In Roman society, children were allowed to have fun by playing games, to develop their personality and to train for their future role as citizens.

The first games offered at birth are rattles to distract the baby and channel its energy. Their human or zoomorphic form has a symbolic and protective function.

Girls and boys improve their skills together by playing with miniature replicas of carts, boats or animals, pushing hoops, playing spinning tops, dice, jacks, nuts (equivalent to our marble games) or balls.


Sarcophagus with children playing with nuts © Vatican Museums

Detail of a bas-relief fragment representing young girls playing ball © Musée du Louvre

From the age of 6/7, the boys learn about their future profession and life in society through strategy games.

Bone dice, found in Pommeroeul, Coll. Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles © KIK-IRPA

Girls are introduced to their future life as wives and mothers by playing with dolls. The girl and her doll are referred to by the same Latin term: pupa.

Articulated ivory doll © Musée du Louvre

The Roman school system is divided into three levels.

  • The primary school welcomes boys and girls from the age of 7. They learn to read, write and to do arithmetics under the instruction of their magister.
  • Secondary school is reserved for children from privileged backgrounds. From the age of 11/12, they deepen their knowledge of grammar and authors with the grammaticus.
  • Higher education allows teenagers to perfect their oratory skills. Until the age of 18, the students, with the help of the « rhetorician », prepare themselves for a future career as a senior civil servant, lawyer or politician.

Stone bas-relief of the school. The magister is seen in the centre, surrounded by two students. A third student is about to enter holding his wax tablets. Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Trier

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