The Will of a Byzantine Child: Children’s Agency and Child Labor in Byzantium, lecture by Youval Rotman (Tel Aviv University), American School of Classical Studies at Athens and Zoom, February 21, 2023, 7:00 pm EET / 12:00 PM EST
Childhood is no longer believed to be a modern conceptual construction. This is also the case of concepts such as children’s will, work and agency. This paper will reveal the dynamics between the three concepts by focusing on the way in which it was used to restructure the byzantine family. In defining the borderline between the private and the public in reference to children, Byzantine law and Byzantine literature established the ways in which Byzantine children acted, and caused children to be perceived as social entities. In this they also changed the relation between the child and the family. The paper will examine how the concept of “a child’s will” was developed in Late Antiquity in order to advance a religious agenda that encouraged the child to run away from its family in favour of a new life in a monastery. Thus children could have a will of their own and act upon it before they reached the age of puberty. This perspective took the children of the private sphere by attributing agency to them. Yet, this new perspective was motivated by an economic agenda in which the need to profit from child labour played an important role.
Youval Rotman is a social historian of the Byzantine Mediterranean world, and teaches history in the department of Jewish history at Tel Aviv University.