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date: 07 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the ancient practice of infant exposure via the abandonment of a newborn within the first week of life. Although often equated with infanticide (the outright killing of a newborn), exposure allowed the possibility of the infant’s survival and rescue by a third party. This chapter explores the motivations for exposure and the possible fates of a child who survived, using literary, legal, papyrological, and patristic sources. Exposure was accepted as a regrettable fact of life in the Greek and Roman world, although some philosophers and a number of Christian apologists spoke out against it. Ultimately, in late antiquity, imperial law enacted measures intended to discourage exposure and encourage the rescue of abandoned infants, although the extent to which these laws affected actual practice is unknown.

Keywords: Abandonment of infants, Christianity, foundlings, infant exposure, infanticide, Roman law, slavery

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