Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.03.45

Anne-Marie Guimier-Sorbets, Yvette Morizot (ed.), L'enfant et la mort dans l'Antiquité I: nouvelles recherches dans les nécropoles grecques; le signalement des tombes d'enfants. Travaux de la Maison René-Ginouvès, 12.   Paris:  De Boccard, 2010.  Pp. 406.  ISBN 9782701802909.  €35.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Natacha Massar, Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

This volume brings together the papers of a conference on children’s burials and on the marking of children’s tombs in antiquity held in Athens in 2008. The conference was the first in a series on children and death organised as part of the research program L’enfant et la mort dans l’Antiquité coordinated by A. Hermary (Centre Camille Julian, Aix-en-Provence). This program considers children’s burials as a means to a better understanding of the place of children in the family and in society. It aims at bringing together archaeological and anthropological material from both the Greek and Roman worlds (although the main focus is Greek). Two other conferences have since taken place, one on types of burial and the treatment of bodies (in 2009) and one on accompanying material (in 2011).1

An introductory section, with three papers, is followed by 17 articles grouped in four sections: Tombs of the Iron Age, Tombs in the Greek world, Tombs in Greek colonies of the Black Sea area, and a last section, on the marking of tombs, separated into subsections on the Greek and Roman worlds.

The introduction, by the editors of the volume, and the presentation of the research program by A. Hermary should be read together as a general preliminary overview. Completing the introductory material, V. Dasen examines new approaches to the topic, focusing on recent research on childhood and the archaeology of children’s burials.

The coherent group of chapters on the Iron Age by B. Blandin (Euboea), A. Mazarakis Ainian (on tombs in settlements) and M. Pomadère (Central Crete), look at the location of neonate and early age burials and their structure. The age or social status of the deceased may affect the mode of burial. A recurring question is whether radical changes in burial customs, such as the change from burial in houses, known in some locations, especially at coastal sites, to burial outside the inhabited zone, which establishes a much clearer distinction between the world of the living and that of the dead, may also reflect changes in socio-political structure, and in particular reflect in some way the birth of the city.

The first four articles on children’s burials, as well as the first section of the last article in the volume (S. Musco and P. Catalano), deal with burial areas used mainly or exclusively for children’s burials. The most spectacular case is that of Astypalaia, where over 2700 enchytrismoi have been uncovered so far, but Mende, Abdera and Rome have revealed similar situations. At Messene, a well was used as a burial place for infants, a practice known elsewhere.2 Both in this well and in a peribolos where a group of children’s tombs was recovered, dogs were associated with the infants. This is also attested elsewhere. Explanations tentatively link the animals with death rituals (C. Bourbou and P. Themelis, 116-117) or with aspects of Artemis as protector of childbirth (K. Kallintzi and I.-D. Papaikonomou, 143). Unfortunately, no zooarchaeological studies of the animal remains have been published yet, so fundamental questions, such as the types of dogs (e.g. small pets or hunting dogs?), the age of the animals and their mode of death (sacrifice or not?) remain unanswered and make any interpretation difficult.3

Some literary sources associate childbirth with water (Kallintzi and Papaikonomou, 143-144), so locating infant burials near the sea (Abdera, Mende) or in wells may have a symbolic meaning, although there may also have been practical reasons for these choices (making use of an abandoned well or non-arable land; see S. Moschonissioti, 208). Cults associated with childbirth are mentioned in several articles. M. Michalaki-Kollia (174-179) even goes so far as to suggest that the very important perinatal necropolis at Astypalaia may in fact be the sanctuary of a birth-related goddess. This seems improbable, as sanctuaries are never burial grounds in the Greek world, and gods are not honoured with burials. The author’s comparisons with the Phoenician culture and sites in Southern France seem rather beside the point.

Although it has been suggested recently that specific burial areas for infants might be more prevalent in the Archaic and Classical periods than in later times, when other means of dealing with perinatals and young children were adopted,4 this question is not addressed in these papers.

Overviews of practices relating to the burial of children over time in three cities, Sparta, Naxos and Paros, are provided by A. Themos and E. Zavvou and by Ph. Zaphiropoulou. Two articles dealing with the Black Sea area, however, have been isolated in a separate section: A.-S. Koeller and K. Panayotova study the child burials in Apollonia Pontica’s Classical and Hellenistic necropolis, while V. Lungu gives an overview of children’s burials in the cities of the West Pontos. These four articles deal mostly with cases in which children were buried alongside adults, in necropoleis where children are underrepresented, as is often the case in antiquity. It is not clear why the colonies of the Black Sea area are treated separately as both Abdera and Mende are also colonies. If the suggestion is that their colonial status might have had an impact on burial practices, this is not brought out in the papers.

This aspect is in fact dealt with in the article on Abdera. Kallintzi and Papaikonomou associate an earlier Archaic necropolis, with a very high incidence of perinatals and young children, with the period of Clazomenian colonisation. Classical burial practices where scattered tumuli are the norm, grouping family members, including young children but none younger than a year old, date from the Tean colonization. The authors are, however, essentially comparing two different things: a children’s necropolis and family burials. Neither the adult burials of the Clazomenian period nor an infant necropolis of the Tean period, if it existed, have yet been discovered. Nevertheless, the study of the relationship between burial practices and civic or regional socio-cultural habits should certainly be pursued. For instance, this volume makes it clear that enchytrismos is the most frequent mode of burial for infants but, in a few cities, such as Apollonia Pontica (and apparently in several Western cities – Rome and Pompeii), this practice is rare or non existent. It would be interesting to establish in which cities enchytrismos is not the norm, and to try to understand what distinguishes them and if they are in any way related.5

Some aspects of children’s burials referred to in passing in these articles deserve more in-depth treatment. The question of rites at burial sites, for instance, is hardly mentioned (except by S. de Larminat, 379-380). Another subject that relates directly to the interests of the research group is family enclosures and groupings, for instance under tumuli. Although attested at several sites (Messene, Abdera, Apollonia Pontica, Pompei), they are not the object of specific scrutiny.

The articles on tomb markers are very diverse, dealing with poems (H. Lamotte), representations on stelai (M. Kalaitzi; M.-D. Nenna), and often also including a general picture of tomb markers in a city or a region, as well as considerations of the burials themselves or the organisation of the necropolis (D. Elia and V. Meirano; S. de Larminat). This is especially the case of the last article, on Roman necropoleis (S. Musco and P. Catalano), which doesn’t deal with tomb markers at all, but offers instead a broad view of burial habits at various (mostly western) sites. The issue of the underrepresentation of children arises again on tomb markers and in funerary inscriptions, except in epigraphic funerary epigrams (Lamotte). Amongst children, girls are underrepresented (e.g. in Pompeii, see de Larminat), an obvious social construct.

Connections can also be drawn between representations on stelai and burial practices: children are often depicted with pets and toys but sometimes also with the paraphernalia of adults, or with a mix of children’s attributes and adult clothing or accessories (e.g., strigil, chlamys). In the Roman period, they can even be represented as adults (e.g., as soldiers, or wearing a toga) (Kalaitzi; Nenna). The same is true of grave goods, where objects specific to children likeso-called feeding bottles, rattles, and possibly astragaloi can be found alongside others which refer to important moments or activities the child will never know (ephebia; marriage). These observations frame the question of whether the same aspects were emphasized in the objects “privately” put into the tomb and on the publicly viewed stelai. Another aspect which connects monuments and burial practices is association with adults: children are often represented with their mother or a group of adults (Kalaitzi; Nenna) – they can also be buried with adults or in family plots. Is there any connection between these two practices? Or are they mutually exclusive, with family representations on stelai adopted only when the tombs of family members are not grouped? Although the physical relationship between markers and actual graves is almost never preserved in ancient necropoleis, closer examination of such questions might help us gain a general, but also a more in-depth, view of attitudes to death and the family. It is disappointing that in a volume such as this one these two aspects are treated entirely separately.

In general, this volume brings together much interesting material, whether from new excavations or thanks to a new study of old data. It is therefore a shame that there is no overall conclusion to the volume which might have helped link together the numerous articles dealing with specific cases and make connections between the subjects of tombs and tomb markers. Such a discussion could also have taken steps to answer some of the questions the organisers of the research group presumably ask themselves (and that the reader is left only to guess at as they are nowhere made explicit despite three introductory articles). Let us hope that an in-depth review of the results will be published at the conclusion of the research program.

Although each article is followed by a summary in French, English and Greek and a list of key words, this in no way compensates for the lack of an index, especially since the keywords generally just repeat the words of the title of the article. This omission will make this 400 page volume difficult to use for those interested in specific themes rather than specific sites. The black and white pictures are generally adequate (with a few exceptions such as those of painted stelai), but a selection of coloured prints – like those on the cover -- in the volume itself would not have come amiss. The copy this reviewer received was bound back to front; for other readers’ sake I hope this is an exception. Despite these reservations, this is a rich and interesting collection of articles, which brings together a mass of fresh data on many issues relating to children, families, funerary practices and even city structures.

Table of Contents

Anne-Marie Guimier-Sorbets et Yvette Morizot, Introduction, p. 1
L’enfant et la mort dans l’Antiquité : approches
Antoine Hermary, Présentation du programme « L’enfant et la mort dans l’Antiquité [EMA] : des pratiques funéraires à l’identité sociale », p. 11
Véronique Dasen, Archéologie funéraire et histoire de l’enfance dans l’Antiquité : nouveaux enjeux, nouvelles perspectives, p. 19

L’enfant et la mort en Grèce
L’enfant et la mort en Grèce au premier Âge du Fer
Béatrice Blandin, Les enfants et la mort en Eubée au début de l’Âge du Fer, p. 47
Alexandre Mazarakis Ainian, Tombes d’enfants à l’intérieur d’habitats au début de l’Âge du Fer dans le Monde Grec, p. 67
Maia Pomadère, La différenciation funéraire des enfants en Crète centrale au premier Âge du Fer : l’indice d’une nouvelle structuration sociale ?, p. 97

Sépultures d’enfants en Grèce de l’époque géométrique à l’époque romaine:
espaces, rites et intégration sociale
Chryssa Bourbou et Petros Themelis, Child Burials at Ancient Messene, p. 111
Konstantina Kallintzi et Irini-Despina Papaikonomou, La présence des enfants dans les nécropoles d’Abdère, p. 129
Maria Michalaki-Kollia, Un ensemble exceptionnel d’enchytrismes de nouveau-nés, de foetus et de nourrissons découvert dans l’île d’Astypalée, en Grèce : cimetière de bébés ou sanctuaire ? (Première approche), p. 161
Sophia Moschonissioti, Child Burials at the Seaside Cemetery of Ancient Mende, p. 207
Athanassios Themos et Elena Zavvou, Recent Finds of Child Burials in the Area of Ancient Sparta from Protogeometric to Roman, p. 227
Photini Zaphiropoulou, Tombes d’enfants dans les Cyclades: les cas de Naxos et de Paros, p. 243

Sépultures d’enfants dans les nécropoles des colonies grecques de la Mer Noire
Anne-Sophie Koeller et Kristina Panayotova, Les sépultures d’enfants de la nécropole d’Apollonia du Pont (Bulgarie) : résultats des fouilles récentes (2002-2007), p. 253
Vasilica Lungu, Les tombes d’enfants dans les colonies grecques de l’Ouest du Pont-Euxin, p. 265

Le signalement des sépultures d’enfants
Monde grec
Diego Elia et Valeria Meirano, Modes de signalisation des sépultures dans les nécropoles grecques d’Italie du Sud et de Sicile. Remarques générales et le cas des tombes d’enfant, p. 289
Myrina Kalaitzi, The Representation of Children on Classical and Hellenistic Tombstones from Ancient Macedonia, p. 327
Marie-Dominique Nenna, Les marqueurs de tombes d’enfant dans l’Égypte gréco-romaine : premières recherches, p. 347

Monde romain
Hélène Lamotte, Le rôle de l’épitaphe dans la commémoration des enfants défunts : l’exemple des carmina Latina epigraphica païens, p. 363
Solenn de Larminat, Signalisation des tombes d’enfants dans un quartier funéraire de la nécropole romaine de Porta Nocera à Pompéi, p. 375
Stefano Musco et Paola Catalano, Tombes d’enfants de l’époque impériale dans la banlieue de Rome : les cas de Quarto Cappello del Prete, de Casal Bertone et de la nécropole Collatina, p. 387


1.   For the programs of these conferences see Tombes d’enfants et rites
2.   Wells were also used for infant burials at Athens and Eretria: AJA 103, 1999, p. 284-285; S. Schmitt, AK 40, 2, 1997, p. 107; I. Chenal- Velarde, in L.M. Snyder and E.A. Moore (eds), Dogs and people in social, working, economic or symbolic interaction, Oxford, 2006, p. 24-31.
3.   A preliminary study of the dog remains in well G5:3 at Athens reveals a huge diversity of animals both in type and in age: L.M. Snyder, AJA 103, 1999, p. 284.
4.   See A. Lagia in A. Cohen and J.B. Rutter (eds.), Constructions of Childhood in Ancient Greece and Italy, Hesperia Suppl. 41, 2007, p. 299.
5.   Lagia, Op. cit., p. 298-304.

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