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Father was not only head of family

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman couple
Roman couple

Under Roman law, the father was not only the head of the family but exercised absolute authority over it. The fact that his wife gave birth to a child did not yet mean that he would become a family member. This happened only after the completion of the so-called ritual of elevation. It consisted in placing the newborn at the feet of the master of the house and awaiting his decision. If the pater familias, as the omnipotent father was called, took the child in his arms and walked around the house with him, he officially recognized him as his offspring.

Fathers acted in this way only with sons, while with regard to daughters, as a rule, they limited themselves to instructing the wife or servants to “feed them”. The father’s refusal to recognize the child was tantamount to considering him illegitimate and undesirable. Newborns who were not accepted into the family were usually abandoned in designated places, from where they were taken by barren women or, even worse, by slave traders. As long as the father was alive, all family members were treated as his property: he could punish them as he saw fit, sell them into slavery, and even sentence them to death. Any objection to his will was impossible.

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