In Ancient Rome, infanticide common for family planning

Posted on 24 September 2011

Condoms and reliable contraceptives didn’t exist in the Roman World. So families left babies out in the cold.

By Terence Lee

This baby has no idea how lucky she is. Photo: ECohen

If you think abortion is bad, then prepared to be horrified: Killing babies was probably a common way the Ancient Romans kept their family size in check. This verifies what many sex educators have been saying to going-at-it couples — the withdrawal method doesn’t work.

So, what led historians to this finding? To keep the long story short: A collection of babies’ bones were excavated in 1912 in the English countryside. An archaeologist dates the bones to be 1,800 years old, coinciding with the era England was a part of the Roman Empire.

After the bones were recently analysed, archaeologists established that 35 babies were victims of infanticide. They disagree on the reasons though. Jill Eyers thinks these babies were left out to die by prostitutes, as reliable forms of birth control were non-existent.

Sounds cruel? Well, if the Romans can watch grown men get eaten by lions for sport, then killing babies doesn’t sound too far-fetched…

Simon Mays, an expert on infanticide in Roman Britain (probably a depressing job), thinks differently.

“I think it was a routine way parents could make choices about family size. You don’t need a special explanation; it was part of a widespread phenomenon,” he said.

A homage to the almighty power of the Penis, giver of unwanted pregnancies. Photo: ISAW

In an article that he and Eyers published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, societies in the ancient world tolerated infanticide because it was one of most effective ways to limit family size. It’s safe for the mother too, since abortion with unsanitized instruments would simply introduce unholy germs and kill her.

Furthermore, newborn babies weren’t considered human. Sounds far-fetched, but there are even modern proponents for the idea that babies aren’t human. After all, they have no identity and aren’t socialized into human behavior.

The Romans aren’t the only ones who thinks killing babies is a justifiable behavior. Just ask God.

He ordered the Israelite army in the Old Testament Bible to “kill all the men, women, children, and babies; the cattle, sheep, camels, and donkeys.” 1 Samuel 15:2-3

I wonder if God considers babies human?



This post was written by:

- who has written 81 posts on New Nation.

Terence is an online media nut that is obsessed with writing and publishing on the Internet. Recently, he took up photography to expand his repertoire, and hopes to learn videography soon. He has worked in both online and print publications such as The Straits Times, Today, Mind Your Body, The Online Citizen, and Funkygrad. He is currently the assistant editor with SGEntrepreneurs, a website that covers entrepreneurship in Singapore and Asia. Terence can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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