In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Children in the Classical World

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographies
  • Children in Greek Literature
  • Children in Roman Literature
  • Children in Greek Art
  • Children in Roman Art
  • Children in Inscriptions
  • Children in the Archaeological Record
  • Children in Myth
  • Birth and Infancy
  • Adolescence and Coming of Age
  • Children and Slavery
  • Children in Religion and Cult
  • Children’s Labor
  • Children’s Games, Toys, Pets
  • Children’s Physical Development, Health, and Medicine
  • Children’s Food and Feeding
  • Education of Boys
  • Socialization of Girls
  • Children and Sexual Relations

Childhood Studies Children in the Classical World
Mark Golden
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0076


The classical world encompassed a geographical area now occupied by some thirty-five independent nations and endured for over a millennium, from Homer in the 8th or 7th century BCE to Constantine in the 4th century CE. It was home to two major languages with rich and varied literatures and, in many places and many times, an epigraphic habit which produced countless other texts, with new ones discovered every day. The standard bibliographical resource, L’Année philologique, lists upwards of 15,000 titles a year and quite a few of these are relevant to children. (Childhood for boys stretched from birth until they reached maturity on their entry into the citizen body, generally at fourteen in some Hellenistic Greek cities, at fifteen or sixteen at Rome, at seventeen or eighteen in classical Athens; girls became women when they married.) I have therefore had to be strictly selective, preferring books to articles and chapters and work in English to that in other languages (though the interests and abilities of French and especially German scholars assure that there are plenty of exceptions). Likewise, I generally exclude theses (even often-cited ones such as C. Vorster, “Griechische Kinderstatuen”) and contributions to works of reference (such as M. Kleijwegt, “Kind,” Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 20 (2004) columns 865–947).

General Overviews

The challenge of treating children in Antiquity comprehensively has discouraged most scholars. Though its length and rich illustration causes it to resemble a coffee-table book, Backe-Dahmen 2008 is admirable for its achievements as well as its ambition. Its virtues are brought out by comparison with deMause 1974. This contains references to many ancient sources, but these are garnered second-hand or in translation and the author’s psychohistorical slant and presentist bias leads him to confuse categories the Greeks and Romans kept quite distinct, such as exposure and infanticide. But the best access to the range of ancient childhoods is through collections. Evans Grubbs and Parkin 2013 is as au courant as possible, well organized, and written by some of the leading experts; it is a true handbook in everything except size. Cohen and Rutter 2007 is exceptionally well illustrated, as befits its focus on the material evidence of art and archaeology. Its chapters provide many opportunities to pick out both continuity and divergence in the area of ancient childhood (such as in the care contributors take to identify stages of childhood in Greek and Roman images and the bewildering variety of indicators they perceive). Dasen 2004 is at once more restricted, to early childhood, and more expansive through the inclusion of chapters on Egypt, the ancient Near East, and the Byzantines and of a forty-page bibliography of recent work, organized by subject.

  • Backe-Dahmen, A. Die Welt der Kinder in der Antike. Mainz am Rhein, Germany: von Zabern, 2008.

    The only single-author book-length treatment of both Greek and Roman children. Despite its brevity, the book is well illustrated, printed in a large-scale format, and contains particular useful discussions of children and religion, the depiction of Erotes, and the childhoods of the gods.

  • Cohen, A., and J. B. Rutter, eds. Constructions of Childhood in Ancient Greece and Italy. Princeton, NJ: American School of Classical Studies, Athens, 2007.

    This thick and profusely illustrated publication of conference papers is especially attentive to material culture. After a full introduction, noteworthy contributions deal with a recently discovered mosaic illustrating a boy’s education in Late Antiquity, the importance of parenting in the Iliad, gestures on Athenian vases, girls’ ritual activities in the Bronze Age Aegean, depictions of children on Athenian votive reliefs and funerary monuments and on Roman tombstones and sarcophagi.

  • Dasen, V., ed. Naissance et petite enfance dans l’Antiquité: Actes du colloque de Fribourg, 28 novembre—1 décembre 2001. Fribourg, Switzerland, and Göttingen, Germany: Academic Press, 2004.

    A collection of papers prepared for a Fribourg colloquium in 2001, including contributions on conception, pregnancy, birth, and infancy in Egypt, the Ancient Near East, and Byzantium as well as in Greece and Rome. The volume includes a helpful bibliography of work published in the 1990s.

  • deMause, L. “The Evolution of Childhood.” In The History of Childhood. Edited by L. deMause, 1–73. New York: Harper Torch, 1974.

    Using literary sources (in translation) and a psychoanalytic framework, deMause contrasts the “infanticidal mode” of ancient childrearing, characterized by resentment and hostility, to the more nurturing and child-centered practices of North America in the late 20th century.

  • Evans Grubbs, J., and T. Parkin, eds. Oxford Handbook of Childhood and Education in the Classical World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    An up-to-date and comprehensive collection of thirty chapters by an international team of experts. Highlights include “Demography of Infancy and Early Childhood in the Ancient World” (Parkin), “The Child Patient of the Hippocratics: Early Pediatrics?” (Dean-Jones), “Raising a Disabled Child” (Laes), “Play, Pathos and Precocity: The Three ‘P’s of Greek Literary Childhood” (Pratt), “The Ancient Child in School” (Bloomer), “Children in Hellenistic Egypt: What the Papyri Say” (Parca), “Children in Roman Egypt” (Pudsey).

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