Population Control Was No Joke in Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire
Population Control Was No Joke in Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire

Population Control Was No Joke in Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire

Larry Holzwarth - January 6, 2020

Population Control Was No Joke in Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire
The Greek and Roman gods practiced monogamous marriage, as with Zeus and Hera, depicted at their wedding. Wikimedia

21. The Greeks and Romans practiced monogamy in marriage

Both the Greeks and the Romans practiced monogamy as it applied to marriage, in the sense in both that marriage was to one woman at a time. This distinguished them from other ancient civilizations, in which polygamy was common. In contrast, the biblical account of King Solomon described him as having hundreds of wives and concubines, though only one was named in the Bible (Naamah). Roman and Greek monogamy likely arose as part of the egalitarian nature of their civilizations, in which all citizens shared certain rights equally, and even the slaves and lower classes were afforded protection under the common law.

In both Rome and the Greek city-states, divorce was possible, and in some cases demanded by the state, as in the case of Rome requiring cuckolded husbands to divorce their adulterous wives. Other than adultery, there were no laws in either civilization regarding premarital or extramarital relationships. Roman law claimed to support the sanctity but married men who visited the brothels were not guilty of adultery. The monogamous marriage remained a feature of Roman life as Christian sects emerged in Rome, and it was adopted throughout the empire, and in the lands where Christianity continued to spread following the demise of the Western Empire.

Population Control Was No Joke in Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire
A statue of a Roman child playing with a bird, date unknown. Wikimedia

22. The Romans practiced exposure of infants for population control as well

Despite the laws mandating married couples throughout the empire to produce children, exposure of children as practiced by the Greeks was common in Roman society. It was not limited to children born frail or suffering from a deformity of some type. Perfectly healthy children could be and were abandoned to face their fate simply as a means of keeping the family small. In Rome (as in Greece) female infants were more likely to be abandoned. Some were lucky, adopted as foundlings into other families, but many were not, and died of thirst and exposure. The practice was followed across the Roman empire.

As noted, exposure was a method of disposing of unwanted children in many societies of the ancient world. Moses was abandoned by his natural mother, and found among the bulrushes by a Princess of Egypt, at least according to the Hebrew Bible. It continued in Rome through most of the fourth century, though in 313 Constantine enacted a law which allowed unwanted children to be sold. Most such children were thus doomed to spend their lives as slaves. Babies who were exposed could be picked up and made into slaves before Constantine’s action, eventually increasing the workforce, another reason the brutal means of population control was tolerated even as Christianity spread across the Roman Empire.

Population Control Was No Joke in Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire
Roman laws punishing childless marriages remained in effect until the time of Emperor Constantine. Wikimedia

23. Population control and birth control in Ancient Greece and Rome

The Ancient Greeks and the Romans were on opposite ends of the pole when it came to population control. The leaders of the Greek city-states were urged to restrict the growth of the population in order that the state could properly care for its citizens. The Roman authorities urged the citizens of Rome to procreate freely, raising families which would, in turn, raise others, strengthening the empire. In both cases, the citizens of the respecting areas heard the admonishments of the authorities and for the most part, did what they wanted anyway. Laws against adultery in Rome did not end adultery; Emperor Augustus was forced, under the law, to banish his own daughter for the crime.

Both societies condoned prostitution, practiced by males and females, and both condoned homosexuality. Both societies and the laws they supported were dominated by male superiority. In Rome, the use of contraceptives within the marriage was illegal, in the Greek city-states, it was encouraged. Greeks encouraged citizens to refrain from having children, the Romans wanted women to give birth up to the age of fifty. Much of the practices of both civilizations are considered today to have been barbaric, but to their practitioners, they were expedients of the time. Upon the backs of both, western civilization and democracy were built.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Democratic Experiment”. Professor Paul Cartledge, Ancient History. BBC History. February 17, 2011. Online

“Prostitution in Ancient Athens”. Article, Ancient History Encyclopedia. Online

“Views of ancient people on abortion”. Kourkouta Lambrini, Maria Lavdaniti, Sofia Zyga, Health Science Journal. Online

“Children and Childhood in Classical Athens”. Mark Golden. 1990

The Exposure of Infants at Athens”. Professor La Rue Van Hook, Johns Hopkins University. 1920. Online

“Too Much Life On Earth?” Opinion, The New York Times. July 13, 2011

“The Mediterranean diet: a view from history”. B. Haber, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. October, 1997. Online

“The Republic”. Plato. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Project Gutenberg. Online

“Plato”. Article, Joshua J. Mark, Ancient History Encyclopedia. September 2, 2009. Online

“Politics”. Aristotle, Book 7. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Classics Library Online, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great”. A. B. Bosworth. 1988

“The Julian Marriage Laws”. Article, University of Oregon. Online

“The Annals”. Tacitus. 109 AD. Classics Library Online, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Prostitution, sexuality, and the Law in Ancient Rome”. Thomas A. McGinn. 1998

“Silphium”. Chalmers L. Gemmill, Bulletin of the History of Medicine. July-August, 1966

“The history of the condom”. H. Youssef, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. April 1, 1993

“Child exposure in the Roman Empire”. W. V. Harris, The Journal of Roman Studies. November, 1994

“Contraception in the Roman Empire”. Keith Hopkins, Comparative Studies in Society and History. October, 1965. Online

“The Life of Greece”. Will Durant. 1939

“Caesar and Christ”. Will Durant. 1944

Advertisement