Hands-on-workshop for children: Ancient Greek Toys

Ways of making: explaining ancient object production to primary school children (outreach)

Two groups of clay objects connected with childhood are often found in ancient Greek sanctuaries or graves. These are:- 1. dolls with movable joints and 2. animals or chariots with two or more wheels.

Both groups of objects were made using a combination of mould-made parts and individual hand-formed parts. The latter was essential in order to generate the movement, which surely was one of the reasons these items were so popular.

In the case of the dolls, the body and head were often mould-made, arm and legs attached by using strings made of plant or metal. This way the figure could not only sit down, but sometimes even be guided to a dancing movement.


Animals or chariots on wheels consisted of an axis from wood or metal and sometimes a hole through the mouth of the animal or otherwise on the items indicates that it could be pulled using by means of a string – very much like modern toys.



Some scholars have argued that these sort of objects found in Greek sanctuaries (i.e. temples and its surroundings) were deposited there by young adults to mark the end of their childhood by dedicating their favourite toys to the gods. When similar objects are found in grave contexts (whether simple burials or cremations), scholars often assume that parents or other close relatives of the deceased child decided to bury their favourite toy(s) with them, accompanying them into the other word. In either case, both types of contexts appear to give us a glimpse of what children in the past loved to play with.

For examples of ancient clay dolls on display in the British Museum London see here: Object 425348 and here: Object 400059