An Athenian family

A bigger picture

Numerous objects survive from the ancient Greek world that provide insights into aspects of childhood, but we often need to be careful how we interpret them. Images of mothers with children seem very familiar, but some experts have raised questions about the impact that infant mortality may have had on parental affection. Such images may therefore have more to do with reinforcing the role of the woman as bearer of children for the oikos. Ancient toys are very similar to some we still see nowadays, but also had a symbolic value: they were often dedicated to a god by girls on their marriage and by boys on reaching puberty, to mark the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Mother and baby


Gravestone of an Athenian woman; about 400 BC.

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A terracotta figure of an old nurse carrying a baby; about 300 BC.

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Baby feeder


The feeder has the inscription “drink, don’t drop”; 300s BC. It is shown with the doll below, a jug similar to the one below, a spinning top and a rattle in the shape of a pig.

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This doll has articulated arms and legs; she is shown with a fancy hairdo and holds castanets. Such objects may be toys, but may also be cult objects; about 350 BC.

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Toy and pet


This small jug shows a boy with a pet bird and a wheeled toy. It has been thought that these jugs may have been used to give children their first taste of wine at a festival called the Anthesteria; 420 – 400 BC.

See more See more: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=399115&partId=1&searchText=chous&images=true&page=1<

A music lesson


A group of youths learning to play the double pipes or auloi. Their teacher sits with a lyre. On the extreme right stands a man with a staff. It is possible that he is a paidagogos, a slave who accompanied boys to and from school, though he looks rather too young for that role. 470 – 460 BC.

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An Athenian family