The improbable occurrence of infanticide at the Yewden Villa, Hambleden, England

Date

2015-05

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Abstract

The primary purpose of the study is to explore the connection between a large collection of infant burials at a Roman-Britain villa and the presence of a local brothel. The Villa, dating from the middle of the first century CE and occupied for up to 350 years, contained 97 infant burials inside the boundaries of the homestead. Past research has attributed this unique occurrence of infant burials to the presence of a brothel and the murder and disposal of unwanted infants. This research is highly debated and will be evaluated and discussed in this thesis. The impractical connection between the collection of infant burials and the presence of a brothel will be investigated using these methodologies: a survey of pre-Christian Roman burial customs using the archaeological record, a literary comparison or primary sources discussing the death and mourning of a child, a literary review of the prevalence and acceptance of miscarriages and abortion, as well as a geographical analysis of the area both including and surrounding the Yewden Villa, which directly pertains to the likelihood of a brothel. Results show an improbability of the presence of a brothel in the area due to the geographical location. The literary evidence, pertaining to both burial customs and social acceptance of infant death, suggests that the burial of infants inside city or town boundaries is a common practice no matter the manner of death and cannot be a determining factor to conclude infanticide.

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Keywords

Yewden Villa, Infanticide, Roman childhood, Roman childbirth, Roman archaeology

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