Growing Up and Growing Old in Ancient Rome: A Life Course Approach

By Mary Harlow; Ray Laurence | Go to book overview

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INTRODUCTION

Ageing in antiquity

The fact of the matter is that there is a general lack of vital statistics from the ancient world

(Parkin 1992:59)


Human ageing and the life course

Our intention in writing this book is to open the subject of age and the Roman life course for discussion. What is here is not our last word on the subject, but is written with the intention of making this area of historical research accessible to students at university and to those outside the subject of Classics, as well as to informed ancient historians. From the 1980s onwards, there has been a concerted effort to search for or discover the Roman family (Bradley 1991; Dixon 1992; Rawson 1986, 1991, 1997). This work has defined the family at Rome through a careful study of the literature, epigraphy and above all law. At the same time, Richard Saller (1994) simulated the structure of the Roman system of kinship to elucidate the changing structure of the Roman family according to the age of an individual. This work has provided the basic structure for our discussion of changes in the age of individuals at Rome. Our concern, though, is not with the family itself but with the individual and the view of the individual’s actions according to their position in the life course. What we wish to identify are underlying codes of behaviour or the expectations of others when viewing the actions of a person according to their age (see Ryff 1985 on the subjective experience of the life course). We emphasise the role of the individual and individual action, because we wish to be aware of variation in the life course. There is little surviving evidence for the reconstruction of the life courses of those who were not from the elite, and it has to be recognised that the recovery of the experience of age in antiquity is limited to this influential group. However, the experience of age and ageing would vary within this group itself according to the variation of family structure that was shaped through the birth and death of its members.

The focus is on the experience of the individual acting within the expectations of his or her family and the observation of outsiders. Here, we attempt to resist the temptation of creating a standard life course from birth to death, in favour of an emphasis on different experiences in the relationship between

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