THE WORLD OF CHILDHOOD
Portrait bust, 2nd century CE
Extant texts and artifacts tell
us how important children were in the ancient world. Among the elite, sons
promised continuity of the family name while daughters could forge
alliances for family through bethrothal. As adults, children were expected to tend their parents' tomb and honor the spirits of their ancestors at festivals for
the dead. In poorer families all children worked to support the family,
while in large families daughters might be exposed or sold into slavery to eliminate the expense of their upkeep and dowry. A
child's birth was not celebrated until its eighth day of life and parents were
given thirty days to register the birth with the state. For girls at all class levels, puberty was the defining
limit of childhood, when the onset of menarche proclaimed the transformation of a girl from puella to virgo viripotens (maiden physically able to produce children). While boys celebrated the rite of
adoption of the toga virilis as a marker of their entrance into manhood, the equivalent rite for girls was marriage and the adoption of the matronal stola. Despite the opinion of physicians who warned of the possibility of miscarriage and female death from early sexual actrivity, social and cultural emphasis on marriage as the only sanctioned venue for female sexuality and the production of legitimate children made the social transition from virgo to uxor and materfamilias a brief one. Although Augustan legislation set the age of twelve as the legal minimum age when a girl could be married, wealthy families were known to arrange advantageous betrothals as early as a girl's infancy. Tombstones testify to the many dangers of
childhood in the ancient world. Mortality was high: about a third of live
newborns died within their first year while almost half of all children born died by age
Sarcophagi and grave goods give evidence of the
love and grief felt by parents upon the loss of a child. For further information on this topic
see Caldwell (2015), Rawson (2003), Uzzi (2005), in the Bibliography; see also Images
of Childhood below.
|| Additional Readings
|Marcus Valerius Martialis,
Epigrammata V. 34: Erotion
||See the Latin reader
The Worlds of Roman
Women for the following texts:
|C. Plinius Caecilius
Secundus (minor), Epistulae 7.18:
patronage of children
|| CLE 1518, Funerary
Inscription: a much-loved girl
|Marcus Valerius Martialis,
Epigrammata V. 37: Erotion 2
|| ILS 5213, Funerary
Inscription: Eucharis, actress and singer
Funerary Inscriptions for:
|Aulus Gellius, Noctes
Atticae 1.12: choosing a Vestal
||Gn. Naevius, Fragment
from a comedy 74.9: a coquette (Game)
||C. Plinius Caecilius
Secundus, Epistulae 5.16: Fundanus' daughter (Minicia)
||See De Feminis Romanis at Diotima for the
following on-line Latin text:
||Titus Livius, Ab Urbe
IMAGES of CHILDHOOD
- Toddler: bronze statuette of a seated nude infant with an elaborate hairstyle. Roman, probably from Egypt, c. 100 CE. Boston, Museum of Fine Arts.
- Child with a
Dove: marble statue of a draped curly-haired child with a dove on her shoulder.
2nd century CE. Roman copy of a Hellenistic original. Rome, Palazzo Nuovo.
- Portrait bust of a child with curly hair, in marble. Late 2nd century CE. California, Getty Villa.
head in marble of a child. Found in Rome near the Via Flaminia, perhaps from a statue in a family tomb, c. 15-40 BCE . Boston, Museum of Fine Arts.
- Puella: a
marble statue of a young girl pictured as a miniature adult, in a toga standing beside her
mother. 50-40 BCE. Rome: Museo Montemartini.
- Portrait head in marble, with a back view of the child's "melon" hair
style. Roman, 200 CE. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Head in marble; the rolled hair ribbon indicates that she was a priestess,
despite her youth. Roman, from Greece (probably Corinth), 100-140 CE. Boston,
Museum of Fine Arts.
- Child, elegantly dressed, assists the goddess Aphrodite at her
toilette on this gilded silver relief
medallion incised around the rim with various symbols associated with
love and beauty, such as a fan, a flower, a butterfly, a bird,
grasshopper, and lyre. Taranto, 300-200 BCE. London, British Museum.
statue in marble of an elegantly dressed girl gazing pensively at
the ground. Hadrianic copy of a Hellenistic original of c. 280 BCE. Rome,
- Marble statue of a young woman in the guise of Diana/Artemis. Ostia, 60-79 CE.
Rome, Palazzo Massimo.
- Portrait head in marble of a young girl laughing (side view). Roman, 2nd century CE. Berlin: Altes Museum.
- Portrait head in marble of a young girl. Rome, Vatican Museum
- Portrait bust in marble of a young girl. Roman 3rd century CE. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.
- Terracotta statue painted, 3 ' tall. The young woman, dressed in Greek style clothing, stands with open arms, perhaps in prayer. Roman. From Canosa. 3/2 century BCE. London: British Museum.
Bust in marble of a young girl dressed in a Greek chiton and cloak; she
wears a wig (resembling the hairstyle of the Empress Julia Domna) over her own
Roman, 210-30 CE. London, British Museum.
- Street game: marble statue of a young girl with a "melon" hairdo, seated on the ground playing "knucklebones"
(front view). 2nd century CE Roman copy
of a Hellenistic original. Found 1732 on the Caelian Hill. Berlin, Pergamon
- Ball Game: fragmentary marble relief of girls playing ball. The full
relief shows boys playing separately on the left. Mid-2nd century
CE. Paris, Louvre Museum.
- Children at play on the frontal relief of a marble sarcophagus. 170-80 CE.Vienna: Kunsthistorisches Museum
- Children collect nuts on the frontal relief of a marble sarcophagus whose inscription has been erased. The girls on the left in front of a draped cloth wearing long dresses and melon hairstyles cooperate, while the larger number of boys on the right fight with each other (note how the umbo of the toga is used as a pocket). 3rd century CE. Rome, Vatican museum (Chiaramonte).
- Girl of the Julio-Claudian family in a toga, standing among her parents and male siblings in the family procession relief frieze on Augustus' Altar of Peace. Rome, Ara Pacis 13 BCE.
- Money Bank
in bronze, cleverly cast in the shape of a curly-haired young girl who reaches
out her hand for a contribution, pulling open the decorative neck of her copper
striped tunic to show where the coin should be placed. 25-50 CE. California,
- Ivory: jointed, with the body of an adult woman. She wears a gold necklace, leg and arm bracelets and has
the face and hairstyle of the empress Julia Domna (side view). Found in a marble sarcophagus with the skeleton of a girl, on the Via Valeria in Tivoli. End 2nd century CE. Rome, Palazzo Massimo.
- Ivory: jointed, with the body and features of an adult woman, she wears a diadem in her elegantly styled hair. Found with the mummified body of an 8-year old girl, together with carved amber grave goods (described below), perhaps for a woman's toilette, in a
marble sarcophagus along the Via Cassia (Grottarossa). End 2nd century CE. Rome, Palazzo Massimo.
- Ivory with articulated limbs and an anatomically correct female body. From an underground tomb on the Via di Tor Cervara. 3rd century CE. Rome, Olearia.
- Terracotta with moveable arms and legs, in terracotta. Greek. 500-400 BCE.
California, Getty Villa.
- Bone: crowned head and torso, now missing its movable
arms and legs. Found in Ephesus. London, British Museum.
- Baby: painted terracotta with upswept hair and head covering; seated with arms outstretched. From a child's grave. Hawara. 2nd century CE. London, Petrie Museum.
- Amber toy
chest, part of a girl's burial goods, perhaps a miniature jewelry chest; found along with the Julia Domna doll (described above) in a marble sarcophagus along with the skeleton of a girl, on the Via Valeria in Tivoli, end 2nd century CE. Rome, Palazzo Massimo.
- Amber utensils for table and toilette, found with the doll described above in a girl's marble sarcophagus along the Via Cassia in Grottarossa. End 2nd century CE. Rome, Palazzo Massimo.
pendant with glass beads and cameos carved with children's faces.
Roman, from an eastern province. 3rd century CE. London, Victoria & Albert
- Funerary altar with an inscription for Minicia Marcella, daughter of Marcella Statoria (see
the mother's matching marble monument). Both altars were found together in the family tomb. Pliny the Younger grieves for his senator friend C. Minicius Fundanus, her father, praising Minicia and describing her
death in Epistulae 5.16. About to be married, she was 12 years, 11
months, 7 days old at her death. CIL 6.16631. 105-106 CE. Rome, Baths of Diocletian.
- Marble relief portrait
of Minucia Suavis, from her funerary altar; the dedication text commentary can be found among the funerary inscriptions listed above. 1st century CE. Rome, Baths of Diocletian.
- Portrait bust
of Julia Victorina wearing a lunar symbol on the front of her marble funerary altar; in back she wears a radiate solar crown; on either side is carved a flowering tree (left, right). The inscription gives her age as 10. CIL 6.20727. End 1st century CE. Paris, Louvre.
Relief portrait bust of a young girl with a
"melon" hairstyle surrounded by a wreath held by two nude flying cupids; it is the central image on her marble
On either side stand Cupid and Psyche, who has the
same hairstyle as the deceased. Early 3rd century CE. Rome, Baths of Diocletian.
portrait on a marble tombstone of a young girl with her mother. Inscription in Greek translates:
"Mimia, too soon, farewell; Koartilla farewell." The mother wears native
Mesopotamian costume; the daughter holds a wreath and wears fashionable Roman
jewelry. Roman, from the Euphrates region of Syria, 70-100 CE. Boston, Museum
of Fine Arts.
portrait on a marble tombstone of a young girl, surrounded by a crescent moon and stars, implying that she has been translated to the heavens; her brother. Rome, c. 180 CE. Copenhagen, National Gallery.
- Young girl pictured on a lectus as if asleep on the frontal relief of her sarcophagus, richly carved in Carrera marble. Beneath the couch lie her sandals and a pet dog; children, possibly siblings, lean on the couch in gestures of grieving. On the left, her mother sits on a solium with her palla pulled over her head in traditional gesture of mourning; on the right sits her father on a folding chair, similarly draped, with mourners around them both. Roman, 160-180 CE. London: British Museum.
- Sarcophagus relief of parents with young children driving carriages into the countryside (possibly a visual metaphor for the journey of life): left family, right family. Central scene of two children playing with a goose and a
wheeled scooter. Rome, Baths of
- Alimenta coin issue:
Trajan holds his right hand out to a girl and boy who look up and reach out to
him. This aureus commemorates the emperor's program of subsistence for freeborn
girls and boys in Italian communities. Inscription: CO[n]S[ul] V P[ater]
P[atriae] S[enatus] P[opulus]Q[ue] R[omanus] OPTIMO PRINC[ipi] | ALIM[enta]
ITAL[iae]. Minted in Rome, 103-111 CE. Berlin, Pergamon Museum.
- Alimenta aureus: another gold coin issue celebrating Trajan's program of subsistence
for freeborn girls and boys in Italian communities. Inscription as
above (the lower portion of the coin, not visible, contains the abbreviation ALIM ITAL. Minted in
Rome, 103-111 CE. Rome, Palazzo Massimo.
- Funerary altar for 10 year old Antonia Panaces. Visible from above is the internal cavity for her ashes. The front is carved with a gorgon above and a reclining skeleton below; between them is the inscription (CIL VI.12059). On the sides are laurel trees. From Rome, 2nd century CE. Naples: Archaeological Museum.
- Marble sarcophagus lid on which a young girl lies, holding a funeral wreath, as though asleep in her bed. Its provenance and date unknown, it can be found among other antiquities on the ballustrade in the courtyard of the Palazzo Mattei in Rome.
All images are courtesy of the
VRoma Project's Image Archive.