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Ancient Roman Infanticide

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

An interesting look at what bones from the ancient world can tell us.

In the new study, the researchers delved into why these babies were killed. Ancient Roman texts refer to infanticide as an accepted practice, and the only way people could control the size of their families in a time before reliable contraception. (In fact, Rome’s foundation myth involves twin boys, Romulus and Remus, who are left to die by their mother, but are saved by wild animals.)

The texts refer to infanticide in Rome itself, however, which had a different culture than its far-flung territories, such as those in Britain, Mays said.

And although the Roman preference for boys would suggest that Romans practiced sex-selective infanticide, Mays said, there is only one document to back up that assumption — a letter from one Roman soldier stationed in England to his pregnant wife, telling her not to bother keeping…

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