Infancy and Earliest Childhood in the Roman World

Infancy and Earliest Childhood in the Roman World

Some areas of the Roman family have come under particular scrutiny in the last twenty years, and the developing emphasis on children in Roman culture can be seen in recent scholarship. Despite this, very little research has been related to the role and significance of newborn children and infants in the Roman family and society.

With high infant mortality, it is tempting to assume that close bonds were rarely formed with the newest members of a Roman family. This appears to be supported by Roman textual sources which point towards culturally ascribed notions of infants as ‘non-persons’ until they reached a particular age. But literary and philosophical comments need to be balanced against the material evidence to enable us to assess Roman perceptions of the first phase of human life.

The project has made clear that the first year in the life was packed full of challenges, achievements, and milestones that helped shape the child’s physical and social development. In Roman society, birthdays were celebrated by young and old, but the marking of the first birthday, in particular, will have been an important event in an era of high infant mortality, a celebration which perhaps thirty percent of Roman children may not have lived to see. Various written documents confirm that parents worried about losing their children and tried to enjoy them as long as they could. By integrating the information provided by archaeology, art, literature, history, and science, we are able to recognise the physical and emotional investment by the Roman family and society in the health, well-being, and future of the very young, from newborn to toddler. Such an approach also enables us to explore distinctions of class and socio-cultural situations over time and the relations between the realities of and rhetoric about earliest childhood.

This interdisciplinary project on infancy and earliest childhood was funded in part by the Leverhulme Trust and the Society of Antiquaries.

My relevant publications:

Infancy and Earliest Childhood in the Roman World. ‘A Fragment of Time’. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018

Archaeological and epigraphic evidence for infancy in the Roman world, in S. Crawford, G. Shepherd and D. M. Hadley (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Childhood. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018, 148-164

Mother and Infant in Roman Funerary Commemoration, in M. Carroll and E.-J. Graham (eds.), Infant Health and Death in Roman Italy and Beyond. Portsmouth, R.I.: Journal of Roman Archaeology, supplementary volume 96, 2014, 159-178

"No part in earthly things". The death, burial and commemoration of newborn children and infants in Roman Italy, in L. Larsson Lovén and M. Harlow (eds.), The Familia and its Transformation from ancient Rome to Barbarian Europe (50-600 CE). London: Continuum Press, 2012, 41-63

The Roman child clothed in death, in M. Carroll and J.P. Wild (eds.), Dressing the Dead in Classical Antiquity. Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2012, 134-147

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

Maureen Carroll

The Leverhulme Trust


Society of Antiquaries