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.

Romans decided whether to accept infants

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

In ancient Rome, the very birth of a child was a solemn event for the household. When the boy was born, the door of the house was decorated with olive branches. When the girl was born – woollen ribbons. Shortly after birth, the infant was placed at the father’s feet – as the master of the house and family, who was to decide his future.

If the father took the child in his hands, he showed that he was taking responsibility for his upbringing. If the child was not accepted, it was abandoned.

In ancient Rome there were special places where newborns were abandoned. Juvenal referred to such sites as lactoria columna or spurci lacus. Often the children left there found a new home or simply became slaves. Sometimes newborns were intentionally left in more isolated places, which resulted in a higher probability of death. Children were also left either dressed or naked, when the latter was to suggest a clear sentence to death. Sometimes, abandoned children were left with so-called crepundia – all types of children’s toys (swords, dolls, rattles), which were to allow parents in the future to recognize the child as a family member.

What were the reasons for abandoning the child?

  • economic problems – a poor family was unable to feed another family member due to lack of money and food.
  • defects in a child – if the newborn had any disability, this was a clear reason to abandon the child. Soranus of Ephesus (1st – 2nd century CE), the Greek philosopher, clearly stated in his obstetric treatise ( De arte obsterica morbisque mulierum ) what parents can follow when assessing their child’s fitness. For example, a child must cry vigorously, his limbs and organs must be healthy, all openings in the body must be unobstructed, and the movement of each part of the body must not be slow or lethargic.
  • illegitimate child origin – e.g. homeowner’s child and slaves.
  • child sex – boys were preferred, who, unlike girls, could apply for office in cursus honorum and ensure the glory of their family.
Sources
  • Suzanne Dixon, The Roman Family
  • Mary Harlow, Laurence Ray, Growing up and Growing Old in Ancient Rome: A Life Course Approach, 2002
  • Lidia Winniczuk, Ludzie, zwyczaje i obyczaje starożytnej Grecji i Rzymu, PWN, Warszawa 1983

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: