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Pagans, Christianity, and Infanticide

Written By: Christopher Price  |  Posted: Friday, November 2nd, 2012

                "Infanticide was infamously universal" in ancient Greece and Rome. Frederic Farrar, The Early Days of Christianity, page 71. As Will Durant stated, infanticide was so common in ancient Rome that "birth itself was an adventure." Caesar and Christ, page 56. Indeed, so common was infanticide in ancient Greece that Polybius (205-118 BCE) blamed the decline of ancient Greece on it. (Histories, 6). It was "decimating pagan society," Durant, op. cit., 698, and was the leading cause of the tremendous gender gap of men to women in the ancient world. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, pages 97-98. Female infants were particularly vulnerable to infanticide. It was very uncommon for even wealthy, upper-class families to have more than one daughter in ancient Greece and Rome. An inscription found in Delphi illustrates this quite well. Of more than 600 second-century families, only one percent had raised two daughters. Susan Scrimshaw, "Infanticide in Human Populations: Societal and Individual Concerns," in Infanticide: Comparative and Evolutionary Perspectives, eds. Glenn Hausfater and Sarah Hardy, page 439. In sum, there is no dispute among historians and informed laypersons: Infanticide was incredibly widespread in the ancient pagan world.

                But what is most chilling is that it was openly practiced. Pagan society approved of the practice and encouraged it. "Not only was the exposure of infants a very common practice, it was justified by law and advocated by philosophers." Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, page 118. See also Durant, op. cit., page 56. In Greece and ancient Rome a child was virtually its father's chattel-e.g., in Roman law, the Patria Protestas granted the father the right to dispose of his offspring as he saw fit. In Sparta, the decision was made by a public official. The Twelve Tables of Roman Law held: "Deformed infants shall be killed" De Legibus, 3.8. Of course, deformed was broadly construed and often meant no more than the baby appeared "weakly." The Twelve Tables also explicitly permitted a father to expose any female infant. Stark, op. cit., page 118.

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