Toilet Training

Tired of changing dirty diapers?

The ancient Greeks had the answer: This late-fifth-century B.C. wine jug, found in Athens and now in the British Museum, shows a baby on a potty. The toilet training device is a deep bowl in which the child sits with legs dangling out of two holes. The baby waves a rattle, perhaps to signal that he (or she) has finished and is ready to get down and play with the push toy propped against the wall to the right. A sixth-century B.C. bowl of this same type was found in the Athenian Agora (marketplace) during excavations conducted by the American School of Classical Studies in the 1950s.

Miniature wine jugs, known as choes, were often painted with scenes of significant milestones in a child's life, such as learning to walk or toilet training. The jugs were then given to children to mark their passage out of infancy. These charming scenes, however, mask the sometimes harsh attitudes ancient Greeks took toward their children. The Spartans were known to inspect their babies at birth for mental or physical defects. If weaknesses were found, the baby was hurled over a cliff or left in a remote spot to die of exposure. Unwanted infants were also left in public places, so that they might be found and reared as slaves.


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