Children in Ancient History
 
Estimated Number of Printed Pages: 5
 
 
PLEASE NOTE: This is information about children. This material is not for children. This page is strictly for mature adults. Children under the age of 15 should not be reading this. That's not a dare, Kids. It isn't that it's just gross (which it is). But some of the information in here is really, really upsetting. We were upset. We had nightmares. Trust us. Other pages are fine, but for this, ask a grown-up to read this and talk to you about it instead.
 
 
TOPICS COVERED: We didn't know how how good our kids had it, until we read A History of Children – an engrossing portrait of how children have been treated in every major historical era. Here's just a glimpse of some of the astonishing information we learned . . . .
 
MEMOS ON RELATED INFORMATION: Family Structures, Modern Child Development, Children in European and American History
 
Links to Sources for this material are available below. Please also see The Factbook Sources page for further information regarding Factbook sources and their availability.
 
 

CHILDREN IN ANCIENT HISTORY

 
 
In Hammurabi’s Code, “The father was acknowledged as the supreme head of this unit [family]. Codes 192, 193, and 195 are explicit regarding the harsh penalties that would befall any child who did not bestow appropriate honor and respect on the father who reared him. A son could lose a tongue, an eye, or fingers, depending on the circumstances of the offense. The father’s absolute authority extended to a right to use his children as payment of or collateral for debts. He could sell them into slavery or servitude. Still, parental power was not unbridled. Code 117, for instance, . . imposed a three-year limit to this slavery.” 1.
 
 
 
In Ancient Egypt, children – including some girls – were educated: New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art has a letter written by a seventeen-year-old girl around 2000 B.C. which reads: ‘Dear Mother, I am all right. Stop worrying about me.’ Apart from the contemporary tone of the entry, the letter exists as evidence that females were being educated in the scribal schools at an early date.” 2.
 
 
 
In later Egyptian history, when they’d been conquered by Rome, “Extended families, uncommon in Rome, were the norm. It was not unusual to have three generations living in a small house.” 3.
 
 
 
During a religious festival of the Ancient Sabeans, the Sabeans pressed grapes and slaughtered a male newborn who was then "boiled and deboned; the flesh was rolled in flour, oil, saffron, raisins, and spices and then over-baked. It was eaten by the priests during the ceremony to Shemal.” 4.
 
 
 
“Exposure was much more common among the Spartans, consistent with their disdain for flawed, weak physiques. Plutarch (46-120 A.D.) reported that Spartan fathers were required to have infant males inspected in order to receive the state’s clean bill of health before receiving permission to keep their babies.” 5.
 
 
 
13 to 17 years old
the age of marriage for girls in Ancient Rome. 6.
 
 
 
About ten years old
The age by which one-third of all children in Ancient Rome had died. The average life expectancy for men could have been as low as twenty-two and, for women, twenty years. Adoption, therefore, was common and legal, with the laws of property and inheritance extended to adopted children.” 7.
 
 
 
22 years old
The average life expectancy for men in Ancient Rome. For women, it was down to 20. could have been as low as twenty-two and, for women, twenty years. Adoption, therefore, was common and legal, with the laws of property and inheritance extended to adopted children.” 8.
 
 
 
Adoption
"was common and legal" in Ancient Rome, "with the laws of property and inheritance extended to adopted children.” 9.
 
 
 
Tacitus (55-120 A.D.) on wet nurses:

“In the good old days, every man’s son, born in wedlock, was brought up not in the chamber of some hireling nurse, but in his mother’s lap, and at her knee. And that mother could have no higher praise than that she managed the house and gave her-self to her children. Again, some elderly relative would be selected in order that to her, as a person who had been tried and never found wanting, might be entrusted the care of all the youthful scions of the same house; in the presence of such a one no base word could be uttered without grave offence, and no wrong deed done. Religiously and with the utmost delicacy she regulated not only the serious tasks of her youthful charges, but their recreations also and their games . . . .

Nowadays, on the other hand, our children are handed over at their birth to some silly little Greek serving-maid, with a male slave, who may be anyone to help her, – quite frequently the most worthless member of the whole establishment, incompetent for any serious service. It is from the foolish tittle-tattle of such persons that the children receive their earliest impressions, while their minds are still pliant and unformed; and there is not a soul in the whole house who cares a jot what he says or does in the presence of its lisping little lord. Yes, and the parents themselves make no effort to train their little ones in goodness and self-control; they grow up in an atmosphere of laxity and pertness, in which they come gradually to lose all sense of shame, and all respect both for themselves and for other people.” 10.

 
 
“By the second century A.D., Roman mores had become rigidly conservative, probably in reaction to the wanton excesses of its past. Celibacy as well as virginity until marriage became societal expectations and were thought to preserve health and energy. Sex had come to be considered enervating and dissipating; fidelity or mortality were not the factors that informed the changes in attitude.” 11.
 
 
 
“. . . citizens of early Rome were by law required to raise all healthy male children and at least one female. . . . Enforcement of these laws, however, was poor, and by the second century, B.C. constraints on abandonment had disappeared.” 12.
 
 
 
“An infant could be abandoned without penalty or social stigma for many reasons, including an anomalous appearance, being an illegitimate child or grandchild or a child of infidelity, family poverty, parental conflict (ob discordiam parentum) or being one of too many children. Sometimes there were given to friends, but more often than not they were abandoned to the elements, and death resulted from hypoglycemia and hypothermia. Sometimes the infant was devoured by the dogs that scavenged public places. It was likely however, that the expositi were rescued from these fates and picked up by slavers. Abandonment generally occurred in a public place, where it was hoped that the infant could be taken up by some wealthy person. A well-traveled street called the Velabrum, where oil and cheese merchants worked, and the vegetable market in the Forum (Olitorium), with columna lactaria, or nursing columns, were two favored locations for placing sucklings. Such an infant was considered a res vacantes (an unclaimed thing) and legally could be claimed. If picked up by wealthy persons, the child could become a slave, a play companion for another child, a pet (delicia), or a prostitute; it could be sold for begging purposes after mutilation or become a truly adopted child, a treasured alumnus. Most adoptions, however, were not of abandoned infants but of a close relative, a propinquus, because adoption commonly was used for purposes of succession or inheritance, to keep wealth within a biological family." 13.
 
 
 
Up to three times
The number of times a Roman father could sell his son. After that, the son was free. The practice of selling sons lasted for about 600 hundred years – finally ending around 300 A.D. 14.
 
 
 
A "pet child" –
“Commonly, a slave who became a pet child did not work and was kept around the house for play purposes. Some of these children were genuinely loved and educated. Some were assigned a mammae or tatae to nurture them, but more often than not, they were simply for jester-like entertainment or pedophilic gratification. 15.
 
 
 
“An expositi, or abandoned child, if recognized years later and desired, could be reclaimed if the cost of rearing was repaid. Although exposure was common, not all Romans approved of it, and some, like Epictetus . . . asserted with quiet passion about the proper care and nurturing of children. . . . ” 16.
 
 
 
It wasn't really until Christianity took hold that things changed for Roman children. Christianity taught that children were gifts from God, and therefore harm to a child was a violation of God's will. Gradually, Christian Roman emperors increased the penalties for abandoning children, they limited the number of years a child could be enslaved to five years. 17.
 
 
 
“The polygamous Celts commonly sent their children, at age seven, to foster families to be educated. Services were paid in livestock. A freeman paid six heifers or one-and-a-half milk cows for a son. Charges for daughters were higher–eight heifers or two milk cows. Girls remained in these foster homes until they were fourteen; boys, until seventeen.” 18.
 
 
 
“It is probable that all of the [barbarian/Celt/Germanic] tribes practiced infanticide in one form or another.” 19.
 
 
 
“For the most part, [Ancient Mayan] children’s lives were uneventful–agrarian and domes-tic in preparation for marriage and family. There were children, however, who were pressed into slavery and ritually sacrificed. A child could become a slave if born to a slave, if orphaned, or if purchased for that purpose. Orphans also could be purchased for sacrifice. A small boy would cost five to ten stone beads and could be sacrificed in two different ways: by cardioectomy or by drowning. Bows and arrows were reserved for the ceremonial sacrifice of adults.” 20.
 
 
 
Ancient Mayan “Babies were nursed only three times a day. At feeding time, mothers placed their babies on the ground and bent over them. Once the cradle was outgrown, babies were transferred to a kind of playpen–a hole dug deep enough to keep them from mischief or harm in which rags and toys were placed.” 21.
 
 
 
For Vikings, “Fostering for legitimate children was the norm. Children of nobles were reared in the homes of learned friends, where it was expected they would receive kind and supportive nurturing. Strong, affectionate bonds developed in these relationships. Foster children received the same care and affection as if they were biological progeny. Foster parents were rewarded with filial respect and trust, unsevered even in death.” 22.
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1. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), pp. 18-19. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
2. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), p. 28. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
3. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), p. 94. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
4. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), pp. 42 (endnote omitted). Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
5. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), p. 68 (endnote omitted). Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
6. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), p. 81. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
7. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), p. 81. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
8. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), p. 82 (endnote omitted). Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
9. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), p. 82 (endnote omitted). Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
10. Dialogus de Oratoribus, 28, 29 as quoted in A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), pp. 84-85. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
11. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), p. 90. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
12. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), p. 90 (endnote omitted). Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
13. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), p. 91 (endnotes omitted). Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
14. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), p. 91 (endnotes omitted). Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
15. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), p. 91 (endnotes omitted). Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
16. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), p. 92 (endnote omitted). Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
17. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), pp. 104-106. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
18. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), p. 113. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
19. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), p. 113 (endnotes omitted). Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
20. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), p. 164 (endnotes omitted). Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
21. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), p. 166. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
22. A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), p. 117 (endnote omitted). Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0313315744/qid=1123775672/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846