New research has cast doubt on the theory that 97 babies were killed at a Roman brothel in Buckinghamshire.
The remains of the newborn babies were rediscovered packed in cigarette cases in a dusty museum storeroom by Dr Jill Eyers from Chiltern Archaeology.
They were excavated from the remains of a lavish Roman villa complex in Buckinghamshire around 100 years earlier, but had remained hidden ever since.
Along the shores of Israel’s Mediterranean coast, in the ancient seaport of Ashkelon, archaeologist Ross Voss made a gruesome find. While Exploring one of the city’s sewers, he found a large number of small bones.
At first, the bones were believed to be chicken bones. However, it was later found that the bones were actually human –infant bones from the Roman time.
With the remains amounting to more than 100 babies, it was the largest discovery of infant remains to date.
Curious as to how and why these Babies died, Voss took the remains to forensic anthropologist Professor Patrician Smith.
Smith analyzed the infant remains and determined that there was no sign of illness or disease, and that the infants appeared to have been perfectly healthy when they died.
She used a method of forensic testing that allowed her to confirm that none of the infants had lived longer than a week before dying.
During Roman times, it was not uncommon for infants to be killed as a form of birth control. It was not a crime, as babies were viewed as being ‘not fully human’.
In most cases, a Roman woman who did not want a newborn babies would engage in the practice of “exposure.”
She would abandon the newborn child, either to be found and cared for by someone else, or to perish.
According to the beliefs at the time, it was up to the gods to determine whether the infant would be spared or not.
The most famous account of near infanticide, is Rome’s foundation story, in which Romulus and Remus, 2 infant sons of the war god, Mars, were abandoned in the woods but were raised by wolves and later founded the city of Rome.
The find in Ashkelon is not the only example of a mass killing of Roman era babies. In 1912, Alfred Heneage Cocks, the curator of the Buckinghamshire County Museum in England, made a shocking discovery.
While leading an excavation in Hambleden (the site of a former Roman villa), Cocks revealed the remains of 103 individuals. Of those 103 individuals, 97 were infants, 3 were children, and 3 were adults.
While this horrifying finds brings forth questions of how and why these infants had been killed, Cocks failed to conduct any examination as to the origins of the remains.
Regardless of the reason or manner of death, mass graves of Babies remains are truly disturbing.
While the nature of life amid the Roman era was different than it is today, and families did not have numerous options to limit their family size, it is hard to imagine any mother allowing or engaging in the intentional killing of their newborn child. In time, it is trusted that we may find more answers to exactly how and why these infants were killed.