Growing Up In Ancient Greece

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Growing Up in Ancient Greece. Being a Child in Ancient Greece.

What was it like to be a child in Ancient Greece? The answer is a bit of an ordeal especially when there was a good chance you would not be allowed to live.

A baby's future rested in the hands of his father, if it was a puny girl, or it was born into a poor family the father might decide the baby should be abandoned and left in the open air to die, There was no law to prevent him doing this and the fate of the baby depended on her or him being rescued by another family and brought up as a slave.

If the family decided to keep the baby and it was named on the 10th day of its life it was destined to be treated kindly. History does not relate what happened if it was named on the 9th or 11th day. If the parents were rich they could hire a poor neighbour or a slave to nurse the new baby. In some Greek cities children were wrapped in cloths until they were about two years-old to ensure straight and strong limbs.

At the age of three years-old children were given small jugs as a sign their babyhood was over and children were considered to be young adults at the age of 12 or 13.  They had to dedicate their toys to the God Apollo or the Goddess Artemis, this was a sign they had reached the end of their childhood. Toys in those days were mostly small clay or pottery figures and the dolls were made of rags, wood, wax or clay. Other toys were rattles, hoops, yo-yos and hobby horses.

They also played with balls made of tied-up rags and a blown up pig's bladder. The ankle bones of sheep or goats made knuckle-bones or 5-stones which were like the jacks played by modern-day children. They also played Blind-Man's Buff which is still played today.


A Boy's Life

Boys were considered more important than girls in Ancient Greece because a son would look after his parents in old age. They went to school at about 7 years-old and each had a personal slave called a pedagogue who carried his books. The slave remained with the boy at school to keep an eye on him during lessons which often took place outdoors. Teachers needed payment so poor boys did not receive much education.

At school they learnt reading, writing and arithmetic and they wrote on wooden tablets covered with wax using a pointed stick called a stylus. To help with their arithmetic they used an abacus with beads strung on wires or wooden rods. They also had to learn music and a lot of poetry by heart and were taught how to debate on a range of subjects from an early age.

They did athletics to keep fit and prepare them for war as soldiers. They ran, jumped, wrestled and practiced throwing a spear and a discus on a playing field called a Gymnasium.

A Girl's Life

Parents preferred to have a son rather than a daughter as the girls left home when they married and had to take a dowry with them from their father. This could be expensive, especially if his wife bore him several daughters. Girls did not go to school, they stayed at home with their mothers who taught them how to spin, weave and look after the house.

A few girls living in richer households were lucky enough to be taught to read and write by a personal tutor. But girls were mostly groomed from an early age to become a housewife. Their father would choose his daughter's husband who was often much older than her, sometimes in their 30s and they married at 13 or 14 years-of-age, They would only earn his respect if they bore their husband a male child.