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Dr Serafina Cuomo

BA (Philosophy), University of Naples; PhD (History and Philosophy of Science), University of Cambridge
Reader in Roman History

Contact details

Department of History, Classics and Archaeology
Birkbeck, University of London
Room: 3.01
28 Russell Square

Tel: 020 7631 0682


  • Serafina Cuomo has been at Birkbeck since 2007. Previously she was at Imperial College London. She works primarily on the history of mathematics and technology in ancient Greek and Roman times.

Research and teaching

  • Introduction
    My work focusses on Greek and Roman antiquity - the sources for that period are scarce and fragmentary, so that being an ancient historian can be a bit like detective work! I have always been fascinated by how knowledge, even scientific knowledge, and even mathematics, change through time, between different places and in different social, political, and cultural contexts. I tend to be curious about people rather than just theories, and everyday practices rather than just supreme works of genius. The way people in ancient Rome may have calculated the cost of olives at the market is, in my view, as interesting as ancient solutions to the duplication of the cube - which is why I have worked on both.
  • Research interests
  • History of mathematics
  • History of technology
  • Historiography of knowledge
  • Teaching
  • At present I am half-way through a three-year period of research leave, but normally I teach BA and MA modules including:
  • Introduction to Roman History (undergraduate group 1)
  • MA Classical Civilization Core Course
  • Pompeii (group 2)
  • Ancient Science (MA option)
  • History of ancient things (MA option)
  • PhD supervision
    I am currently supervising dissertations on ancient astronomy and on popular knowledge in Pliny the Elder


  • Books
  • Ancient Numeracy (Harvard University Press - in preparation)
  • Technology and Culture in Greek and Roman Antiquity (Cambridge University Press, 2007)
  • Ancient Mathematics, (Routledge, 2001) - available as an e-book
  • Pappus of Alexandria and the Mathematics of Late Antiquity (Cambridge University Press, 2000 – paperback in 2007)
  • Articles and chapters
  • “Skills and virtues in Vitruvius’ book 10”, in M. Formisano (ed.), War in Words, Leiden: Brill 2011, 309-32
  • “All the proconsul’s men: Cicero, Verres and account-keeping”, Annali dell’Università degli studi di Napoli ‘L’ Orientale’. Sezione filologico-letteraria. Quaderni 15, Naples 2011, 165-85
  • “A Roman engineer’s tales”, Journal of Roman Studies 101 (2011), 143-65
  • “Measures for an emperor: Volusius Maecianus’ monetary pamphlet for Marcus Aurelius”, in J. König & T. Whitmarsh (eds.), Ordering Knowledge in the Roman Empire, Cambridge University Press 2007, 206-228
  • “The machine and the city: Hero of Alexandria's Belopoeica”, in C.J. Tuplin & T.E. Rihll (eds.), Science and Mathematics in Ancient Greek Culture, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2002, 165-77
  • “Divide and rule: Frontinus and Roman land-surveying”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 31 (2000), 189-202
  • “Shooting by the book: Notes on Tartaglia's ‘Scientia Nova’”, History of Science 35 (1997), 155-88
  • Lectures
  • 2010 - public lecture on Numeracy in Classical Athens at the Museum of Cycladic Arts, Athens
  • 2011 - public lecture on Ancient Numeracy at Gresham College, London, as part of an Early Mathematics day (available online)


Professional Membership

  • At present, I'm on the Council of the British Society for the History of Mathematics, a very active group that promotes the history of mathematics in all contexts, from research, to media, to primary and secondary teaching.

Honours and awards

  • Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship

Current activities

  • I am writing a book on numeracy in ancient Greece and Rome - it is a very big project, and it is taking me some time just to collect evidence in the most various forms: inscriptions, tombstones, counting boards, as well as texts. I am also trying to understand how numeracy is taught and learnt today, in order better to grasp differences with the past. School homework has never seemed so interesting...