The Orphans of Byzantium
Child Welfare in the Christian Empire
Among the controversial issues in America today is the debate over how best to care for abandoned and neglected children. Largely absent from the debate, however, is any discussion of past practices. In this book, historian Timothy Miller argues that it is necessary to look at the history of orphanages, of their successes and failures, and of their complex roles as social institutions for unwanted and homeless children.
In The Orphans of Byzantium, Miller provides a perceptive and original study of the evolution of orphanages in the Byzantine Empire. Contrary to popular belief and even expert opinion, medieval child-welfare systems were sophisticated, especially in the Byzantine world. Combining ancient Roman legal institutions with Christian concepts of charity, the Byzantine Empire evolved a child-welfare system that tried either to select foster parents for homeless children or to place them in group homes that could provide food, shelter, and education. Miller discusses how successive Byzantine emperors tried to improve Roman regulations to provide greater security for orphans, and notes that they achieved their greatest success when they widened the pool of potential guardians by allowing women relatives to accept the duties of guardianship.
After a thorough discussion of each element of the Byzantine child care system, the book closes by showing how Byzantine orphanages provided models for later Western group homes, especially in Italy. From these renaissance orphan asylums evolved the system of modern European and American religious orphanages until the foster care movement emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century. Miller's study of these systems can provide useful models for reforming the troubled child-welfare system today.
Timothy S. Miller is Professor of History at Salisbury University in Maryland. He has written or edited numerous books and articles on the Byzantine Empire, including The Birth of the Hospital in the Byzantine Empire and Peace and War in Byzantium.
Praise for the book:
"A very important contribution to Byzantine social and family history. . . . Like his other works, The Orphans of Byzantium commends Professor Miller as an indefatigable researcher and leading social historian of the Byzantine era. [This] is an original book, extensively researched, well documented, and readable, of value to students and teachers of Byzantine civilization, and the history of philanthropy and welfare. . . . Dr. Miller deserves congratulations and our gratitude for making another major contribution to Byzantine studies."—Demetrios J. Constantelos, Catholic Historical Review
"Timothy Miller has become an expert on the Byzantine Empire's system of social welfare, and here he provides an exhaustive study at a millennium of Byzantine care of orphans. . . . Miller's work is, by any gauge, thorough, and while there is not a plethora of evidence on this topic, readers can be sure that Miller has carefully analysed what there is."—Daniel Boice, Catholic Library Wolrd
"What should a morally responsible society do with orphans? Ignore and thus condone possible slavery, certain neglect, probable death? Encourage adoption? Institutionalize and therefore confine and marginalize? In this handsomely produced text, established Byzantine historian Miller (Salisbury Univ.) explicitly addresses a perennial issue of social policy by investigating and assessing the strategies that the classical and Byzantine worlds employed for abandoned or neglected children. Miller competently reviews the Hellenistic and Roman legalities and realities that Byzantine church, state, and private society sought to improve, then informatively describes the importance of the orphanage as institution (religiously or privately controlled); the sometimes effective encouragement (notably, by giving female kin greate
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