The following topics concern those soldiers who did “marry” and had children, mostly in the second and third centuries A.D. This chapter will examine whether or not soldiers raised their children and whether or not they were legitimated at their fathers’ discharge, as many assume.
The soldiers’ children seem to have been socially legitimate; as the children of socially existent “marriages,” they were supported by their fathers—given that their fathers decided to raise them. This concerns one of the most emotive and debated topics in Greco-Roman social history, the exposure or infanticide of unwanted children.1 It is usually assumed that ancient methods of contraception and abortion (herbal remedies, mechanical methods, superstitious practices) were ineffective; the birth of unwanted children must have been frequent.2 The ancient authors show that parents sometimes practiced “family planning” after birth, by abandoning the newborn baby in a deserted place; active infanticide (smothering, drowning) was much rarer. In Greek and Roman literature, exposed infants were miraculously nursed by wild animals or saved by foster parents, but most
1 The problem is most debated in the Greek period. Golden (1981), 316–31;
W. Harris (1982), 114–16; Garland (1985), 80–81; Patterson (1985), 103–23; Golden
(1990), 87ff. Sallares (1991), 134–36; 151–57 minimizes the practice for the classi-
cal Greek period, but accepts it as common in the Roman period. Roman: W. Harris
(1980), 122; Boswell (1984), 10–33; Boswell (1988), 53–137; Parkin (1992), 95–101;
W. Harris (1994), 44–65.
2 Hopkins (1965–66) 124–51; Eyben (1980–81) 5–82 views some methods as
effective. Parkin (1992), 126–29 follows Hopkins. Riddle (1992) argues for the
effectiveness of many herbs and plants described as contraceptive or abortive in the
ancient medical authors. Riddle is criticized by W. Harris (1994), 57–58 and most
cogently by Frier (1994) 318–33: family limitation could not be practiced under the
ancient world’s mortality conditions.