University of Oslo study reveals details of childhood in Roman Egypt
Mummy case of a youth from Roman-era Egypt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York - courtesy of Mary Harrsch via flickr

CAIRO: A recent study on papyri scrolls dating back to Egypt’s Roman Period (30 B.C.-380) has revealed that teenagers in ancient Egypt were enrolled in social organizations where they were taught lessons of good citizenship, according to the website of the University of Oslo.

“Only boys of free-born citizens (Egyptians, Greeks and Romans) were entitled to be members of the town’s youth organization, which was called a ‘gymnasium.’ Their families would necessarily have been quite prosperous,” said the university’s social historian Ville Vuolanto.

The study, part of Oslo University’s project titled “Tiny Voices from the Past: New Perspectives on Childhood in Early Europe,” was conducted by Vuolanto and Dr. April Pudsey of the University of Newcastle, who together have examined over 7,500 ancient Egyptian papyri scrolls.

The documents, originally from Egypt’s ancient town of El-Bahnasa, 160 kilometers south of Cairo, comprised personal letters, administrative documents and training contracts for children, along with images, carved pottery fragments and toys, according to the website.

The researchers also found several weaver training contracts of two- to four-year terms. The finds emphasize the historical fact that El-Bahnasa, also known as Oxyrhynchus, was a weaving industry center during Egypt’s Roman period.

“We have found only one contract where the trainee was a girl, but her situation was a little unusual—she was not only an orphan but also had her deceased father’s debts to pay,” according to Vuolanto.

According to the study, most females remained and worked at home. They generally married in their late teens, a little earlier than males.

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