In the later centuries of the Roman Republic, childlessness became acceptable and enviable, at least among the rich. Wealthy childless and celibates found themselves the objects of attention and flattery from legacy hunters. As the republic slide into the empire, childlessness became a symbol of Rome’s decadence, in which both the childless and their predators embodied the bewildering lack of a moral compass.
Martial tells us that one wealthy man disappointed his entourage ten times with his deathbed recoveries. Each time, they showered their false friend with gifts in the hopes of securing a spot in his will. In the end, the man left his flatterers only the right to weep at his tomb.
In his essay "To Marcia on Consolation," Seneca noted with disappointment that “in this city of ours childlessness bestows more influence than it takes away and the loneliness that used to be a detriment to old age, now leads to so much power that some old men pretend to hate their sons and disown their children, and by their own act make themselves childless.” Childlessness here inspires greed and the lust for power. At the same time, Seneca uses this social fact to console a woman who had just lost her son, to assure her that she would be protected and taken care of.
William F. Kenkel, The Family in Perspective, 2nd edition (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1966), 77-78. Lucius Annasus Seneca, Moral Essays, translated by John W. Basore. The Loeb Classical Library (London: W. Heinemann, 1928-1935). 3 vols: Volume II, xix, 1-4.