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Coming of Age in Ancient Greece


Birth to age 7
Children in ancient Greece spent much of the first seven years of their lives in the home. Women and children occupied rooms separate from the men. Household life in ancient Greece held many similarities with our own time. Babies in ancient Greece played with rattles and drank from baby feeders with tubular spouts, although the contents were a little different from what you would find today: milk and honey mixed with wine or an opiate. Children used special furniture similar to high chairs or potty seats, and had items like coin banks. They played with toys like tops, yo-yos, pull toys, dolls, rollers, and hoops. They were also involved in many religious festivals and rituals. Three-year old boys, for example, carried and drank wine from a special jug called a chous at the Anthesteria, a spring festival for Dionysos (the god of wine). Young girls were dressed as "little bears" in special yellow clothing for a ritual honoring Artemis (the goddess of the hunt, wild animals and childbirth).

Age 7 to adolescence
At this age, children were given lessons to prepare them for their future gender-specific roles.

Girls at all levels of society were taught to spin and weave, cook, and perform other domestic tasks. Their adolescence was short, limited, and private. Their transition to adulthood was abrupt, beginning with marriage, which took place as early as the age of 14, and was often arranged by their families to men twice their age. As brides, girls moved from the households of their families to those of their husbands. Rather than gaining independence, they often simply exchanged masters. Transition to adulthood was completed at the birth of the first child, preferably a boy.

Boys on the other hand enjoyed an extended adolescence and educational opportunities that began with their formal education at the age of seven. Upper-class boys received instruction to mold them into kaloskagathos, meaning beautiful and good citizens. To achieve the ideal of intellectual, mental, and physical balance, the sons of Greek citizens were taught to read and write, to play musical instruments such as the lyre and the double pipes, and to compete in sports. Specialized teachers were employed for each of these activities. Education began in the home with a male tutor, who also accompanied boys outside the house for additional lessons. Lower-class boys, however, were apprenticed to their fathers to learn a craft or trade.

Age 18
While girls' lives were usually decided by this age, boys in ancient Greece would just be starting on their transition to adulthood. At 18, upper-class boys enrolled in their family's township as citizens and acquired voting rights and obligations. They would also enter the military for two years of service, which would mark the first time they were away from their families. Boys in ancient Greece usually only married in their mid-twenties or later.

Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past will be on view September 14-December 5, 2004, at the Getty Center.

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Maureen McGlynn
Getty Communications Dept.

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