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A Global History of Child Death

Mortality, Burial, and Parental Attitudes

Amy J. Catalano

Drawing from primary research studies in archaeology, historical analysis, literature, and art this interdisciplinary look at the history of child funerary practices and other vehicles of parental mourning is the only book of its kind. The purpose of this work is to investigate the ways in which funerary behaviors and grieving differ between cultures and across time; from prehistory to modern history. Philippe Aries, the French childhood historian, argued that children were rarely mourned upon their deaths as child death was a frequent and expected event, especially in the Middle Ages. This book draws upon archaeological reports, secondary data analysis, and analysis of literature, photography and artwork to refute, and in some cases support, Aries’s claim. Organized in two parts, Part One begins with a chapter on the causes of childhood mortality and the steps taken to prevent it, followed by chapters on prehistory, ancient civilizations, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and the early modern and late modern eras. The chapters in Part Two discuss indicators of parental concern at a child’s death: naming practices, replacement strategy, baptism, consolation literature, and artwork. Students who focus on the psychological aspects of death, funeral practices, and childhood histories will find this book a useful and comprehensive tool for examining how children have been mourned since prehistory.
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11 Infanticide and Child Sacrifice: An Overview

Causes and Reasons for Infanticide



Infanticide and Child Sacrifice

An Overview

In each chapter of this book infanticide has been discussed within various historical and sociological contexts. Accordingly, Williamson, in Infanticide and the Value of Life, succinctly states that “Infanticide has been practiced on every continent and by people on every level of cultural complexity, from hunter gatherers to high civilizations, including our own ancestors. Rather than being an exception, then, it has been the rule.”1 The purpose of the following chapter is to provide background on infanticide and child sacrifice, while also addressing the complexities that cause different cultures to accept these practices.

The historical literature is rich with examples of parents murdering their own children. Women often committed infanticide in order to hide an affair (or otherwise inappropriate sexual relationship), avoid being ostracized socially or professionally, or because of their inability to care for the child. In the modern developed world, given the legalization of abortion in most countries, access to social services, and options for adoption, most women who commit infanticide are teenagers.

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, as courts have come to understand how women were affected by childbirth and postpartum depression, mothers who commit infanticide have been treated more compassionately than in centuries prior. In 1922 the criminal charge for infanticide was reduced from ← 129 | 130 → a capital crime to manslaughter, and generally included only infants killed within the first year of life. People who...

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