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March 01, 2004

Roman families

Analysis of Roman epitaphs demonstrates a broader conception of the family than had been previously considered. I am reminded of my favourite chapter of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, a list of thanks that hints at the strength of fictive kin in Roman society.

"It's not just accidental that you put up a tombstone for someone," she points out. "These people weren't millionaires and the stonecutter charged for each letter. I think it reflects real emotions and real attachment." The reason Roman families probably included so many individuals who were unrelated by birth was because the mortality rate was extremely high. With a life expectancy of not much beyond 45, a small family unit could not have survived.

"If you were a woman and you were 15 years old, you would be married to a man who was 10-15 years older than you. Then, because you had actually succeeded in living that long, you stood a good chance of living until you were 45. In that period you would give birth to five or six children, and half of them would die."

Posted by Ghost of a flea at March 1, 2004 10:30 AM