17 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2007
Date Written: June 15, 2007
Using legal, papyrological, and literary sources of the Roman imperial period, this paper looks at the fate of abandoned newborns (expositi) who were picked up and reared by someone other than a parent, usually for future use as slaves. Particular attention is given to the legal conflicts that ensued when, as sometimes happened, parents attempted to recover a child they had abandoned years before. The possibility of conflict was augmented by the peculiar characteristics of the Roman paternal power (patria potestas), which held that a paterfamilias (whether a birth father or a slavemaster) maintained legal power over children and slaves even after abandoning them.
Keywords: infant abandonment, Roman law, children in antiquity
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