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Friday, October 7, 2011

Ancient Roman Dolls and Toys

In Rome, as in Greece, dolls were made of clay, cloth, bone, ivory, and precious idols of gold, silver, jewels, and other metals. There are many figural objects of bronze, now a deep aqua with patina, that have come to us from the glory days of rome. Little girls in Rome also dedicated their dolls, hoops, and balls to the goddesses, including Diana, the virgin huntress, who was the Roman version of Artemis.

Beautiful, detailed jointed dolls of ivory, now turned dark as mahogany with age, exist from the first century A.D. There is a 2000+ year old Roman rag doll from The British museum, found in a child's grave in Egypt of Roman origin. The doll was buried with other toys, littl sandals, game pieces, and other small objects of clay and other materials that would attract a child's intreset even today. My friend, the late Mary Hillier, wrote about this doll in her excellent book, Dolls and Dollmakers. She challenges the reader to imagine the doll in the hands of the child who must have loved it so long ago, and Mary speculates that the dry sands of Coptic Egypt helped to preserve the doll.

One tiny Roman doll is seated, her legs extended before her in a fixed position. Her hair is styled in the elaborate curls of a Roman matron, perhaps like Portia, or Aggripina. Her arms are missing, but were probably jointed with wires.

The realistic ivory dolls, that are often mistaken for wood, are found in the sarcophagi of young girls.

These dolls were probably painted once to look life-like. They would have had real, colorful clothes, and their relatives were the fantastic statues, ornaments, and effigies that were used as art and as sacrifices to the gods of Rome.

Ancient Rome was a harsh place for everyone; even children were not spared
when someone's household was scourged, and they would be murdered or executed with their parents. Many were enslaved, and poorer children, as always, were abandoned. This history makes it even more touching to think of children's toys existing then and surviving now.

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