The Wet Nurses of Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt

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Abstract

In this essay I present the extant evidence for nurses in wet-nursing contracts preserved on papyri from Egypt (46 texts, all but one of Roman date) and point out the ways in which the hiring of wet nurses in Roman Egypt can be distinguished from the practice documented for Italy and other parts of the empire. The papyrological evidence supplements, enriches, and complicates the view from Roman literature, epigraphy, and commemorative art by revealing the legal dispositions, fiscal considerations, and socio-cultural motivations which shaped the practice and which the papyri alone reveal in their own particular ways. The features that make the practice in the imperial province stand out are: the close link between the hiring of wet nurses and child exposure, the high incidence of female slave children among the nurses' charges, the predominance of women of free birth caring for abandoned infants, and the occasional documented link between this type of service contract and local loaning practices.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-226
JournalIllinois Classical Studies
Volume42
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

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