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Bill Thayer

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Children thru Roman Eyes

[image ALT: From a marble bas-relief: a child of about three wearing a toga and a bulla pretexta, clinging to the arm of an adult.]

A young child of the imperial family,
from the Ara Pacis in Rome.

Being a child and being Roman seem completely antithetical, what with the Roman emphasis on gravitas, and the few portrayals of children in Roman antiquity do seem to look past us at something else. Here I present not a true website on children, but rather a little index to some material scattered thruout my pages:

[image ALT: Close-up of a marble relief: the head of a young child.]

Three children of the imperial family appear on the Ara Pacis: probably his grandsons Gaius, Lucius and Agrippa. The portraiture seems quite real, but they are used as propaganda objects; and the eldest, who must have been all of 10 years old, is represented essentially as an adult.
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[image ALT: Small oval mosaic medallion rather schematically depicting a baby with a snake in each fist.]

Hercules at Volubilis: again, not your normal child. A portrayal of elemental forces from Greek mythology, more of an iconographical aide-mémoire than a view of childhood.
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[image ALT: A child of about eight huddling in the robes of its mother: angularly carved in very hard stone.]

With the Massacre of the Innocents we reach the nadir of course: children as a threat to be destroyed. This Christian subject, seen here thru the eyes of a Lombard sculptor of the high Middle Ages — Late Antiquity really, not far removed from Roman times — definitely has its place here: from revering strength to cruelty towards the weak is just a step; and the Romans took it.
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A Roman child, especially of the upper classes, wore a bulla around its neck. This little page gives further details.
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Page updated: 16 Dec 98