Seven ancient toys that still exist today

Merry Christmas

They were the most popular toys in ancient Greece, in Rome and Egypt. And surely you used to play with quite a few of them too. Do you remember which was your favourite? As time went by, these toys changed in name, shape and material, but their essence remained the same. In this article, Greektoys Children’s Revolution® presents a list of the seven most significant toys that have survived throughout history.

1. Toys on wheels

Toy animals on wheels were highly sought after among young boys in ancient Greece. This terracotta toy horse is 3000 years old and still enchants visitors at the Keramikos museum in Athens. Next, a contemporary wooden duck with the same purpose.

2. Knuckle-bones

Knuckle-bones (astragalus) were usually made of bone, particularly lamb’s feet (talus), however they were also made of bronze and other materials. Played by women and children (principally as a skill toy used for dexterity play), the most typical way to play knuckle-bones was with five bones at a time. The player was supposed to throw one of the bones and try to pick up another from the ground with the same hand before catching the first one again. When the rest of the bones were gathered, the player would have a go at picking up two bones, then three and so on. This game bears many similarities to modern jacks, where one of the “bones” has been replaced with a rubber ball.

Sometimes knuckle-bones were used like dice as well.

3. Dolls

Plagons were ones of the most popular girls’ toys in ancient Greece. It was a female figure doll usually made of clay and with complicated hairstyles. In some cases the clothing of the doll was painted on, while in other cases, girls sewed clothes for their dolls out of rags. Plagons had an educational character too, by introducing girls to the role and obligations of a woman in society at that time. On the eve of every girl’s wedding day, plagons were dedicated to the goddess Artemis.

4. Yo-yo

Despite being one of the most popular toys among children in classical antiquity, the yo-yo has not changed much since then. It was basically a round shape made of wood or terracotta, in which a string was tied and wound. Players then had to made the yo-yo go up and down by winding and unwinding the string.

Yo-yo is a modern term, the ancient name of the toy is unknown.

5. Spinning tops

Another skill toy was the “strombos”, that is, our modern tops. There were many variations of spinning tops, with lots of different shapes and colours. The easiest way to play was to try turning the top with your hand. In another variation, the player used to spin it with the help of a small whip, as we can see in this Greek vase from the 5th century BCE.

A simple acorn was possibly the predecessor of the spinning top.

6. Hoop rolling

It was a popular form of recreation for young and old. Besides children’s game, hoop rolling (trochus) was practiced by men in palaestra as a training exercise. Hoops were made of metals, like bronze, iron or copper. Greek pottery representations usually show boys rolling a hoop with a stick. See the image below.

7. Dice

The Greek referred to the dice as the “pessoi”, and as today’s dice, they were cubes with marked sides, numbered from 1 to six. Dice, along with knuckle-bones, were used as part of board games and games of chance. As games of chance they were played especially by men.

These are the toys and games that we found the most interesting. Naturally there are others, no less fascinating, that resist time and technological advances and continue to fill children with joy thousands of years later.

Ancient Dice and yo-yo Museum Teatro alla Scala
Αρχαία ζάρια και γιο-γιο Συλλογή του Μουσείο Alla Scala

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