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Reviewed by:
Christian Laes, Children in the Roman Empire: Outsiders Within
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 334 pp.

Contrary to a widespread opinion, childhood was not “discovered” in modern times. Nevertheless, childhood was perceived and experienced differently in antiquity than it is today. If you want to know all there is to know about children in classical (primarily non-Christian) Rome, Laes’s learned, sensitive, and elegantly written book is the place to go. After a preliminary chapter on the Roman family, including such matters as life expectancy and nutrition, Laes discusses early childhood, from birth to seven years (commonly regarded then as the threshold of maturity), with subsections on infant and maternal mortality, wet nurses, and much else; schooling (7 – 15 years of age), with a substantial treatment of corporal punishment; children at work, including child slavery and labor in the mines (chilling topics, these); and, finally, pedophilia and pederasty, with a brief look at Christian views. For the Romans, age per se mattered less than it does to us, whether in regard to work, sex, or behavioral expectations; what is more, “childhood was a social rather than a psychological category.” Laes sifts the evidence thoroughly — literary, archaeological, epigraphical — and presents it in a readable and unsentimental way, which augments the horrors rather than diminishing them. [End Page 341]

David Konstan

David Konstan, professor of classics at New York University, is the author of Before Forgiveness: The Origins of a Moral Idea; Pity Transformed; The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks; Some Aspects of Epicurean Psychology; Friendship in the Classical World; Sexual Symmetry; Greek Comedy and Ideology; Roman Comedy; and Catullus’ Indictment of Rome.



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