Roman Infanticide


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Was just reading in British Archaeology (March 2003) an article on roman Burials - and it particularly covered the issue of infanticide.

I do quite accept that infanticide happened. What I disagree with is the argument of the degree to which it was practiced.

In simple terms, there are too many assumptions rising that I feel are unsupported - or else simply not convincingly explained. In the article in question, it looked like sloppy scholarship. Or maybe it's just myself being over-opinionated.:)

For example, one issue raised is that the majority of buried babies are those at "full term", rather than a spread of various stages of embryonic development. The interpretation here from some archaeologists is that these babies were therefore buried only after being exposed to death.

However, before jumping to sensationalist perceptions, the more mundane interpretations needs to be adderssed.

(out of time - will continue later)
What did a society do with deformed babies? Perhaps they did kill them. There was also a belief that new born infants possessed pure souls close to God. There was one gnostic sect which consumed the fetus to be closer to God. It is possible this was a cultic practice among the some Romans. (Just kicking around some ideas- don't hold me to any of this.)
Certainly that's true - I'm not against the suggestion of infanticide in the Roman Empire - what I intend to protest about is the extent being argued by some observers. I'll try and get back to referencing specific arguments this week.
The Romans could hardly be described as placing a high value on lives of their enemies, slaves etc. Public execution was common. They also paid women to have children - not least to provide troops for their conquests. It should also be remembered that life expectancy was low, so devoting resources to a child which seemed likely to die was not practicable. Oedipus, Moses and many others have been left outside to die - the Folklore Society can provide you with a fairly complete list. We should remember that both birth adn death involve ritual practice, although under extreme conditions (famine, plague etc), such things are ignored. I am reminded of a famine in Egypt, where it was recorded that the living ate the dead. Western sanctification of life and children would not have been possible before the end of child labour. Infanticide was practiced in Europe, arguable, until the reform of the abortion laws.


Martin Hogan