Homer and Dorothy Thompson Fellow

Barbara Scarfo
(September 2018 to May 2019)

In 2012 Barbara Scarfo completed an M.A. thesis at McMaster University in the Department of Classics, in which she examined parent-child relationships and how social and cultural identity were conveyed through the representation of young children on sculptural funerary commemoration in a Roman context. Barbara continues her studies at McMaster and is in the process of completing her dissertation, ‘The Socio-Cultural Construction of Maternity in the Roman World’. In her study she analyzes three aspects of child-bearing in the Roman era: the social context of Roman maternity, the significant relationship between slavery and Roman maternity, and the social issues associated with unwanted pregnancies. While her main sources are chiefly textual (Greek medical writers, Roman jurists, and literary evidence), throughout her dissertation she draws heavily on epigraphic evidence (above all, funerary inscriptions in Latin and Greek) as well as material culture, such as the figural reliefs that appear on commemorations and osteological evidence. She has also delivered conference presentations at the national level, investigating topics that include the social identity of Roman midwives and Latin epitaphs commemorating young mothers.

Over the course of researching the subject of Roman maternity, Barbara encountered significant Greek evidence in the funerary stelae that feature depictions of mothers and infants. Previous scholarship mentions the grouping of mother and infant in passing, with the presence of a young child interpreted as an iconographic element signifying motherhood, and their focus is primarily on the relationships of the deceased woman with her father and other male relatives. In her new project, Barbara hopes to explore the topic of mothers and infants on Classical Attic funerary commemoration from a new angle and on a larger scale. While she will examine scenes that show a baby crawling around by a woman’s feet and those showing a slave holding a newborn, her focus primarily will be on monuments that depict the woman holding an infant. Barbara will employ a cross-cultural approach in analyzing this material. She will examine these monuments alongside examples from the Roman period that depict mothers holding their infants and utilize information provided by the Hippocratic corpus together with the didactic texts of Soranus and Galen as they shed considerable light on the ancient understanding of obstetrics, gynaecology, and motherhood. Through combining her knowledge of the subjects of Roman maternity and funerary commemoration with comprehensive research on these Classical monuments, Barbara aims to provide a broader picture of maternity in antiquity while also producing a fuller interpretation of these monuments.


It is expected that the Neda and Franz Leipen Fellowship will be awarded for the 2019-2020 academic year.