As so ancient proofs are found of public attention paid to foundlings, it may be readily supposed that in well-regulated states care was employed at an early period to provide also for the maintenance and education of orphans. There is reason to believe that this was the case at Thebes, which took under its protection the children of all poor parents. Solon made a law, that children whose fathers had fallen in the defence of their country should be educated at the expense and under the inspection of government 1091. The same thing was customary among the Iasei, who inhabited an island on the western coast of Caria 1092.

At Rome children maintained at the public expense were called pueri alimentarii, and puellæ alimentariæ1093 .

The emperor Trajan was the first who formed large establishments for this purpose; and the children maintained in them were called, from his family name, pueri Ulpiani. Pliny relates in his panegyric, that he had caused five thousand free-born children to be sought out and educated. It is more than probable that he suffered them to remain with their parents, and that those who were unable to educate them themselves, received a monthly or annual allowance in corn or money. Orphans perhaps were given out to board at a certain fixed sum. It deserves to be remarked, that the emperor in this manner might afford assistance, not only to such as were depressed by poverty, but also to persons of distinction who were not able, according as we say at present, to support their families in a manner suitable to their rank. To have an offspring therefore was not a misfortune, but rather a blessing. Children were begotten in order that the parents might take advantage of this beneficence, as some people build houses that they may obtain the offered premium; and the large capitals required were not taken from the public treasury, but from the emperor's own privy purse. That these establishments might exist after his death, the money in different parts destined for their support was laid out on land, which produced a perpetual income. This is shown by a letter of foundation for the town of Veleia 1094 , which is still extant.

In the year 1747, some peasants while ploughing in the neighbourhood of Placentia found, together with several other antiquities, a copper-plate five and a half feet in height and ten and a half in breadth, which weighed 600 pounds. They broke it in great haste, because they expected to find under it a treasure, and sold the pieces as old copper. One of these having fallen into the hands of the learned count Giovanni Roncovieri, he remarked that it contained a part of a public document belonging to the reign of Trajan. With much trouble and at considerable expense he at length collected all the pieces, the possessors of which, on account of the eagerness shown to obtain them, expected for them a high price, and thus was the means of saving one of the most beautiful monuments of antiquity, a complete document in regard to the imperial establishment for the community of Valeia 1095. The inscription forms six hundred and seventy lines, and is divided into seven columns, over which stands the following title: “Obligatio. praediorum. ob. H—S. deciens. quadraginta. quatuor. milia. vt. ex. indulgentia. optimi maximique. principis. imp. caes. Nervae. Trajani. Aug. Germanici. Dacici. pueri. puellaeque. alimenta. accipiant. legitimi. n. CCXLV. in. singulos H—S. XVI. n. f. H—S XLVII. XL n. legitimae. n. XXXIV. sing. H—S. XII. n. f. H—S. IV. DCCCXCVI. spurius I. H—S. CXLIV. spuria. I. H—S. CXX. summa. H—S. LIICC. quae. sit vsura 55 5 55 sortis. supra. scriptae.”

Trajan therefore laid out a capital of 1,044,000 sesterces at five per cent. interest on forty-six farms around Valeia, which town or community was destined for this establishment. These farms formed the mortgage, and on that account are particularly named, together with the sum for which they were security. The annual interest amounted to 52,200 sesterces. Of this sum 245 boys born in wedlock received monthly sixteen sesterces each, which in a year makes 47,040; and 34 girls of the same description twelve sesterces monthly, making in a year 4896 sesterces. Besides these, one illegitimate male child received yearly 144 sesterces, and one illegitimate female child 120 sesterces. These different sums amounted exactly to the interest of the capital laid out.

It is hardly worth while to reduce these sums to our present currency. For even if we should calculate how many pounds or shillings the silver contained in 1,044,000 sesterces would make, this result would not give us the real value, because we have no standard by which the relative value can be determined; that is to say, it is not known what proportion silver and copper bore in those periods to the prices of the necessaries of life. The price of grain proposed by Unger as a standard, can be employed only for later times, when corn began to be a more general article of trade.

However, Trajan's capital, according to our money at present, makes about 54,375 dollars, and the sum of the interest 2718 dollars; consequently a legitimate male child obtained yearly ten dollars, and a legitimate female child between seven and eight dollars. Such is the calculation made from the principles laid down in Romé de l'Isle's Metrology by Professor Hegewisch, who has endeavoured also to compare some pieces in the time of Trajan with those at present.

It appears, therefore, that among 300 children the emperor admitted only two illegitimate; and Professor Hegewisch is inclined to believe that this was the actual proportion at that time; which indeed would induce one to form a very favourable opinion of the state of public morals, under the reign of Trajan, in the district above named.

That it was then customary to pay interest, salaries, and pensions, not annually but monthly, is known from other sources of information. The case was the same in regard to the distribution of corn (frumentatio ), as is proved by a passage in Dionysius of Halicarnassus 1096 , and when money was bequeathed in perpetuity for benevolent purposes by any person's will 1097.

Muratori is of opinion that these pensions were paid to boys till they arrived at the age of eighteen, and to girls till they attained to that of fourteen; and for a proof he refers to an order of Adrian, confirmed by the emperor Alexander Severus 1098. At the above age the males could become soldiers and gain their pay; and girls of fourteen were fit either to be given in marriage, or to be employed in such a way as to obtain a livelihood by their industry. That the emperor, in forming this establishment, had an eye to recruits for the army, appears probable from a passage in Pliny 1099 ; and the example of Trajan induced rich private individuals during his life-time, and afterwards many of his successors, to form similar establishments for the like purpose. The same plate was destined also to eternise the bequest of one Cornelius, according to which 3600 sesterces, or about 187 dollars, being the interest of 72,000 sesterces, or 3750 dollars, were to be employed in maintaining eighteen legitimate male children, and one legitimate female child, at the rate before-mentioned. Pliny even, the panegyrist of Trajan, founded from his own property pensions for the free-born children of poor parents; a circumstance which he does not forget to mention in his letters, and the same thing is confirmed by an inscription still extant 1100. Antoninus Pius made a similar establishment for poor girls, which after his consort were called puellæ Faustinianæ1101 . The emperor Antoninus Philosophus did the same thing; and from the name of the empress the girls were called Faustinianæ, but by way of distinction novæ puellæ Faustinianæ1102 . Alexander Severus formed an institution for the education of boys and girls, whom he caused to be named from his mother mammæani  and mammæanæ1103 .

In regard to the manner in which these establishments were managed we are entirely ignorant. It is known only, that in each of the provinces into which Italy was divided, there was a public functionary of some rank, with the title procurator ad alimenta, to whom, in all probability, the inspection of them was entrusted. This is known to have been an honourable office. It was held by the emperor Pertinax when a young man, in the towns and villages on the Via Ancilia, and in his old age at Rome itself 1104. It was held also by Didius Julianus before he became emperor, after he had been prætor and consul, that is, enjoyed the highest offices next to the imperial dignity, and after he had been governor of Germany 1105. On ancient monuments erected to the memory of persons of distinction, by their children, relations or friends, it is mentioned, that, besides filling other places of honour, they had been procuratores ad alimenta  in certain districts there named.

These are the oldest instances, with which I am at present acquainted, of institutions for the benefit of poor children and orphans. Orphan-houses, properly so called, in which the children were educated together, I find mentioned for the first time, under the name of orphanotrophium, in the laws of the emperor Justinian. At later periods they occur frequently in the decrees of the different councils, such as that of Chalcedon in the fifth century. At the court of Byzantium the office of inspector of orphans, orphanotrophi, was so honourable and important, that it was filled by a brother of the emperor Michael IV. (Paphlago), in the beginning of the eleventh century 1106. But under the latter emperors this place was entirely suppressed.

At present, orphan-houses have been abolished, since it has been shown, by many years' experience, that the children cannot be educated in them healthy and at a sufficiently cheap rate. The children are placed out to be boarded and educated by individuals, under the inspection of those who manage everything relating to the poor.


1091  Diogen. Laert. i. § 55, and the observation of Menage. This law is praised by Plato in Menexenus, and by Demosthenes, adversus Macartatum.

1092  Heraclides de Politiis, added to the addition of Aristot. Politic. Heinsii, Lugd. Bat. 1621, 8vo, p. 1004.

1093  Mention is made of them several times in the Roman code of laws, L. 8, § 9, et § 24, D. de Transact. L. pen. § 1, D. ad leg. Falcid. See also Ælii Spart. Vita Adriani, c. 7.—Æl. Capitolin. Vita Antonini. P. cap. 8.—Vita Pertin. c. 9, p. 555.—Æl. Lamprid. Vita Alexandri Severi, c. 44, p. 995.

1094  This city was situated at no great distance from Piacenza (Placentia). It is mentioned by Horace, Pliny and Phlego Trallianus de Longævis, i. p. 114. See Cluverii Ital. p. 1259.

1095  This remarkable inscription was first printed at Florence in 1749, by itself, with the title Exemplar Tabulæ Trajanæ pro Pueris et Puellis Alimentariis Reip. Veleiatium. Secondly, in Museum Veronense, Veronæ, 1749, fol., to which some explanations are added. Thirdly, in Histoire de la Jurisprudence Romaine, par A. Terrasson. Paris, 1750, fol. in the Appendix, pp. 27–43.

1096  Lib. iv. p. 228.

1097  See the proofs quoted by Brisson, under the word Menstruum.

1098  Digest, 34, tit. 1. 14.

1099  “Crescerent de tuo qui crescerent tibi, alimentisque tuis ad stipendia tua pervenirent.”

1100  Plin. Epist. i. 8, 10, and vii. 18. Gruteri Inscript. p. MXXVIII. n. 5.

1101  Capitolin. cap. 8.

1102  Ib. cap. 26.

1103  Lamprid. cap. 57.

1104  Ælian. Spartian. cap. 1. p. 574.

1105  Capitolin. cap. 2, p. 532; and cap. 4, p. 537.

1106  Zonaras in the Life of that Emperor. Hist. August.