Toys for Roman Children
“The next time your parents slaughter a sheep, have them give you the knucklebones,” was an instruction for Roman children for getting the most popular gaming piece of antiquity.
Bone games were loved by children and adults alike: Each side of the bones looked different and had a different value. Four knuckle bones were thrown and each of the 35 possible combinations had its own name. The “Venus Throw,” for example, showed different sides on each knucklebone.
Roman children also liked dice or board games.
Many games of skill in Greco-Roman times could be played with astragals, small rocks, or nuts. It is worth remarking that children in ancient times re-purposed everyday items into toys. Nuts were easy to obtain and cheap toys, as they were primarily food.
Morris games are known even today, but the Romans invented them!
In addition, children in antiquity loved ball games. Blown-up pig or cow bladders, leather, or cloth balls served as toys. As today, for each game there was a different ball. For juggling even glass balls were used – but this required a great degree of skill. The ball games were as varied as today.
Ephedrismos is the name for what we call piggy-back. There are a variety of terracotta statues which show young girls riding piggy-back. You can even see children playing this game on Roman sarcophagi. It can be played for fun on its own or as part of another game – for example the loser of a throwing game has to carry the winner on his back for a certain distance. In some cases, the carrier’s eyes were held closed. Piggy-back is also known to have been combined with a ball game where those being carried threw the ball to each other.
In Greek antiquity, dolls were called kore or nymphe. They were made from wood, clay, plaster, ivory, marble, alabaster, leather, or cloth. That all depended on how much money daddy had. In the classical period, there were dolls with moving limbs, sitting dolls with or without a throne and dolls who only had rudimentary limbs. Small girls might have enjoyed using them as dress-up dolls.