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Won't somebody think of the children?

Childhood as we know it is only a recent invention.


The French historian Philippe Ariès, in his 1960 book Centuries of Childhood, argued that the concept of "childhood" was a modern development, and that in previous historical eras, children were treated simply as miniature adults. Ariès claimed that in medieval times "the idea of childhood did not exist" which has very much been disproven since, but certainly childhood was viewed very differently in different historical eras that it is today.


Our modern attitudes to childhood come to us from the Victorian era, and it's built around the idea that childhood is sacred and must be protected. But of course for every Victorian child that read Alice in Wonderland, a story that romanticises the imagination and pure spirit of childhood, there was also one working in a factory or down a mine or up a chimney. So the ideal didn't match the reality in a whole lot of cases back then any more than it does now.


The experience of children in Ancient Rome, just like today, depended very much on what class you were born into. If your father was a senator, then you had toys, time to play with them between your lessons, and a privileged life. If your parents worked a trade, then you did too. And if your mother was a slave, of course, then so were you.


I've talked before about how ancient people were in many ways exactly like us. The grave inscriptions of Roman children leaves no doubt that they were loved; we haven't changed that much in a couple of millenia. But I'll tell you one thing that Roman parents wouldn't have ever had to worry about: violence in video games or movies. And not just because they didn't have them, but because the Romans didn't have the same moral objections to violence in entertainment that we do. Hell, parents these days worry about violence in fiction; the Romans watched gladiatorial games for fun.


And so did their kids.


These pictures, drawn with charcoal, have recently been unearthed in Pompeii. The first one shows the outline of a child's hand, possibly the artist's, and two gladiators. The second one shows a group of bestiarii with their spears and shields, facing off against a pair of wild boars. And also an eagle's head in the corner, because why not?




There's no way of knowing from these pictures whether these bestiarii were venatares, paid professionals who fought beasts for entertainment, or if they were damnatio ad bestias - those sentenced to death by fighting animals. Whatever the case, it's probably not something any parent these days would take the kids along to witness. So while on one hand ancient people loved their kids just as much as parents these days love their kids, it's pretty clear that their idea of suitable childhood entertainment was radically different than ours.


Which brings me back to that point I usually end up making: when it comes to most things, the Ancient Romans weren't that different from us. But on those few things where they were - holy shit, the difference is huge! And that's all part of the fun of digging into history, isn't it?




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Oh my werd, have you watched the recent multi-part program on the recent Pompeii finds?? So friggin cool! Found around the time the "pizza" advert painted on the wall. 😁

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