In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Byzantine Childhoods

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Historiography
  • Health, Disease, and Physical Development
  • Forms of Birth Control
  • Death
  • Kinship and Family
  • Violence and Abuse

Childhood Studies Byzantine Childhoods
Arietta Papaconstantinou
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0170


Byzantinists have shown comparatively little interest in children and childhood, despite the surge of studies on that topic in classical, medieval, and early modern studies in the last quarter of the 20th century. The subject has not been entirely neglected, however, and has been steadily on the rise. Traditionally, the Byzantine period covers the 4th to mid-15th centuries, and the territory of the empire varied over this millennium from the entire eastern Mediterranean and some possessions in the western part, to sections of the Balkans and Asia Minor. As a historical and cultural entity, Byzantium is largely a historiographical construction, and this is reflected in the research on specific topics such as children and childhood. While the Early Byzantine period has been widely covered, but often only as part of a broader late antique or patristic world rather than in its Byzantine specificity, the Middle and Late Byzantine periods have generally been less well served. Research on Late Antiquity and patristics has a cultural focus and often engages with theoretical issues; it is predominantly concerned with the effects of Christianization on the perception of childhood and attitudes toward it, and on children’s roles within religious rhetoric and praxis. Work on medieval Byzantium has either been more descriptive and factual or, especially through the work of Évelyne Patlagean, inspired by the structuralism of the 1970s Annales school, and it has been overwhelmingly based on the exploitation of the available legal, medical, hagiographical, and iconographic sources. The result is a body of research on Byzantine childhood that is heavily tilted toward legal definitions, medical perceptions and pediatric medicine, religious practice, representations, education, and family and kinship. More recently, archaeological material has been added to this picture, concentrating on burials and the material culture of childhood more generally. The structure of this article is an attempt to cover as many aspects of childhood as possible in a balanced way, which has meant being radically selective for subjects that have been very productive, and less so for the others. I have generally given priority to medieval Byzantine over late antique, because it does not overlap with any other field, and to works focusing directly on children and childhood. I have not cited encyclopedia articles, preferring to include less known or less easily accessible works. Research in Byzantine studies is resolutely multilingual, and works primarily in French and German, but also in Italian and Greek, form a necessary part of this article.

General Overviews

Although in Byzantine studies the subject of childhood is less developed than other historical fields, it also has a long history: the earliest overview of the subject goes back to the impressive work on Byzantine daily life by Phaedon Koukoules in six volumes, of which Vols. 1.1 and 4 of Koukoules 1948–1957 are largely devoted to aspects of childhood. No equivalent overarching narrative was produced on Byzantium for more than half a century, and anyone seeking a general introduction could consult only Moffatt 1986 and some more specialized works. The publication in 2009 of two edited books on childhood, Papaconstantinou and Talbot 2009, devoted specifically to Byzantium, and Horn and Phenix 2009, covering late ancient Christianity and including much material on the Early Byzantine period, gave the subject a much wider and more comprehensive, if still fragmented, coverage. Only with Ariantzi 2012 did a full-length monograph appear on childhood in Byzantium, following Hennessy 2008 (cited under Art), which had in many ways pioneered the renewal of Byzantine childhood studies, even though it focused primarily on art. Hennessy 2010 and Brubaker and Tougher 2013 are the most recent short introductions to the subject. To a large extent, and despite the advances made in specialized areas, research is still too young to have produced a plethora of overviews.

  • Ariantzi, Despoina. Kindheit in Byzanz: Emotionale, geistige und materielle Entwicklung im familiären Umfeld vom 6. bis zum 11. Jahrhundert. Millennium-Studien zu Kultur und Geschichte des ersten Jahrtausends n. Chr. 36. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110266863

    Monograph based on the author’s thesis, collecting all available information on the life cycle of children, health, education, social relations, and possibilities open in adult life. Rich and very factual publication with its evidential base in hagiography, but containing much information from legal and medical sources as well as other literary material.

  • Brubaker, Leslie, and Shaun Tougher, eds. Approaches to the Byzantine Family. Birmingham Byzantine and Ottoman Studies 14. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2013.

    In addition to the three essays from this collection that are cited in Kinship and Family (Hennessy 2013, Vasileiou 2013, Vuolanto 2013), all other essays are in various ways directly relevant to Byzantine childhood.

  • Hennessy, Cecily. “Young People in Byzantium.” In A Companion to Byzantium. Edited by Liz James, 81–92. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444320015.ch7

    Under this title hides a short general introduction to childhood and children’s lives from infancy to coming of age, taking into account the most recent developments in the subject.

  • Horn, Cornelia B., and Robert R. Phenix, eds. Children in Late Ancient Christianity. Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum 58. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2009.

    A collection of papers on early Christianity to the 6th century, including much material that is Byzantine.

  • Koukoules, Phaidon. Βυζαντινῶν βίος καὶ πολιτισμός. 6 vols. Collection de l’Institut Français d’Athènes, 10–13, 43, 73, 76, 90. Athens, Greece: L’Institut Français d’Athènes, 1948–1957.

    See in particular Vols. 1.1 (1948; pp. 1–184) and 4 (1951; pp. 9–147). The earliest synthetic work to focus specifically on children, as part of the author’s wider project to document Byzantine daily life. Vol. 1.1 covers all stages of formal education, childrearing, and toys and games; Vol. 4 studies birth, baptism, and marriage. Koukoules’s aim was to demonstrate the continuity of Byzantine and modern Greek civilization with that of Greek Antiquity, by studying the similarities observed in ethnographic elements and daily rituals. Because of this agenda, and despite his lack of chronological rigor, his attention to detail is striking and in some areas remains unparalleled.

  • Moffatt, Ann. “The Byzantine Child.” Social Research 53.4 (1986): 705–723.

    A short but fairly complete and insightful introduction to the subject.

  • Papaconstantinou, Arietta, and Alice-Mary Talbot, eds. Becoming Byzantine: Children and Childhood in Byzantium. Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Symposia and Colloquia. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2009.

    Collection of eight papers on aspects of Byzantine childhood, covering various aspects of the life of children and their place in society, as well as Byzantine constructions of childhood.

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