Dr Ada Nifosi investigates the status of women in Greco-Roman Egypt

In her new book, Lecturer in Ancient History Dr Ada Nifosi, investigates the status of women in ancient times and discovers issues that remain contested today.

Dr Nifosi’s Becoming a Woman and Mother in Greco-Roman Egypt (Routledge 2019) takes a detailed look at the everyday lives of women and children, focusing on three key phases of their lives: coming of age at puberty, menstruation and childbirth.

Dr Nifosi became interested in the everyday life of women and children in Greco-Roman Egypt when she studied a large number of personal objects from private houses in the Greco-Roman Egyptian village of Bakchias (Fayyum, Egypt). She recalls: ‘By combining groups of artefacts from houses, with information from papyri and ostraca (pottery sherds inscribed with writing), I realised how much there was to say about the social status of women and children.’

The book, the first genuinely interdisciplinary study of women in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, discusses the cultural, social and legal changes to women’s and children’s status during this time. It investigates medical, legal and religious aspects of women’s reproduction and also shows how philosophical and medical ideas concerning unborn children shaped the Greco-Roman Egyptian legal system, especially in matters regarding the recognition of the child by the father and the child’s inheritance rights.

Dr Nifosi’s work is revealing more about the lives of women in ancient times but also underlines that many of the difficulties faced by these women resonate with women in the 21st-century: ‘My research touches on many issues, such as the status of unborn children, the medical role of midwives and beliefs about menstruation, which are still relevant today.’ Dr Nifosi will continue to conduct research on the social perception of women and women’s bodies in the Greco-Roman World. She is currently writing about the significance of female figurines associated with maidens in funerary contexts and is planning a research project on the social impact of menstruation in the Greco-Roman World, which will include detailed comparisons with modern societies. ‘I hope that this study will raise more awareness about problems such as debilitating period pain and period poverty, which still cause gender inequality and isolation today.’

The contribution of Becoming a Woman and Mother in Greco-Roman Egypt to a fuller understanding of women’s lives in these times has been recognised by Dr Roberta Mazza at the University of Manchester: ‘Through the discussion of an impressive range of evidence, Ada Nifosi sheds new light on the everyday lives of women in Egypt from the Pharaonic to the Greco-Roman period…. [the book] is important reading for anyone interested in gender and women studies and the social history of ancient Egypt.’

Leave a Reply