Children of Ancient Rome

This article is about children in ancient Rome.

Pregnancy and birth

Funeral monument of a Roman mid-wife

In ancient Rome, childbirth brought upon high risk to both mother and child due to a greater chance of complications which includes infection, uterine hemorrhage, and the young age of the mothers. Women relied mainly on the religious and superstitious practices associated with medicine at this time. After conception, women would rest in bed to “preserve the seed.”[1] To treat pregnancy symptoms they would eat a bland diet of eggs or rice and would be massaged with olive oil. Plants and herbs such as dittany leaves, scordotis in hydromel and the root of vervain were used for relief during labor. Also, methodologies such as a drink powdered with sow’s dung to relieve labor pains and fumes from hyena loin fat or placing the right foot of a hyena on the woman to induce an easy delivery were of use. The development of midwives greatly improved the birthing process for Roman women. Midwives assisted births in the home and prepared the mothers with oil for lubrication, warm water, sponges, and provided bandages for the newborn. During difficult births tools with sharp hooks would be used to extract the baby. Once the baby was born the midwife would cut the umbilical cord, remove the placenta and then they would decide if the child was worth keeping. Once declared fit to live, the midwife would place the child on the ground for the head of the house hold to raise up the child and claim to rear it as a Roman ritual.[1]


Infants in ancient Rome were not named until days after they were born (females 8 days, males 9 days) due to a high infant mortality rate. On the 8th or 9th day a gathering would occur consisting of family and friends bearing gifts. Then a sacrifice would be made and the child would be named and given a bulla to identify him or her as freeborn.[2]

Childhood stages

Roman girls playing

Romans kept track of the passing of time by celebrating their birthday every year. These celebrations consisted of wine, garlands of flowers, ritual cakes, and fire on the domestic altar. A child who reached its first birthday (stage known as anniculus) was able to have legal privileges and the parents could apply for full Roman citizenship for their child. The ages of 5-7, children were seen to have more rational minds and were expected to take on responsibility around the home such as taking care the animals, gathering materials, and general chores around the house. Also during these years, children considered to be aware of social and sexual roles and children’s groups were organized by gender at that time. The age of 7 was around the end of what was considered to be the infant stage (infantia). At this age Romans knew children were able to understand speech, making them eligible for betrothal. Roman law classified some ages at which a child can have social, moral, or criminal responsibility.[2] Under the age of 14, a child was considered to be doli incapax (incapable of criminal intent). A child older than 10, however, still had the possibility of being held responsible for a criminal act if it could be proven that they understood their offense. The age of marriage for girls could be as young as 12 and for men, around 25 years of age. By the age of 15 boys undergo a ritual transitioning them into manhood. The ceremony involves them removing their bulla and the tunic they wore through childhood and put on a man’s toga while accompanied by their fathers and other relatives. The stages of life the Roman state took note of were birth and coming of age for males, and death. On these days taxes and financial offerings were due.[2]


See Family and Marriage in ancient Rome.

Daily Life

Roman boys playing ball games, 2nd century CE

Roman children had different clothing from adults until they came of age or were married. Children’s education was normally practiced at home. When children were not being educated their play time consisted of a variety of toys such as rattles, dolls made of cloth, clay, or wax, toy weapons, letter blocks, tops, balls and hoops made of sticks. Dogs were also common pets that children played with. Roman children were not allowed to bathe in the Roman baths, instead, they bathed at home.[2]

Death and Burial

Due to disease, epidemics, and high mortality in the Roman world, children experienced death regularly. Children were very much a part of the funeral process with the death of close family. There is no findings that suggest that children were not present during the required purification of the death a family member. They were also allowed to participate in Parentalia in February which was a time to visit the graves remember the dead. Because children were memorialized on tombstones it shows that they were recognized as an individual when they died though they had a better chance of being commemorated after surviving infancy.[3] Older children were commemorated in the Roman religious tradition but babies that were less than 40 days of age were usually buried instead of cremated and were to be buried within the city walls under the house because they were considered not developed enough to negatively impact Roman religion for not burying them outside the walls. Babies were at very high risk of death the first few days after birth or around four to six months and there was no formal mourning period for an infant less than 1 year of age. As children got older their mourning period grew longer until they were 10 years old and had the same mourning period as an adult (10 months).[3]

See also


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  1. 1 2 Todman, D. (2007), Childbirth in ancient Rome: From traditional folklore to obstetrics. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 47: 82–85.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Rwason, Beryl. Children And Childhood In Roman Italy. Oxford: OUP Oxford, 2003. eBook Academic Collection(EBSCOhost).Web. 7 Nov.2015
  3. 1 2 Bradley, KR. Discovering the Roman Family: Studies in Roman Social History. New York:Oxford University Press, 1991. Print
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