Ancient Roman Adoptions Posted by on Apr 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

In Ancient Roman times, the practice of adopting boys among upper class families was fairly common. Unlike the adoptions of today, adoptions in Ancient Rome were almost always for political reasons. In the case of Julius Caesar, he did not have a legitimate male heir, so he chose Octavian as his adopted son. As heir to Julius Caesar, Octavian received two thirds of Caesar’s estate upon Caesar’s death. More importantly, as Caesar’s adopted son, Octavian was able to gather support from Caesar’s troops. As Caesar’s heir, Octavian was able to gather three thousand loyal veterans and win two of Mark Antony’s legions. If Caesar had not adopted Octavian as his heir, Octavian would not have had the political and military support he needed to become the first Emperor of Rome.

Like Octavian, young boys who were adopted into wealthy and powerful families benefited from the political connections of their newfound family names. However, it was also advantageous for these powerful families to adopt these ambitious and talented young boys. When these young men grew up to establish their own political careers, the name of the adopted family would rise in prestige from its connection to the adopted son’s achievements.

You might be wondering why a family would want to give up their chance of success and fame by giving up their own son to another family. After all, if the biological son of a mediocre family rose to prominence, would that not have raised the mediocre family’s stature? Well the problem was that Rome was ruled by a select number of powerful families that could ever hope to attain political office. Therefore in the best interest of the boy’s future, parents often gave their young sons to patrician families in hopes that the child could benefit from such an adoption.

What’s interesting though, is that adopted children were allowed to continue seeing their biological parents. So adoption wasn’t necessarily a painful separation or traumatic event for the child. In many cases, the adopted child received emotional support from its biological family and political and economic support from its adopted family. Theoretically, the adopted child experienced the best of both worlds.

Of course, the happiness of the child was not a serious consideration in an adoption. In the case of Augustus’s adopted son Tiberius, his mother pushed for the adoption so that he could be the next in line for the throne. It seems that Tiberius did not share in his mother’s ambition for power because when he was on the verge of becoming the second most powerful man in Rome, he quickly retired to a secluded island and withdrew from the politics in Rome. He was eventually ordered back to Rome against his will. Like other adopted sons, Tiberius was just a political pawn in a game of power struggles.



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