Toys, Play and Swaddling Indications of Early Childhood in Ancient Greece

Toys, Play and Swaddling Indications of Early Childhood in Ancient Greece

By Maria Stilund Sommer

Spåren av de små Arkeologiska perspektiv på barn och barndom, ed. Fredrik Fahlander (Stockholm Studies in Archaeology, No. 54 2011)

Terracotta toy in the form of a horse. 4th cent. A.D. on display at the Acropolis Metro Station, Athens, Greece   -  photo by Tilemahos Efthimiadis / Flickr

Terracotta toy in the form of a horse. 4th cent. A.D. on display at the Acropolis Metro Station, Athens, Greece – photo by Tilemahos Efthimiadis / Flickr

Introduction: The article deals with selected archaeological children’s materials from Ancient Greece with special attention to vase iconography, figurines and toys. The selected age groups will primarily be infant and toddler periods (age 0-3 years of age), a rare group represented in archaeology. Generally the article concerns material traces of the two age groups. The first part is focusing on the toddler period and concern issues of enabling and the activating of children. The material related to this period mainly concern toys. Selected rattles and dolls are described and analyzed along with a terracotta figurine showing woman-child-interaction to demonstrate that play was a part of an ancient Greek childhood. Modern play-theories are used on the selected archaeological findings to interpret the use of toys and the role of play. The second part focuses on the youngest children and the ways in which infants movement are being constrained. Were infants wrapped with no chance of free movement or were they allowed to move their arms, legs and heads freely? By looking at selected evidence such as vase – and gravestone iconography, figurines and ancient written sources one might get an understanding how the Greeks nursed infants. The function of swaddling and the surmised implications for the infant, seen by the ancient Greeks as well as from a modern medical and psychological perspective, will be discussed. These two subjects underline the great age variability, status and gender shown in the material evidence from ancient Greece perhaps indicating an awareness of discrete stages of childhood.

In this section selected toys are first described and thereafter interpretations of function, meaning and importance of play are suggested. Toys indicate that children were allowed to play, and playing is a part of childhood (Montgomery 2009: 140-155). Play also keeps children mentally healthy, the brain develops when children play and playing prepares for adulthood (Sheridan 2001). Together with tools toys are some of the oldest artifacts found in archaeological records some being around 9000 years old (Anatolian origin).

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