chapter  2
21 Pages

The role of midwives in Dynastic and Greco-Roman Egypt

WithAda Nifosi

Midwives are essential figures to consider in a study of women’s bodies and reproduction, because they were women working exclusively for other women, and dealing closely with medical, religious and legal matters that concerned women’s bodies. Midwives had a medical but also a legal role in Greco-Roman Egypt, because they examined the body of women in legal disputes. The traditional role of the Egyptian doctor included both the giving of medicine for living patients but also mummification, so it should not be surprising that Peseshet supervised both physicians and funerary priests. The Westcar Papyrus gives other relevant indications about the role of midwives in Dynastic Egypt. In Egypt, Greco-Egyptian women had much greater freedom of choice in matters of medical assistance. The multiplication of Eileithyia is therefore strikingly paralleled in Ptolemaic Egypt, where all the birth goddesses also appear either as one or multiplied.