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Roman Children

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As soon as a child was born, it was laid at its father's feet. If he raised the child in his arms, he was acknowledging as his own and admitting it to all rights and privileges of membership in a Roman family. If he did not take it out, the child was an outcast, without family or protection. If a child was to be disposed of, it was exposed; that is, taken from the house by a slave and left by the roadside. This likely did not often occur. No actual instances of exposure are known during the Republic.

During the first eight days of a baby's life there were various religious ceremonies. The day of naming was usually called dies lustricus (day of purification) for the ceremony performed that day. On this day, the family rejoiced.

Marcus Aurelius was the first emperor to require birth registration. A boy was not enrolled as a citizen until he put on a man's toga, but his father had to register the child's name and the date of its birth within thirty days.

A child's first toys were the tiny ones of the crepundia. Then came rag dolls and dolls of clay or wax, some with jointed arms and legs. We hear of ivory letters like our letter blocks, carts for mice, tops, hoops driven with sticks, stilts and balls. Dogs were common and favourite pets; cats began to be known at Rome in the first century A.D. We don't have definite descriptions of any children's games, but there seem to have been games corresponding to blindman's buff, hide-and-seek, seesaw, and jackstones. Games were played on boards, and pebbles and nuts were used as children now use marbles.

The training of children was conducted by their parents, with emphasis on moral rather than intellectual development. The most important virtues for a child to acquire were reverence for the gods, respect for the law, unquestioning and instant obedience to authority, truthfulness, and self-reliance.

Until the age of seven, boys and girls were taught by their mother to speak Latin correctly and do elementary reading, writing and arithmetic. At seven a boy went on to a regular teacher and a girl remained her mother's constant companion. A girl's formal education was cut short because a girl married early and there was much to learn of home management. From her mother a girl learned to spin, weave and sew.

A boy, on the other hand, was trained by his father. If his father was a farmer, he learned to plow, plant and reap. If the father was a man of high position in Rome, his son stood beside him in the atrium when callers were received, so as to gain some practical knowledge of politics and affairs of state. The father trained the son in the use of weapons in military exercises, as well as in riding, swimming, wrestling, and boxing.

No special ceremony marked a girl's passing into womanhood, but when a boy reached his majority, he discarded the crimson-bordered toga (toga praetexta) of a child and donned the pure white toga of a man. The year of the boy's coming of age varied, somewhat on his physical and intellectualy development, somewhat on his father's decision, more perhaps on the time in which he lived. In general, a man's toga was assumed between the fourteenth and seventeenth years - the later age being customary in earlier times. In the classical period the boy's age was usually about sixteen. After that, a boy was placed by his father in the care of some man who was prominent in the army or in civil life, with whom the youth spent a year in training. It seems to have been customary to select the date for the coming of age ceremony according to the birthday that came nearest to March 17, the Liberalia (the festival of Liber).

A boy's coming-of-age ceremony began when the boy laid his bulla and bordered toga before the lares of the house in the early morning. A sacrifice was offered. The bulla was hung up (it was worn later if the man needed protection from envy). The boy then dressed himself in a white tunic, adjusted by his father. If he was the son of a senator, this had two wide crimson stripes; if his father was a knight the tunic had two narrow ones. Over this was draped the toga virilis (toga of the grown man), also called the toga libera. The toga was not necessarily bestowed at Rome, even if the family usually lived there. When the boy was ready, the procession to the Forum began. The father had gathered his slaves, freedmen, clients, relatives and friends, using all his influence to make his son's escort numerous and imposing. Here the boy's name was added to the list of citizens, and formal congratulations were extended. Then the family climbed up to the temple of Liber on the Capitoline Hill, where an offering was made to the god. Finally they all returned to the house, where the day ended with a dinner party given by the father in honour of the new Roman citizen.

Chart

Pietas
  • the sense of duty predominant in Roman families
Genius
  • guardian spirit which came into the world with a child at birth (to the Romans, birthdays were festivals of the genius, celebrated with offerings of wine, flowers, incense and cakes)
Juno
  • a girl's guardian spirit
Pupus
  • the term used for a baby before it is given a praenomen (girls were usually named on the eighth day and boys on the ninth)
Crepundia
  • toys or ornaments in the form of flowers, swords, axes and other tools, and especially lucky charms shaped like a half moon
  • strung together and hung around the baby's neck to amuse him with their jinling or rattling
  • often made of valuable material; also served as identification if a child was lost or stolen
Bulla
  • a piece of jewelry, often made of two concave gold pieces, like a locket, fastened together by a wide spring
  • contained an amulet as a protection against evi
  • worn on a chain, cord, or strap
  • hung around the child's neck by the father upon the child's birth or on the day of purification
  • golden bullae were originally only worn by patrician children (plebeians had leather imitations on a narrow strap), but later anyone could wear them
  • worn by a girl until the eve of her wedding day, when she laid it aside with other childish belongings; worn by a boy until the day he became a citizen, when it was dedicated to the lares
Nutrix
  • a child's slave nurse
  • often Greek (so that the child might learn Greek as naturally as Latin)
     
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