Pater familias  

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"Be that as it may, the right to kill his offspring undoubtedly belonged to the Roman father during the Republic. The power of life and death included all minor inflictions of pain. The paterfamilias could imprison a refractory son for days or months or years, according to his sole arbitrary pleasure, even although the son had enjoyed the highest honours of the State. The paterfamilias could flog his children with any degree of severity, and could bind them in chains and send them to work like convicts in the fields. (Dion. Hal. , Antiq. Rom. 2, 27.) To these harsh rights there was, according to Dionysius Halicarnassus ( Antiq. Rom. 2, 51 ) , a humane and interesting exception. Romulus, he says, made a law to the effect that his subjects should not expose any male children, or their firstborn female child, unless such children were, in the opinion of five neighbours, so deformed that they ought to be killed. An offender against this law was subject, in addition to other penalties, to the forfeiture of half his property to the State. Heineccius refers to this passage without comprehending its significance. It has been pointed out to me by Mr John M'Lennan (the author of that ingenious and admirable work on the earlier stages of social development, Primitive Marriage) as " a fine example of good old savage law." Infanticide is an almost universal practice among savages, and receives its first customary check by the rule that forbids the destruction of the males and eldest female. The reason why only the eldest female enjoyed the benefit of the exception, is to be sought in the small value of women to a savage community. As a rule, savages prefer to steal their wives instead of rearing them."--A Systematic and Historical Exposition of Roman Law in the Order of a Code (1885) by William Alexander Hunter

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The pater familias, also written as paterfamilias (plural patres familias) was the head of a Roman family. The term is Latin for "father of the family" or the "owner of the family estate". The form is irregular and archaic in Latin, preserving the old genitive ending in -as (see Latin declension). The pater familias was always a Roman citizen.

Roman law and tradition (mos maiorum) established the power of the pater familias within the community of his own extended familia. He held legal privilege over the property of the familia, and varying levels of authority over his dependents: these included his wife and children, certain other relatives through blood or adoption, clients, freedmen and slaves. The same mos maiorum moderated his authority and determined his responsibilities to his own familia and to the broader community. He had a duty to father and raise healthy children as future citizens of Rome, to maintain the moral propriety and well-being of his household, to honour his clan and ancestral gods and to dutifully participate - and if possible, serve - in Rome's political, religious and social life. In effect, the pater familias was expected to be a good citizen. In theory at least, he held powers of life and death over every member of his extended familia through ancient right but in practice, the extreme form of this right was seldom exercised. It was eventually limited by law.

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