If you traverse the United States, you’ll find many forms of youth organizations that do their best to keep our children off the streets and on the path of the straight and narrow. From more commonly known organizations such as the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) to what the Inquisitr reports is President Barack Obama’s plan to develop black youth, these organizations generally do their best for kids. However, the concept of a youth organization may actually be older than two millennia!
Right now, there are archaeological articles that are reporting that youth organizations were established in Egypt when it was occupied by the Roman Empire about 2,000 years ago.
According to articles by Science Daily and Ancient Origins, they report that Ville Vuolanto of the University of Oslo stated that in Roman Egypt, 14-year-old boys were enrolled in a youth organization in order to learn to be good citizens. Along with Vuolanto, Dr. April Pudsey of the University of Newcastle studied a mass of material of around 7,500 documents written on papyrus. They comprise of literary texts, personal letters, and administrative documents. It should also be reported this is the first time that childhood during that time has been researched systematically with such material.
The documents for research originated from Oxyrhynchos, in Egypt. During its first 500 years, it was a large town of more than 25,000 inhabitants. The town had Egypt’s most important weaving industry and was also the Roman administrative center for the area. The reason why researchers have such a large amount of documentation precisely from this area is because about a century ago, archaeologists discovered thousands of papyri scrolls in what was recognized as the town’s rubbish dumps.
From the studying of papyri scrolls, both Ville Vuolanto and Dr. April Pudsey discovered many things, but certain details truly stand out.
Only boys born to free-born citizens were entitled to be members of the town’s youth organization known as “gymnasiums.” These boys were children of local Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, and their families would necessarily need to be prosperous enough to pay taxes on the “12 drachma tax class.” Vuolanto explains that about 10 to 25 percent of the population at the time would have qualified. Also, girls were not enrolled but could be mentioned as the boys’ siblings. This may be a part of the family status or tax class which includes allowances such as girls owning property as long as the principle of a male guardian is fulfilled.
Some boys were apprenticed and began working before reaching their teen years. Apprenticeships usually last about two to four years, which were found thanks to twenty apprenticeship contracts in the Oxyrhynchos papyri. Most of them related to the weaving industry. As for girls, they remained home and worked there where they learned what they needed to know there.
However, there is one anomaly that stands out of all the contracts in which Ville Vuolanto describes in detail.
“We have found only one contract where the apprentice 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.”
Slave children could have become apprentices too, with their contracts the same as boys of free-born citizens. The only difference was that slaves lived with their owners. Also, there were documents detailing that some slaves were sold away from their parents as young as two. On the subject of young age, very little is known about young children since most documents officially start recording on citizens in their early teens.
Ville Vuolanto described figuring out history of young children as putting the pieces of a puzzle together, for which he made the following statement.
“It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. By examining papyri, pottery framents with writing on [them], toys and other objects, we are trying to form a picture of how children lived in Roman Egypt.”
What do you think about the recent archaeological discoveries that Egypt had their form of youth organizations? Do you find it interesting?
[Images via Wikimedia]