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Private Life

249. Exposure of a female child. Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, 1 B.C. (Oxyrhynchus papyrus 744. G)

A letter from a husband to his wife directing her not to raise her baby if it is female. Exposed children were left to be raised by others or to die.[1]

Hilarion to Alis his sister,[2] heartiest greetings, and to my dear Berous and Apollonarion. Know that we are still even now in Alexandria. Do not worry if when all the others return I remain in Alexandria. I beg and beseech of you to take care of the little child, and as soon as we receive wages I will send them to you. If-good luck to you!-you bear offspring, if it is a male, let it live; if it is a female, expose it. You told Aphrodisias, 'Do not forget me.' How can I forget you? I beg you therefore not to worry.

The 29th year of Caesar, Pauni 23.


1. The Gnomon of the Idiologue (no. 148), makes provision for the inheritance rights of male foundlings, or 'children from the dung-heap' (sects. 41, 107); no provisions are made for female children, who presumably were not given dowries but kept as slaves (Cf. no. 381). Heraclas, a boy foundling who died while being nursed is mentioned in POxy 37.i.7 and 38.7.

2. Brother or sister often denotes any close relationship.