Animation Gives You a Glimpse of What Life Was Like for Teenagers in Ancient Rome

The more things change, the more they stay the same. That adage often holds true, but not in this historical case. While your average American teenager devotes more than seven hours a day to imbibing media – to watching TV, playing video games, hanging out on Facebook — the average 17-year-old Roman kid (circa 73 AD) had some more serious business to deal with. Like mastering reading and writing in two languages, fighting in imperial wars, taking care of (obscenely young) spouses and various other items. All of this gets conveyed to us by Ray Laurence, a classics professor from the University of Kent. The video itself comes from the TED-Ed series that otherwise features a clip about the historic walls of Constantinople, built during the Byzantine period.

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  1. The Sanity Inspector says . . . | November 9, 2012 / 11:30 am

    You don’t have to go back to ancient Rome to get to an age where adolescence did not exist. As Joseph Sobran once said, in 100 years we’ve gone from teaching Greek and Latin in high school to teaching remedial reading in college.

  2. looking closely says . . . | November 9, 2012 / 12:09 pm

    Poor sanitation, rampant disease, malnutrition and violence meant that the average life expectancy in Rome was only about 25 years.

    So if you managed to make it to 16 years you were “middle aged”.

  3. Sam Hall says . . . | November 9, 2012 / 3:12 pm

    So if you managed to make it to 16 years you were “middle aged”.

    Not at all. The average was 25, but many people lived past 50.

  4. Steve Skubinna says . . . | November 9, 2012 / 4:23 pm

    So if you managed to make it to 16 years you were “middle aged”.

    No, a big reason “average” life spans were so short is infant mortality (which included exposing undesirable children). Once you got past your first birthday you could expect to make it through your fifties, maybe past your sixties. Then there wer eht erigors of military service, which every free born property holding Roman male was expected to perform. Bear in mind that one had to be at least 30 to stand for election as a Quaestor, the bottom rung of the cursus honorum. To stand for election as Aedile (not a mandatory office) one had to be 36. For Praetor, 39. Finally, at 42 one could stand for Consul, the highest regular magistracy. Further, one had to work in ten years of military service as well. Granted, exceptions were made in exceptional circumstances, i.e. Marius and Pompey.

    But if you want to argue that Rome was ruled by teens, then you’d best spend your time watching Logan’s Run. Leave history to the adults.

    On the other hand, if what you know of late Roman Republican life is from watching the miniseries Rome (actually, not a bad source for details on daily life at the time), you might be surprised to know that the stiff necked Cato the Younger, who did more than anyone to drive Gaius Julius Caesar to make war against the Senate, was only 49 when he died, and the highest magisterial rank he achieved was Quaestor. He also held the position of Tribune of the Plebs, a magistracy not part of the mandatory sequence since it was restricted to members of the plebian class. And of course he did not die of natural causes, unless you agree that dying after slicing open your abdomen is natural.

    For that matter, Cicero died at 63, naturally after being stabbed and beheaded. Caesar died at age 66. The natural cause of his death was multiple stab wounds. So give up any idea that Rome was ruled by urban hipster tweeners.

  5. PersonFromPorlock says . . . | November 9, 2012 / 5:38 pm

    Re lifespans in antiquity: Psalm 90:10, saying that we live for seventy or eighty years, is traditionally ascribed to Moses (ca. 1200BCE).

  6. Tom Leland says . . . | December 22, 2013 / 3:14 pm

    Heard it 6 times can’t figure out what’s said at 1:03

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