Orphans of Byzantium: Child Welfare in the Christian Empire
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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. InåÊThe 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 foot, 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.