Plutarch’s legend is true, but ancient Greeks didn’t regularly use infanticide to eliminate ‘weak children’. A new study shows that this concept was myth.

Plutarch, a philosopher who wrote Life of Lycurgus around 100 CE, suggested that Ancient Greeks would not allow ‘weaker babies’ to be left behind.

He was, however, writing about events that took place 700 years prior to his time. This suggests the deformed or lowborn were not allowed outside to die.

Since then, experts have looked at the literature, and Debby Sneed was lead author in a study that examined this practice. She suggested it to be ‘pure mythology’.

Sneed of California State University Long Beach stated that Plutarch’s concept infanticide has been used to achieve a variety of ‘pretty evil ends’.

It also includes Nazi’s use of the Ancient Greek practice to justify eugenics including the murdering disabled people.

The dance of human life or The dance to the music of time, 1638, by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1655), depicts the supposed ancient Greek life, with babies outside

Nicolas Poussin’s 1638 dance of human life/The dance to the time of time (1638), portrays the presumptive ancient Greek life with children outside

Roman infanticide is NOT as common than thought 

Romans have been known to be cruel and cold because of the tiny bones of babies in old cemeteries all over Britain.

Researchers using an ingenious method to scan bones discovered that the bodies weren’t victims of infanticide.

Many of the babies were actually stillborns. They were then buried alongside their parents in cemeteries. This suggests that they were grieved.

Historians suggested that the infants might have been killed as soon after they were born to limit family size or to make sure there was more males in a household. 

These results indicate that infanticide wasn’t as common as people thought, and many babies were stillborn. 

In the new study, published in the journal Hesperia, Sneed argues that the abandonment of disabled infants was not an accepted practice in ancient Greek culture – even if it did happen occasionally.

Plutarch published his work almost 2000 years ago. Since then, the history of the ancient Greek people was accepted as fact for many centuries. 

Science reported that Lesley Beaumont, an archaeologist at the University of Sydney said, “Scholars simply assumed that disabled kids would have been exposed.” 

This new study challenges the idea that ancients are fundamentally different than modern people and compares them with today’s society. 

According to the author, infanticide is still a common occurrence in many societies despite cultural abhorrence. 

Sneed claims that the protection of infants was the same as for ancient Greek people.

Sneed said in the research paper, “This article confronts a widespread assumption that disability in any broad or undefined sense constituted valid grounds to infanticide in ancient Greece.”

“When placed within their respective contexts, the often-quoted passages of Plato, Aristotle, or Plutarch contribute little to understanding the reality of ancient Greek practices in this regard,” the author said.

Sneed turned to other literary material and archaeological evidence from the time, all of which demonstrates that ancient Greeks took ‘extraordinary measures to assist and accommodate infants born with a variety of congenital physical impairments.’ 

Sneed stated that it was not legal or common in ancient Greece for disabled children to be killed or exposed. Uncritical and unfounded statements are dangerous and harmful.

Re-analysis of an archaeological dig dating back to 1931 revealed that more than 400 infants had been found in Athens. 

Marble tombstone of Timarete. The tombstone depicts the deceased offering a bird to a kneeling infant

Attic red-figure lekythos with image of Heracles, Dianeira and Hyllos, 5th century BC. Dimension

Plutarch wrote about his life in Lycurgus around 100 CE. He first suggested the idea of Ancient Greeks leaving out weaker infants. The Marble tombstone at Timarete is shown left, while the Attic red-figure lekythos depicting Hercules and Hyllos is right.

These infants were usually only a few days of age and closely matched the infant mortality patterns found in ancient cultures, not selective infanticide. 

Others have found small ceramic bottles made of globular ceramics and spouts from Greece that could have been used for feeding infants with disabilities. 

These were older children, closer to the time they would have stopped drinking milk. 

You can also find figurines, artwork and sculptures that depict people with severe cleft palates. 

Sneed stated that Science has plenty of evidence that people don’t actively kill infants. There is no proof they did. 

These results were published in Hesteria. 


Plutarchus was better known by his Greek name L Mestrius Plutarchus. He was born between 45 and 50 AD, and died around 120 to 125 AD. 

Much of what is known about the ancient world comes from Plutarch, who wrote more than sixty in-depth biographies of famous Romans and Greeks, detailed in his writings of Parallel Lives.

Nine of fifty characters survived the Holocaust, including main characters that lived simultaneously, had many common friends, and took part in many of their events. 

Plutarch tells the same story multiple times. 

History can now compare the different narratives of the same story by using the same sources. 

Plutarch was an prolific writer, who according to a fourth century inventory wrote 227 works.

This also included an eclectic array of writings known as his Moralia.

Plutarch’s written works have almost all been lost to history. But, some have survived and have been closely examined over the centuries by scholars.

Among them is On the Face Which Appears in the Orb of the Moon, commonly referred to as De Facie.

The Renaissance Renaissance classicists were familiar with this piece, in which characters debate whether or not the moon is an Earth and whether it has life.

This story tells the tale of a man who meets a stranger after returning from a great continent.

One study produced by archaeologists from the University of the Aegean in Mytilene, Greece, in January 2018 argued that the continent described was North America.

This theory is not new.

Johannes Kepler, a German mathematician and astronomer who was a key figure in the 17th-century scientific revolution, also believed that this reference was in relation to North America.