Children

The most important role of a paterfamilias was to ensure the continuation of his family by producing children, more specifically male children. He had right of life and death over a new born child – his first role after a birth was to acknowledge the baby as his. If he picked up the baby all was well, if he left it on the floor, it was removed from the house and abandoned.

 Death rates among infants were very high in ancient Rome so many children did not make it to adulthood. There is no evidence for nurseries in Pompeii – no paintings that might expect for a child’s room for instance and, in fact, it’s likely that very small children spent more time with the slaves – especially with the slave nurse who fed them. Children wore a special charm called a bulla on a chain round their necks to keep them safe. Young children were educated at home by slaves up to the ages of 6 or 7 and then boys might be sent to one of the schools in the forum or have a more expensive private tutor.

 The coming of age ceremony marked a child’s entry to adulthood. Boys would celebrate this ceremony when they were around 16 or 17. They would dedicate their bulla to the gods and assume an adult toga. Becoming an adult for them meant beginning their training for a political or military career. Girls were considered adult at about 12. At her coming of age ceremony, a girl dedicated all her childhood toys to the gods. This ceremony showed that she was ready to become a woman – it usually took place the evening before her wedding so she went straight from being a child to a wife.

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