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

By Mary Harlow; Ray Laurence | Go to book overview

5

TRANSITION TO ADULTHOOD 2

Male

The question at what point a boy becomes a man is an area of debate not just within our own modern societies, but one that preoccupied others in the past, including those within the Roman empire. Aligned to this question was another: how did a child become a man? Distinctions of gender are important here; for females the transition from childhood to adulthood was via marriage (a topic we covered in Chapter 4). For men, the transition was not made quickly but was a drawn out process from the age of fifteen or sixteen until their marriage at the age of about twenty-five. In a society that could believe that the survival of the state depended on the morality and sexual restraint of its citizens (Val.Max.4.3), this period of male transition, often known simply as inventas or adulescentia (youth) could be seen as a time in which these forms of morality and restraint were formed, but at the same time were totally beyond the control of the individual. The terms iuventu and adulescent define the young adults as not yet fully grown and equally as no longer children. In fact, this group are defined as in a state of transition or liminality that is regarded by adult writers as fundamentally dangerous not only to the individual, but also to the state itself. It demonstrates that within Roman thinking a male child could not suddenly have been turned into a responsible adult citizen via a ritual that celebrated that change, unlike his sister who simply entered the adult world upon marriage (see Chapter 4). The mind and character of a youth was in need of nurture by an older man (e.g. Cic.Att.14.13a, 14.13b in the case of a son of Clodius). However, a youth was still capable of being inactive, slighting a bride to be and living with a prostitute (Val.Max.3.5: again the case is Clodius’ son) with the result that his life could degenerate into gluttony and ultimately death from over-eating. Hence, care was needed during this period of transition to nurture a morally upright citizen. However, at the same time, youth was seen as a phase in which the male was an adult citizen, but subject to impulses that were not those of an adult and were instead exclusively associated with the liminal phase known simply as youth. In a way, youth was perceived as an illness that lasted until a man’s twenties, when he recovered and married, could take up public office and was trusted by his fellow citizens and the state. Given this view of youth

-65-

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Illustrations vi
  • Preface vii
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - The Location of the Life Course 20
  • 3 - The Beginning of Life 34
  • 4 - Transition to Adulthood 1 54
  • 5 - Transition to Adulthood 2 65
  • 6 - The Place of Marriage in the Life Course 79
  • 7 - Kinship Extension and Age Mixing Through Marriage 92
  • 8 - Age and Politics 104
  • 9 - Getting Old 117
  • 10 - Death and Memory 132
  • 11 - Age and Ageing in the Roman Empire and Beyond 144
  • Appendix 151
  • Bibliography 165
  • Index 175
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