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Documents Tell of Childhood in Roman Egypt

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

OSLO, NORWAY—Ville Vuolanto of the University of Oslo and April Pudsey of the University of Newcastle are systematically examining papyri from the site of Oxyrhynchus, images and texts from pottery, and toys and other objects to learn more about the experience of childhood in Roman Egypt. The lives of young children generally are not reflected in the documents, which were discovered 100 years ago at the site of the ancient town. They have learned, however, that the teen sons of prosperous free-born citizens enrolled in a gymnasium, where they were taught the lessons of good citizenship. Some 20 apprenticeship contracts reflect the options of the sons of the less well-to-do. “We have found only one contract where the apprentice was a girl. But her situation was a little unusual—she was not only an orphan but also had her deceased father’s debts to pay,” Vuolanto told Science Daily. Enslaved children could also become apprentices, and their contracts were of the same type as those written for free-born boys. Other documents record the sale of the children of slaves. “We are trying to form a picture of how children lived in Roman Egypt,” Vuolanto said. To read about an unusual Roman depiction of a child, see "Statuette of a Charioteer."

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