Leisure as a site of child socialisation, agency and resistance in the Roman empire
What was it like to play as a child in the late Roman world? What were the skills and attitudes that games inculcated in the young? How did children experience their leisure and how did this change over the course of the Roman empire? This chapter will try to answer these questions, however provisionally, by looking at some of the games and activities that filled children’s lives. It will focus on four main areas. The first is whether it is useful to apply the term ‘leisure’ to ancient children. Many children were obliged to start working young and it is not immediately clear that they had much of what we would term ‘leisure’. Second, it will look at the ways in which children were socialised in their play into certain types of cultural behaviour. But rather than seeing this as a purely passive process, whereby the children were forced into certain social roles, the emphasis in this piece will be on trying to see active elements to such socialisation, which allowed the children to engage with societal pressures in a dynamic and flexible way. The third aim will be to focus in more detail on the degree of agency that children had during their leisure activities. Instead of seeing them as constrained by communal norms into playing certain games, I will try to show that the freedom of the leisure period allowed children to express a relatively high level of individual decision-making. Finally, the chapter will examine how children’s leisure developed and altered as the Roman empire became Christian. A new set of understandings about the role of the child meant that the child’s experience of leisure was itself transformed.