Motherhood and breastfeeding in the Hellenistic and early Byzantine cultures (323 BCE-650 CE) are set under exploration in the context of the interdisciplinary research programme of the University of Cyprus, which is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund and the Republic of Cyprus through the Research and Innovation Foundation (Programme "Excellence Hubs").

The research programme, labelled with the acronym MotherBreast, is conducted with the participation of the Pediatric Society of Cyprus and the Cyprus Breastfeeding Association “Gift for Life”. The research team consists of researches from the University of Cyprus and other international universities (Harvard University and Cardiff University).

MotherBreast performs pioneering comparative and interdisciplinary research by using the concepts of “gender”, “body” and “performance” to investigate the various aspects of the strong affinities between woman—as mother and nurse—and her lactating breast, as well as the social, ideological and medical meanings and uses of motherhood, childbirth and breastfeeding, and their visual and literary representations. Furthermore, MotherBreast uses its research outputs to promote breastfeeding and other relevant ecological practices (e.g. natural childbirth, healthy nutrition and physical exercise) in contemporary societies.

By developing the model of the lactating woman as a new critical frame for approaching ancient motherhood (Hellenistic and Early Byzantine), MotherBreast seeks to address the following key questions:

  • What is the predominant rhetoric and semantic value of the breast in the examined periods? What kind of larger discourses (medical, environmental, philosophical, religious, political, legal, and literary) contribute to its meaning at a given time?

  • Which health and medical practices are used in the Hellenistic and Byzantine times for the initiation and maintenance of lactation? What are the medical uses of breast milk?

  • What role does breastfeeding have in Hellenistic and Byzantine art and literature?

  • How could scholars of past civilizations successfully collaborate with medical researchers and professionals for turning outputs of historical research into public and profitable knowledge, on the one hand, and into national policies, on the other?

  • How could knowledge of ancient pharmacological recipes and health practices become a useful matrix of information in the hands of contemporary health practitioners and health-policy makers for the adoption of new and more ecological practices and/or for the creation of new recipes and biopharmaceutical products?

In an attempt to bridge the past and the present for the benefit of modern societies, MotherBreast creates important synergies between cultural historians and health scientists and professionals. MotherBreast’s structure and the engagement with the dynamic relationship between Ancient, Medieval and Modern has a twofold aim: a) to provide fundamental historical research on past societies and b) to influence contemporary debates, practices and policies concerning sustainability, motherhood, and breastfeeding.