Child’s Play in Ancient Rome

Although childhood in ancient Rome did not last as long as it does for most kids today, ancient Roman children enjoyed similar toys and games. Boys played with wooden horses, soldiers, and swords. Girls had dolls made of rags, wood, or bone. Some of the dolls had arms and legs that moved. Both girls and boys played with kites and jump ropes. Some even had their own swings. Obviously, children from richer families could afford better toys; however, poorer children used their imaginations to create toys. For example, a tree branch could be substituted for a sword.

Like kids today, ancient Roman children enjoyed a variety of games. The Romans had a board game similar to our game of checkers. Children also played hide-and-seek, tag, and blind man’s bluff. One popular game, called knucklebones, was played with the anklebones of goats and may have resembled jacks.  Ancient Roman children also pretended to be grown-ups and dressed up like adults. They pretended to be judges, kings, and gladiators. When the famous Roman Cato was a boy he became upset while playing Law Courts and insisted on rescuing his friend who was playing the prisoner.

Children in ancient Rome also played sports, although the competition and expectations were higher for boys who could one day be soldiers. Kids played ball games and went swimming. The boys were expected to master hunting, wrestling, and sword fighting. These tasks were part of a boy’s education, which started from boyhood and lasted until age seventeen, when boys could enter the military.

Childhood ended early for boys and girls in ancient Rome. When a girl was barely a teenager, sometimes as young as twelve, she got married and gave away her toys. This act signified that she was an adult. Boys were considered adults a bit later, usually at sixteen. A boy left his childhood purple toga on the altar at his parent’s home and put on a white toga, which meant he was now a man. Unlike the girls whose only coming of age celebration was their wedding, parents often threw parties for sons when they became adults. The new Roman men and women were expected to complete their prescribed roles: for the men, this meant starting a career while women were to become dutiful wives and mothers.

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