This page cannot be viewed in frames

Go to page

If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

Infanticide in ancient Rome was accepted

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Relief showing children
Relief showing children

In ancient Rome, infanticide was a common practice. A child’s first days in the world have always been uncertain; in antiquity, many children did not survive even a few days due to heavy childbirth, diseases and poor health. Hence, they waited to give a name to the child. At times, the child may have been deliberately rejected by the parents.

The reasons for abandonment were various: the child’s gender, deformation, it came from an unlawful relationship or bad financial situation. Most often, a child was sentenced to death simply by abandoning it. The decision on whether to accept a child into the family was made by pater familias, the head of the family. The law of XII tables already regulated the issue of “getting rid of” deformed children1.

But not always abandoning children meant death; sometimes abandoned in garbage dumps or streets, they could be taken in or simply ended up in the hands of a slave trader. In ancient Rome, children were often abandoned in a characteristic place next to a column called columna lactaria (“milk column”).

Infanticide in Roman culture was present from the very beginning. An example is the legend of Rome’s founders – brothers Romulus and Remus, who threatened the usurper’s rule in the city of Alba Longa. The twins were to be killed in infancy on the orders of Amulius. However, they miraculously survived, took revenge, and Romulus started Rome.

The first explicit opponent of killing children was the philosopher Philo of Alexandria (1st BCE – 1st century CE). In 374 CE, during the reign of Emperor Valentinian, a law was adopted prohibiting infanticide under the death penalty.

Footnotes
  1. Cicero, De Legibus, III.8
Sources
  • Angela Alberto, Kleopatra. Królowa, która rzuciła wyzwanie Rzymowi i zdobyła wieczną sławę, Warszawa 2021
  • Samuel X. Radbill, A history of child abuse and infanticide, [w:] Suzanne K. Steinmetz i Murray A. Straus, Violence in the Family, 1974
  • Greg Woolf, Ancient civilizations: the illustrated guide to belief, mythology, and art, 2007

IMPERIUM ROMANUM needs your support!

Your financial help is needed, in order to maintain and develop the website. Even the smallest amounts will allow me to pay for further corrections, improvements on the site and pay the server. I believe that I can count on a wide support that will allow me to devote myself more to my work and passion, to maximize the improvement of the website and to present history of ancient Romans in an interesting form.

Support IMPERIUM ROMANUM!

News from world of ancient Rome

If you want to be up to date with news and discoveries from the world of ancient Rome, subscribe to the newsletter.

Subscribe to newsletter!

Roman bookstore

I encourage you to buy interesting books about the history of ancient Rome and antiquity.

Check out bookstore

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: