A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Did the Ancient Greeks Practice Infanticide?
Tuesday, December 14, 2021
LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA—According to a Science Magazine report, archaeologist Debby Sneed of California State University, Long Beach, suggests that abandoning disabled infants was not an accepted practice in ancient Greek culture, contrary to a description of the Spartan assessment of newborns by a council of elders written by Plutarch some 700 years later. Sneed noted ancient accounts of a Spartan king who was unusually short of stature with impaired legs, and a Greek doctor who wrote advice around 400 B.C. for adults with impaired arms. Recent study of the remains of more than 400 infants discovered in a well in Athens in 2018 recorded the remains of a child born with hydrocephaly who lived for six to eight months. “That infant needed to be cared for to a significant degree,” Sneed said. “People were still giving that care until it died.” Archaeological evidence for infant care in Greece also includes small ceramic bottles with spouts found in some infant graves. The children may have had cleft palates, she explained, as sometimes seen in figurines of adults with the condition. “We have plenty of evidence of people actively not killing infants, and no evidence that they did,” Sneed concluded. To read about stone ramps at ancient Greek healing sanctuaries that were likely installed for mobility-impaired clientele, go to "To Reach the Gods."
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