-84; McWilliam 2001, 78; Shaw 2001, 99.
87 Plutarch, Quaest. Rom. 17, seems to say that women prayed to Mater Matuta for the sake of their
sisters’ children, rather than their own. Children were wrapped in swaddling bands until they
were 40-60 days old, according to Soranus, Gyn. 2.19.42. Thus the infants held by Mater Matuta
are meant to be very young.
88 Hänninen 2005, 50-53.
Fig. 10. Seated stone statue of Mater Matuta at Capua,
with swaddling infants in her arms (del. J. Willmott).
Fig. 11. Swaddled infant held by Mater Matuta at
Capua (Berlin Antikenmuseum/author).
Infant death and burial in Roman Italy 115
© Journal of Roman Archaeology 24 (2011)
babies, are a visible reminder of the personal and emotional investment in the conception,
birth and well-being of children (g. 12).89 None of this suggests that high infant mortal-
ity made people immune to grief or that they did not care when their children fell ill or
died. Instead, the vulnerability of infants probably sharpened parental awareness of health
threats and increased concern and anxiety for their babies.
It has been suggested that parents, and especially upper-class parents, cushioned and
distanced themselves against the foreseeable loss of their children by employing wet-
nurses and other sta to take care of their ospring.90 But what about the lower classes who
may not have been able to aord wet-nurses and caregivers or had none in their house-
hold? What would have protected them from the immediate engagement with their own
infants and the emotional trauma felt when those died too young? Mothers and fathers
without the nancial resources for wet-nurses had lile choice but to engage directly with
their children. Still, in most cases even the poor did not need to rear their children com-
pletely alone. Parents were generally embedded in a network of other relatives, including
older children, who shared the child-rearing process.91 The Roman familia was a large and
extended one. This may have diused the responsibility for very young children, and the
grief at losing them may equally have been borne and shared by a larger group.
89 Bonghi Jovino 1971; Vagnei 1971; Fenelli 1975; Bonfante 1986; Turfa 1994; Baggieri and Rinaldi
Veloccia 1996; Cazanove 2008.
90 Bradley 1986, 220; id. 1991, 29.
91 Bradley 1991, 37-75; Rawson 2003, 114-33; Carroll 2006, 202-8.
Fig. 12. Life-size terracotta votive gures in the form of swad-
dled infants, from Lavinium, Vulci, Satricum, Tarquinia and
Rome (for sources, see n.89 infra) (del. J. Willmott).
M. Carroll
© Journal of Roman Archaeology 24 (2011)
Ocially from the dies lustricus, and unocially even before that, the child was a mem-
ber of the family and the wider community. It was recognised by the father, fed and cared
for before it received its name on the eighth or ninth day. The name-giving ceremony
ensured that the child carried the name of the gens, making it an integral member of soci-
ety. My quotation from the Aeneid at the outset makes it clear that the death of infants was
all the more bier precisely because they had been plucked at such an early age out of the
bosom of their family and robbed of a future rôle in society. But in death the youngest
children were re-integrated into Roman public and private life, since, once interred in the
community of the dead, infants would have been included in the public days of remem-
brance in the Roman calendar celebrated annually for the dead of all ages.
p.m.carroll@she University of Sheeld
I am grateful to the British Academy for the award of the Balsdon Fellowship at the British School
at Rome in 2008, and to sta and colleagues at the School for ensuring such a stimulating research
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... While some of the other perinatal individuals may have survived long enough to receive emergency baptism and thus do not represent illicit burials, it is nonetheless significant that space within the church building itself was reserved for the youngest members of the religious community. At the same time, the burial container and inclusion of a coin harken back to long-standing, albeit pagan, burial practices (see, e.g., Carroll 2011). ...
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The burial of unbaptized fetuses and infants, as seen through texts and archaeology, exposes friction between the institutional Church and medieval Italy's laity. The Church's theology of Original Sin, baptism, and salvation left the youngest children especially vulnerable to dying unbaptized and subsequently being denied a Christian burial in consecrated grounds. We here present textual and archaeological evidence from medieval Italy regarding the tensions between canon law and parental concern for the eternal salvation of their infants' souls. We begin with an analysis of medieval texts from Italy. These reveal that, in addition to utilizing orthodox measures of appealing for divine help through the saints, laypeople of the Middle Ages turned to folk religion and midwifery practices such as "life testing" of unresponsive infants using water or other liquids. Although emergency baptism was promoted by the Church, the laity may have occasionally violated canon law by performing emergency baptism on stillborn infants. Textual documents also record medieval people struggling with where to bury their deceased infants, as per their ambiguous baptismal status within the Church community. We then present archaeological evidence from medieval sites in central and northern Italy, confirming that familial concern for the inclusion of infants in Christian cemeteries sometimes clashed with ecclesiastical burial regulations. As a result, the remains of unbaptized fetuses and infants have been discovered in consecrated ground. The textual and archaeological records of fetal and infant burial in medieval Italy serve as a material legacy of how laypeople interpreted and sometimes contravened the Church's marginalizing theology and efforts to regulate the baptism and burial of the very young.
... The infants were not necessarily cured of anything to enable them to survive early life; they were protected. But for the first days, weeks, and months of its life, the vulnerable newborn will have struggled with a variety of potential health problems and external attacks on its life, so that protection again might be closely related to healing (Prowse et al., 2010;Carroll, 2011). ...
This study explores social and gendered aspects of female fertility in popular religious practices in Italy in the last four centuries BC, and it investigates the role of supplication and votive dedications in promoting maternal health and family continuity. It tackles modern assumptions which have strongly aligned the religious activities of women in Republican Italy with their generative interests and specific ‘fertility cults’ or ‘women's goddesses’. Divinities associated with fertility are explored here, with particular emphasis on Mater Matuta who is often defined in modern research as a ‘mother goddess’. The study shows that cults purely concerned with fertility are unlikely to have existed. Fertility was only one of several fundamental personal concerns brought by women and men to the generalist and polyvalent deities of Republican Italy. Items associated with fertility, such as terracotta wombs, male and female genitals, and swaddled infants, always occur together with other anatomical ex-votos across a wide range of sites and were dedicated to many deities. Considering the archaeological and textual evidence, Mater Matuta can be shown to have occupied a more flexible and encompassing space in the pantheon, and her involvement in marriage, motherhood and childbearing was part of a wider repertoire of responsibilities. The study also focuses attention on a distinctive, but largely overlooked, votive assemblage from Capua which includes numerous tufa statues of women and babies. The paper proposes that they should be understood as votive objects offered to an unknown deity by Capuan women as thanks for support in the generative enterprise, personally and more broadly in the context of the city's religious and civic identity.
... È noto che il modo di accostarsi alla morte e al lutto è strettamente legato ad aspetti culturali e collettivi di una società 6,7 , la quale ha un proprio idioma collettivo di espressione delle emozioni 8 . Altrettanto noto è che all'interno di ogni epoca e contesto culturale c'è sempre un potenziale di variabilità emotiva individuale 9,10 . Tuttavia, a un primo sguardo, i comportamenti di fronte alla morte neonatale e le tappe di elaborazione del lutto, per lo meno quelle osservabili nel periodo di permanenza in TIN (merita di essere sottolineata l'utilità di una costante e attenta attività di osservazione in reparto 11,12 , a prescindere dalla cultura di appartenenza dei genitori), non presentano differenze significative tra persone che appartengono a culture e/o religioni anche profondamente differenti. ...
The birth is an event full of joy and expectations, the death of a newborn instead is dramatic, senseless and unacceptable for the human, heartbreaking in an emotional way and unexplainable for the doctors, that suddenly subtracts to the parents hope and their future plans. Italy is going through the years working on a multiethnyc society where the infant mortality rate among foreigners resident infants is higher than for those italian resident ones, and since the meaning of death differs in relation to cultural traditions and religious beliefs, to the hospital staff ask about customs and traditions of the parent's native culture. By two clinical cases, we show that foreigners parents conform to our western culture, in a way that their reaction to the death, the modalities and the taboos of mourning show in a way that do not belong to them. Nevertheless, nearly always, under an “western” way hides a substance of a different nature, strongly committed to the beliefs and values of the origin culture. Not recognizing this superficial adaptation makes impossible the hospital staff to support the parents in order to elaborate the mourning.
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Children have become firmly embedded within multidisciplinary investigations of young lives, yet within these studies, the youngest members of past populations persist in lingering on the margins of discussion. Fetal, perinatal and infant lives are tangential; unable to articulate their thoughts and feelings, with their position and role in society typically a product of parental or wider social vectors, these individuals, their experiences, and their roles are complex to decipher. Yet as keepers of both biological and social data – regarding themselves, their mothers and wider community dynamics – these individuals are central in developing comprehensive narratives of infanthood in the past. However, a lack of methodologies for investigating these young lives has been a constant limitation. With recent advancements able to further our understanding of these early life courses, it is now pertinent to focus on fetal, perinatal and infant lives further.
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We present the first study employing Bayesian modelling of isotopic measurements on dentine increments (five human upper first molars) to address Romano‐British infant feeding practices at Bainesse (UK). The stable carbon and nitrogen isotope results modelled to six‐month intervals with novel OsteoBioR software, revealed some common patterns, with weaning not starting before the age of six months and higher animal protein consumption after the age of seven. The latter possibly indicated a ‘survival’ threshold, evidenced by historical sources and osteological data, hence marking a rise in social status of children. The important role of Bainesse as commercial hub in relation to the fort of Cataractonium does not exclude a priori the possibility that medical treatises and Roman culture were known at the site. However, our results also showed significant intra‐individual differences with weaning cessation taking place between two and five years, suggesting that these were followed only partially and other aspects influenced family decisions on infant feeding practices in Bainesse.
The concept of the bounded body is powerfully resonant within the post-industrialised Western world; it is performed and reinforced through cultural practices which observe the maintenance of bodily space and the delineation of individual bodies. Recent research on the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease hypothesis, epigenetics and microchimerism has increasingly exposed the fragility of this construct. As feminist scholars have stated, the pregnant body represents the ultimate boundary transgression: the body within a body. This chapter aims to provide a theoretical exploration of the maternal body, the interconnectedness of mothers and infants in relation to bodily boundaries, and the impact of reproductive loss (miscarriage/neonatal death). Approximately 15–25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and infant mortality rates in the past are estimated at 25–30%. Reproductive loss brings violent rupture to a woman’s sense of bodily boundaries, both literally, in that she is unable to contain the foetus, but also because she is required to reconfigure her expected self. Up to 40% of mothers who miscarry suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 3 months afterwards. This rupture of the infant-mother nexus creates social anxieties concerning the boundedness of both infants and mothers that have hitherto-unexplored repercussions for burial practice and bioarchaeological interpretations.
Comprehensive analysis of faunal remains from the Etruscan settlement of Poggio Civitate was initiated in 2011. During the analysis of zoological materials collected in past and ongoing excavations, several human skeletal specimens were identified. Stratigraphically these bones are tied to the site’s Orientalizing period of architectural development. Analysis of the human assemblage, which to date includes 47 specimens, shows that the bones represent perinates who died around the time of birth. Furthermore, none of the remains come from archaeological contexts reflective of formal, ritualized disposition. Instead, the bones all derive from large deposits of animal and cultural debris, and most come from refuse deposits that are concentrated around areas of non-elite domestic and industrial activities. This emerging pattern suggests that during the seventh century B. C. E. mortuary behaviors surrounding perinatal death at Poggio Civitate were markedly different from those associated with older individuals. Rather than the easily observable, formal cemetery interment that was accorded to mature members of the community, perinates were disposed of in a private, informal manner that is archaeologically far less visible.
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Recent approaches to the study of past funerary rites have usually rejected any simplistic equivalence between social structure and funerary representation, as well as between funerary complexity and social complexity. Despite theoretical advancements in funerary archaeology, until recently poor and marginal tombs were often disregarded in favor of richer tombs displaying more sophisticated burial practices, or were simply attributed to low-ranking individuals or socio-cultural outsiders , with little consideration paid to the different nuances of the funerary record. In this article, we outline a research initiative which aims to provide a systematic investigation of social diversity and social marginality in protohistoric Italy, with particular attention to Veneto and Trentino South-Tyrol ("IN or OUT" project: Phases 1 and 2). Riassunto Recenti approcci allo studio degli antichi riti funerari generalmente respingono ogni generica corrispondenza tra struttura sociale e rappresentazione funeraria, così come tra la complessità funeraria e quella sociale. Fino a poco tempo fa, le sepolture povere e/o marginali erano trascu-rate rispetto a quelle più ricche che mostravano sofisticate pratiche rituali di seppellimento, ed erano comunemente attribuite a personalità di basso rango o a soggetti socialmente e cultural-mente estranei, talvolta con scarsa attenzione per le complesse sfumature del record archeolo-gico e dei suoi significati. In questo contributo proponiamo un'analisi sistematica della marginalità e della diversità sociale nell'Italia protostorica (progetto "IN or OUT"). L'elaborazione di dati funerari raccolti in Veneto ed in Trentino Alto Adige ha permesso di propor-re alcune osservazioni sull'organizzazione sociale delle comunità che abitavano queste regioni nell'età del Bronzo e del Ferro ("IN or OUT" fasi 1 e 2).
The discovery of perinatal and infant individuals is common in the excavation of Iron Age and Romano-British domestic sites. In recent years, the discovery of many such burials has led to interpretations of infanticide and unceremonious disposal. Although this has been a widely discussed phenomenon, much of the literature has focused on the funerary context, and the biological age and sex estimates of these individuals, with little consideration of the palaeopathological evidence. This article provides a detailed analysis of 17 perinates/infants from the late Iron Age/early Roman site of Piddington, Northants. It discusses the skeletal evidence for poor health and growth, and highlights the potential of these remains to reveal alternative insights into perinatal and infant death. Evidence of growth changes and pathological lesions were identified, suggesting that these individuals experienced chronic episodes of poor health that affected their skeletal development. The study explores the implications of these findings within the context of Iron Age and Roman Britain. At Piddington, the death of these infants is not associated with the cultural practice of infanticide, but occurred due to poor health, highlighting the precarious nature of infant survival in the past.
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During the second and third centuries CE, multiple interment graves were incorporated into the höyük at Oymaağaç-Nerik, adjacent to the nearby Roman town Neoklaudiopolis (modern day Vezirköprü). These graves have been categorically and chronologically divided into earlier Roman period multigenerational tombs and later imperial period mass burials. Osteological examination of skeletal remains from the mass burial graves thus far implicates epidemic disease or famine as the cause of death for, minimally, these 120 individuals. Despite the commingled state of human remains within these graves, demographic burial profiles could be constructed from the preserved skeletal elements. For this study, specifically, preliminary anthropological data have been compared between several mass graves and multigenerational tombs. Disproportionate representations of adults and juveniles between mass and multigenerational graves highlight the theoretically transformative role that epidemic disease assumes against established social practices. The sudden emergence of disease at Oymaağaç demanded that local burial protocols be abandoned to more pragmatic, expedient solutions for the disposal of both adults and children; these solutions blurred sociocultural burial prescriptions and consequently transformed persons, notably children, into newly constructed entities and identities outside traditional Roman mores.
IntroductionContextsParadigmsTomb Relief from Via Po, Rome, Augustan PeriodMarble Sarcophagus from Rome, Early Second Century CEMarble Sarcophagus from Portonaccio, Rome, Late Second Century CEConclusion Further Reading
IntroductionInfancy: DefinitionsMedical ViewsBirthOfficial Entry into the Family/Second, Social, Birth (Amphidromia, Dekate, Dies Lustricus)Birth Rites Disrupted by DeathThe Growing ChildEnd of InfancyConclusion Further Reading
Scattered and debated iconographical documents relate to the imagines maiorum, those wax portraits of office-holding ancestors which were kept in the homes of the elite. A number of plaster masks of children, often very young, have been found in tombs of the imperial period in Rome and in the provinces. These artefacts come from non-elite families and raise a number of questions relating to commemorative practices as well as to the status of children in lower social orders. Why and in what circumstances were these plaster moulds realized? On a living or a dead child? Was a wax or plaster portrait produced from these moulds? These unusual and little known funerary portraits allow us to revisit the need of memorials and the importance of mimesis in Roman society, and throw an unexpected light on the reworking of aristocratic imagery in freedmen's families.