Ed. by Judith Evans Grubbs and Tim Parkin with Roslynne Bell
OUP (2013) h/b 690pp £100 (ISBN 9780199781546)
This large, heavy volume is dedicated to the memory of the renowned scholar of Roman family studies, Beryl Rawson, who sadly died while it was being compiled. It is not really a ‘handbook’: one cannot look up certain topics and necessarily find information on them, such as children’s clothing, children in Roman religion, the registration of births, child abuse or child labour. Rather, it is a collection of specially written essays, all in English, on different aspects of the subject by scholars in the field, mainly from the USA and other English-speaking countries, with a few from northern Europe. As Grubbs and Parkin say in the Introduction, the aim is ‘to build on existing scholarship and to point to ways forward.’
The volume comprises thirty essays as well as an introduction and an envoi, gathered under six headings: Gestation, Birth, Disease and Death, Children and Childhood in Ancient Greece, Children and Childhood in Ancient Rome, Education and Educational Philosophy in the Classical World, Children in the Eastern Mediterranean and Late Antiquity and Early Christianity, with a bibliography following each essay. The geographical and chronological spread is enormous. The ancient evidence used by the authors is visual as well as written, and the photographs, drawings and plans are sufficiently clear, except for a few illustrations of memorials with inscriptions, which are not very legible. Full reference details given in the text rather than as footnotes can sometimes be rather obtrusive. The styles of writing and the language are generally accessible, with the exception perhaps of Sivan on children in the synagogue. Although perhaps less splendid than the price suggests, in general this is a handsome book.
While some essays give an overview of a topic, such as Oakley on children in Greek art and Loven on children in Roman art, others are very specific, such as ‘Babies in the Well: Archeological Evidence for Newborn Disposal in Hellenistic Greece’ by Liston and Rotroff, or rather technical, like Casey on the Athenian ephebeia or McGinn on Roman children and the law. Others are straightforwardly informative and factual, like Leyerle’s ‘Children and “the Child” in Early Christianity’, or offer an unexpected aspect, like Laes on raising a disabled child. Grubbs on infant exposure is, for example, not afraid to explore the nasty side of life.
Altogether, the volume may be quite a difficult read for those who do not know very much about this area of social history, but it certainly clarifies what is known and what cannot be known of childhood in its various aspects. The evidence is of course patchy, given the huge time-span from 800 BC to AD 500 and the cultural diversity of the Mediterranean, and indicates both change and continuity. Bradley says in the Envoi that the main problem is ‘how to recover the lived experience of children in antiquity from evidence that comes predominantly from a limited number and type of adults’. The problem is to a great extent solved here in the most interesting way: the volume succeeds in making children visible and in giving a fascinating picture of ancient childhood, offering indeed an embarras de richesses. It repays reading and rereading.