CHILDREN IN THE ANCIENT WORLD
By Tim Lambert
Children in Ancient Egypt
Most children in Ancient Egypt did not go to school. Instead boys learned farming or other trades from their fathers. Girls learned sewing, cooking and other skills from their mothers. Boys from wealthy families sometimes learned to be scribes. They learned by copying and memorizing and discipline was strict. Teachers beat naughty boys. The boys learned reading and writing and also mathematics.
Egyptian children played similar games to the ones children play today. They also played with dolls, toy soldiers, wooden animals, ball, marbles, spinning tops and knuckle bones (which were thrown like dice).
Children in Ancient Greece
In Greece when a child was born it was not regarded as a person until it was five days old when a special ceremony was held and the child became part of the family. Parents were entitled, by law, to abandon newborn babies to die of exposure. Sometimes strangers would adopt abandoned babies. However in that case the baby became a slave.
A woman's role was to marry and bear sons (daughters were much less important). Girls married when they were about 15. Marriages were arranged for them and often their husband was much older than them.
In ancient Greece girls learned skills like weaving from their mothers. Only boys went to school. They started at the age of seven. Boys from a rich family were escorted to school by a slave.
The boys learned reading, writing and arithmetic as well as poetry and music. The Greeks also believed that physical education was very important so boys did dancing and athletics.
Discipline was severe and children were often beaten.
In Sparta children were treated very harshly. At the age of 7 boys were removed from their families and sent to live in barracks. They were treated severely to turn them into brave soldiers. They were deliberately kept short of food so they would have to steal - teaching them stealth and cunning. They were whipped for any offence.
Spartan girls learned athletics and dancing - so they would become fit and healthy mothers of more soldiers.
In Ancient Greece when boys were not at school and girls were not working they played ball games with inflated pig's bladders. They also played with knuckle bones. Children also played with spinning tops, dolls, model horses with wheels, hoops and rocking horses.
Children in Rome
Many of the inhabitants of Rome were slaves. Prisoners of war were made slaves and any children slaves had were automatically slaves.
Boys and girls were given a kind of necklace called a bulla. It consisted of a charm inside a pouch. It was worn around the neck. When a boy became a man he discarded his bulla. A girl wore hers until she got married.
The sons and daughters of well to do Romans went to a primary school called a ludus at the age of 7 to learn to read and write and do simple arithmetic. Girls left at the age of 12 or 13 and only boys went to secondary school where they would learn geometry, history, literature and oratory (the art of public speaking).
Teachers were often Greek slaves. The teachers were very strict and they frequently beat the pupils.
Roman children played with wooden or clay dolls and hoops. They also played ball games and board games. They also played with toy carts and with animal knucklebones.
Aztec children were treated very harshly. If they misbehaved they could have cactus spines pushed into their skin or they were held over a fire containing chilies and were forced to inhale the smoke.
However the Aztecs believed education was important. Boys learned jobs like farming and fishing from their fathers and girls learned skills like cooking and weaving from their mothers. However both boys and girls attended schools. (Although they were taught separately). The ordinary Aztec children went to a school called a telpochcalli. They learned about history and religion but also about music and dance. When they were older boys learned to fight.
Noble children went to a school called a calmecac. They learned to read and write. (The Aztecs made paper from the bark of fig trees. Their writing consisted of pictograms or pictures that represented sounds). Upper class children also studied religion, mathematics and astrology.
Inca children were treated harshly to toughen them. They were severely punished if they misbehaved.
At about the age of 10 the most beautiful girls were selected to be chosen women or Aqllakuna. They were taken from their families and sent to a house of chosen women or Aqllawasi. They were taught the Inca religion and skills like cooking and weaving. When they were about 14 some of the girls became priestesses or they married important Incas or even the Sapa Inca himself (the Sapa Inca often had hundreds of wives).
Girls left behind learned skills like cooking and weaving from their mothers. When they reached their teens they were old enough to marry.
Boys learned farming, fishing and other trades. Noble boys had tutors called Amataus who trained them to rule. When they reached the age of 14 boys were given a loincloth which symbolized the fact that they were now young men.
Mayan women carried small children on their backs. That left their hands free for cooking and weaving. Girls learned these skills from their mothers. They also learned to make pottery. Boys learned farming and other trades from their fathers.
Both boys and girls got married in the early or mid teens. Their parents chose a partner for them helped by a matchmaker.
A history of Children
A history of Toys
A history of Sweets
A history of Education