Review: Infancy and Earliest Childhood in the Roman World

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Infancy and Earliest Childhood in the Roman World
Maureen Carroll

Oxford University Press, £75
ISBN 978-0199687633
Review by: Matthew Symonds

It is received wisdom that Roman parents did not see infants as people, and so were unmoved by the death of newborns, insulating them from the high infant-mortality rate. This argument is seemingly borne out by the presence of infant burials within settlements rather than communal cemeteries, and the stiff-upper-lip writings of members of the elite, such as Cicero and Seneca. Subjecting archaeological evidence to close scrutiny almost always reveals that the truth is more complex than existing models allow; in this case, it is also more heartbreaking.

Maureen Carroll, Professor of Roman Archaeology at the University of Sheffield, guides readers through the first year of a Roman child’s life using a compelling mixture of excavation, artefact, sculptural, and written evidence. For those who did not survive, the results emphasise the gulf between public mourning and private grief, by demonstrating the care that many parents invested in unborn or infant children, and the dreams they held for their future. Grave goods such as a spindle whorl or miniature sword, for instance, seemingly offer compensation for futures that never came to pass. This poignant and affecting book provides an eye-opening account of the very earliest stages of life in the Roman Empire.

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