The Greek philosopher Aristotle once wrote that “play is a relaxation of the soul and serves as recreation because of its pleasantness.” For the ancient Greeks, games were both a source of entertainment and a learning tool.
Take it a quiet rattle for example, a toy deployed to engage children from the youngest even today. It had its applications in the time of Aristotle: “…one should think that the rattle of Architus is a good invention that people give to children, so that while they are busy with it they may not break the furniture, because young things cannot stand still,” the philosopher wroteexpressing sentiments that many parents in the 21st century would echo.
Of course, the ancient Greeks weren’t the only civilization that valued toys and games for children. Throughout history, the pursuit of pleasure and entertainment has been a recurring theme, and many of those designed for children have changed little over the years.
Just consider the following ancient toys and games that we still use today.
1. Dolls with movable limbs
Today’s dolls come in all shapes and sizes. It was the same in the Greek world.
Artisans dedicated their craft to fashioning dolls from terracotta, bone, wood and other precious materials such as ivory and ebony. These toy makers were known as coroplatoi and coroplast and made dolls with movable arms and legs which can be manipulated by string.
These objects were a source of play for the young girls, but they were also shrouded in religious tradition. Their first use dates back to the 7th century BC
In Athens and other parts of the Greek world, young girls would dedicate their dolls to goddesses such as Demeter and Artemison protector of youthbefore they come of age and marry.
2. Spinning tops
Beyond the rattle we know of examples of ball games, whistles and yo-yos existing in ancient Greece. But one toy, the spinning top, is particularly notable for its appearance in many civilizations.
Today, these items are made in a dazzling array of styles and colors, following a tradition dating back thousands of years. Their appeal seems to have been universal and has persisted through the ages.
Early versions of the toy were made of wood, terracotta, clay or other materials such as bamboo. The toy existed in ancient Mesopotamia as early as 3500 BC.while in China peaks date back more than 4000 years. The Egyptians started using them as early as 2000 BC
3. Flying kites
Kites and the tradition of flying kites are believed to have originated in ancient China. But initially their use was associated with the military.
The first written description of flying kites came from China in 200 BC, although they may have been used as early as 1000 BC. Over time, kites spread to Asia, carried by merchants and traders, and moved westward to Europe. Along the way, new traditions were formed, such as kite fighting, which remains popular throughout Asia, but is believed to have originated in India.
Although kites have been flown for centuries, it is not clear how widely they were used for children’s entertainment. In Europe this use probably doesn’t start until 1600 but it may have begun much earlier elsewhere.
4. Ball game
The marble game is another pastime steeped in history.
Such finds have been found in the graves of Egyptian children and are believed to have been used to play an ancient game known as “mehen (ancestor or varieties of snakes and ladders). in ancient Rome and Greece, a game called “nux” or “nuts” was played in a manner similar to the way we play marbles today. The Roman emperor Augustus was also a fan of the game, according to Suetonius.
5. Ancient toy animals
For many children today, learning about animals in toy form is an integral part of growing up.
In ancient times, this was also the case, as evidenced by archaeological finds. Miniature examples of domestic animals such as cows and pigs are common and according to some accounts, more “exotic” animals, such as lions and dolphins, are discovered.
Although it is not clear to what extent these carved objects were used specifically for play, numerous finds, such as wooden roller horses that could be pulled by a rope, point to a recreational use.
One example was found in a child’s grave in Athensdating from 900 BC. Another pull toy depicting a lion was found in Persia from 1100 BC. Some archaeologists doubt whether these objects were created purely for pleasure or perhaps used in ancient rituals or intended as gifts to the gods.
Either way, the figures were likely educational in some form for children—offering an opportunity to learn about the world around them, much like the animal toys that serve children today.