Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The Roman history of child removal

This morning I opened Facebook to once again be saddened by the United States' ongoing separation of children from their parents at the border. As I continued to scroll down my sadness was leavened by the various ways people were responding to this horrible policy. Among these were Kara Cooney's  post accompanying a Washington Post article:
"Separating children from their parents is an ancient practice. The ancient Egyptians did it to conquered vassal states to keep foreign rulers In line. African slaves were separated from parents, breaking apart family and cultural units. And Native American children were forcibly taken to boarding schools. Let’s not think this is new. It’s one of the oldest tactics of hegemonic regimes...."
Upon reading this, my mind jumped to two thoughts: Australia's history of indigenous children removal (the stolen generations), and Augustan Rome. I remembered seeing foreign children being represented on the Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace) in Rome as members of Augustus' extended family. Upon further research I came to find that these children had not been removed from their mothers (or they were at least represented with their mothers on the altar).
This error in my understanding the depiction of foreign children did not mean that I had misplaced my understanding of Roman practices of removing children from their families for political purposes. Julius Caesar recorded how the Romans had upset some Celts in the Alpine region of Gaul by having taken children as hostages (Caesar, Gallic War, 3.2). Caesar actually demanded that the children of the chieftains of one tribal group be given as hostages earlier in his account (Caesar, Gallic War, 2.5).
According to Appian, Augustus often demanded children as hostages, 100 children from the upper classes in Segasta in 35 BCE (Illyrian Wars, 10.4.23) and 700 from the Dalmatians in 33 BCE as a part of his conquest of the area (Illyrian Wars 10.5.28). However, the future Augustus returned all child hostages kept by Marc Antony to their families in 30 BCE according to Dio Cassius (51.16.1).
The practice of receiving children of rank in Rome as hostages also came from the east (there are numerous references including Pliny, Natural History (6.8.23). This practice of taking children as hostages had a long history within Roman foreign affairs. 
While these children were kept to ensure that their fathers and societies behaviour, as the Roman Empire grew it had a secondary use. Many of the children of high rank who were brought to Rome as hostages were given a Roman education and later became client kings friendly to the Roman Empire from the first century BCE. This use of the children has been seen as the reason why Romans preferred to take children as hostages. 
As we see events in the USA take place, there are now focuses on how to define a cage, the first pictures I had seen were of a former Walmart.  The walls of Casa Padre, there are numerous murals featuring various American presidents in what must be an attempt to provide these children with an American style education. 

Kara Cooney's statement is quite right. The removal of children is an ancient practice; a practice which developed to manipulate the parents of the said children to behave in the manner the hostage takers desired. The current American practice seeks to do the same. What I do not understand is what the form of education that the American murals is meant to do. 
The current American administration wants to scare parents from entering into the United States and they have no interest in providing citizenship to these children (something which numerous Roman hostages were awarded). 
Ancient historians often note that our modern society has developed far better human rights than those of the past, but it appears that modern society I'd regressing. I have been dismayed by Australia's policy of offshore detention, and embarrassed that we are now been used as a template for other similar policies internationally. I now fear what kind of an example this new American policy will provide. 
Yes, separating children from their parents is an ancient practice, but I think even Augustus would be scratching his head about just what the Trump administration is seeking to do with this act of humanitarian bastardy.

Further reading:

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