Ancient Rome was one of the largest empires the world has ever seen. They were very advanced for a civilization of that time, surpassing Europe’s Middle Ages which would follow hundreds of years later. The Roman Empire was responsible for many achievements such as a wide system of paved roads, the design of bridges and aqueducts, and feats of engineering such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon. Roman cities even had a complex sewer system while most homes had an early form of flush toilets. But their daily life was not that different from our own. They had jobs, families, and their own forms of entertainment. So what kind of toys did the Ancient Romans have? What did the children play with if they didn’t have modern day video games, computers, and manufactured plastic toys? Actually, their toys were pretty similar to the ones that kids play with today.
Ancient Rome Toys
Ancient Roman toys were all wide and varied as today’s toys are. Children back then used their imagination more, obviously, but the toys they used were based on real-life objects and themes. The materials that made up the toys were those used in Ancient Rome but the style of play was the same as it is today. Boys played with wooden swords and sticks as they pretended to be soldiers. Girls played with dolls made from wood, rags, or wax. Both boys and girls played with a wooden hoop, which you can still find today. The hoop would have bells on it and the children would roll them along the streets and playgrounds. Other popular toys at the time were balls, board games, hobby horses, kites, and wooden replicas of people and animals.
The type and quality of toys that children played with were largely determined by the family’s social class and rank. The children of wealthy politicians or merchants could be expected to have better toys and more of them. Children of poor families or even slaves might have one favorite toy that had seen considerable play and wear. Children of slaves probably didn’t have a lot of free tiem for play as they were expected to work along with the adults.
Ancient Rome Games
Some of the more common games that children from that time played were marbles (except nuts were used instead of glass marbles), board games, “knucklebones” which was similar to jacks except played with bones, and an early form of tic-tac-toe where you had to line up three playing pieces inside a grid of wooden holes.
For boys, war games were popular. The boys fought against one another using their wooden swords or sticks. One popular version of such a game was called “Troy”, named after the legendary battle of Troy. In this game, the boys divided into teams. The object was to fight back against a large group of boys who tried to pull you across a line. The game could get quite brutal at times but that style of play was accepted as normal amongst boys.
The game called pilae was a common ball game, similar to handball. There were several different versions and all involved hitting a ball using your arm or hand. The hands and arms were usually padded in some way for protection. One of the versions required three players standing in a triangle formation. They would hit the ball back and forth to one another while trying not to be the first one to drop the ball. Another version was a team sport were two teams tried to get the ball into the opposing team’s goal.
Latrunculi was a a game that was very similar to chess. It used a board divided into squares and playing pieces made of wax, wood, or stone. The pieces were called calculi or latrunculi, which is derived from the Latin word latrus which means servant or soldier. The object was to capture the other players pieces.
Another board game played by children was a game called reges. It was a word game played on a board but not all boards were the same. The game is not completely understood but it involved a first row of ten letters, a second and third row of 8 letters, and a fourth row with 7 letters. It might have been Ancient Rome’s version of Scrabble.
Ancient Rome Pets
Besides toys an dgames, children of Ancient Rome also had household pets. Dogs were by far the most common and favorite pet to have. After all, dog has been man’s best friend for a millennia. But the four-legged canine was not the only pet children had back then. Birds were another favorite such as ducks, geese, and pigeons. Birds were usually kept in the home while dogs followed children everywhere. Monkeys were not very common but wealthy families were known to keep them. And what about our favorite feline? The cat, while it was very popular and revered in ancient cultures such as Egypt, was not a common household pet until after the 1st century.