Home Discussion Forum What was the pagan justification for infant exposure in the ancient world?

What was the pagan justification for infant exposure in the ancient world?

It was common in the ancient world for unwanted children to be abandoned outdoors to either be (a) picked up by a random passerby and used as slave labor or (b) exposed to the elements, left to die. By the 3rd Century, the outraged Church had stepped up and responded to this by initiating an organized adoption system, however, the pagan world saw no problem with this practice. What was their justification for this practice? Do any ancient pagan documents or inscriptions address this? Please cite sources. 🙂


  1. I don’t know. I think u r just gonna get a bunch of speculative answers here.
    Abandoning children is easier than raising them, and slave labor is easier than paying people. Older societies did a lot of easier things. Easier to believe things than learn things, easier to die at 35 than take the provisions needed to live longer, etc.

  2. Very often it was to dispose of unwanted girl babies, as was the practice in Athens. In Sparta, where physical fitness was a priority, sickly or disabled babies of either sex were likely to be exposed. Infants (usually girls) were also disposed of in ancient Rome. Under roman law, the Paterfamilias (male head of the family) had the power of life and death over all his children, slaves, and his wife as well. so he could have an infant exposed if he wanted to. girls had to be provided with a dowry when they married, and this was an unwanted expense to many families, so a lot of Greek and Roman families had only one daughter, any subsequent girl babies born would be exposed.
    In the Roman laws attributed to Romulus (8th century BC) it says:
    ‘Romulus compelled the citizens to rear every male child and the first-born of the females, and he forbade them to put to death any child under three years of age, unless it was a cripple or a monster from birth. He did not prevent the parents from exposing such children, provided that they had displayed them first to the five nearest neighbours and had secured their approval.’
    Writing about the Spartan custom, Plutarch said:
    ‘Fathers did not have authority over raising their offspring. Instead, the father took his child and brought it to a place called Lesche, where sat the elders of the tribe. They examined the child, and if it was well-formed and strong, ordered it to be raised, and gave it one of the nine thousand lots.
    But if the child was ill-born and maimed, they discarded it in the so-called Apothetae, a kind of pit near Mount Taygetus, on the grounds that it was not profitable for it to live, either for itself or for the state, if it were not well-framed and strong right from the start. This is why Spartan women wash infants not in water but in wine, in order to test their strength. For it is said that undiluted wine causes convulsions in babies who are epileptic or weak, and that healthy babies are tempered by it and their frames strengthened.’
    Unwanted girl babies are still disposed of in large numbers in many countries, notably India, China, and many Middle Eastern countries, but nowadays it is more likely to be by sex-selective abortion.
    I once knew an english woman who had been living in Egypt when she was pregnant. When she went to have a scan at the hospital, they told her she was having a boy (she had not asked to be told the sex of the child). However, when the baby was born, it was a girl. she asked how such a mistake could have occured, and the doctor explained to her that in Egypt, if a woman is told she is having a girl, she is very likely to ask for an abortion, so they always tell their patients they are having boys.

  3. The practice varied depending on the tribe. In many parts of the world it was the boys that were exposed. Simply put, the strong lived, the weak died. Must have worked, we are still here.

  4. Looks like you have good references. In a pagan world where humanity has no particular value, anyone with no earning potential (like Downs, C Palsy, clubfoot) would consume resources needed to keep the rest alive.
    According to them, if you don’t work, you don’t eat, and they had no medical system to handle deformities.
    Aren’t we glad God gave us THIS time to live!


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