Coming of age in Rome: the history and social significance of assuming the toga virilis

Coming of age in Rome: the history and social significance of assuming the toga virilis

Fanny Dolansky

Master of Arts, Department of Greek and Roman Studies, University of Victoria (1999)


The purpose of this thesis is to collect and analyze evidence for the assumption of the toga virilis in Roman society. Though the study of Roman childhood, and to a lesser extent, Roman adolescence, have recently attracted considerable scholarly attention, the celebration of donning the toga virilis, the rite of passage that marked the transition from childhood to adulthood for freeborn Roman boys, has largely been overlooked by Roman family historians. The present work seeks to redress the balance by treating the coming of age ceremony in a comprehensive and comparative study in an effort to enrich knowledge of Roman family life in general, and Roman childhood and adolescence in particular. Chapter One begins by summarizing the major trends in scholarship related to the Roman family, childhood, and adolescence, in order to provide the requisite background to the study of the toga virilis ceremony. The latter third of the chapter discusses the sources of evidence for a rite of passage that is widely attested in the Roman world, both chronologically and geographically. Chapter Two opens with a discussion of the relationship between puberty and the coming of age ceremony, and then examines the role of the paterfamilias in the celebration.

The object of this chapter is to desmie the distinct elements of the rite — including what and who were involved and where different stages of the ritual took place — and to draw together the fragments of evidence to form a composite picture of what can be seen to be a defining moment in a young boy’s life. Chapters Three and Four examine the political, legal, social and religious implications for the Roman boy who has assumed the toga virilis. They also explore the issues of independence and ambiguity. The toga virilis conferred important rights and privileges on the Roman youth and was a necessary step towards full inclusion in aspects of public life. Receipt of the toga was also associated with education and the study of philosophy, as well as certain social activities and sexual pursuits. Chapter Five employs modem anthropological theory and comparative evidence to understand more fully the toga virilis ceremony as a rite of passage, and to appreciate its significance both practically and symbolically. A discussion of the demographic implications of donning the toga and Roman views of childhood and its hazards follows. Finally, the assumption of the toga is examined as a type of public display that satisfies various criteria for a spectacle. A short appendix is included in which Latin and Greek sources that refer to the distinct elernents and stages of the rite are listed.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Victoria

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