Old age in ancient Rome

Berelson, Louis Julius, University of Virginia
Webb, Robert H., Department of Classics, University of Virginia
Fraser, A. D., University of Virginia

When does mankind, as a biological genus, begin to grow old? To attempt to answer the question in definite terms of years is impossible. For it is a truism that some age quickly, others slowly; that years do not tell a man's age; that a man is as young as he feels. Yet, for purposes of convenience and clarity, some definition is necessary. Modern insurance statisticians generally set the beginning of the period of senescence at the age of 65 years. Among the Romans, there are direct statements, and indirect implications, that the state of senectus is reached at the age of 60.

The attitude of the Romans toward old age and the aged can be seen in the epithets and descriptive phrases used in their writings. This attitude is not a unified one, of course; it is varied: it presents to view now one facet, now another. Yet a general picture and impression is gained. This picture is, on the whole, unfavorable. The burdens of age are more prominent than the blessings; rare is the author who finds senectus a happy state.

Horace gives four divisions: boyhood, youth, the flower of manhood, and old age. This is substantially that of Ambrosias. Isidorus prefers six divisions: infantis, pueritis, adolescentia, iuventus, gravitas, atque senectus, Gravitas runs from 50 years to 70; all of life over 70 la senectus.

The Etruscans, we are told, divided the span of life into twelve units of seven years each. According to them, the natural limit of human life is seventy years; for after that year one ought not to demand, and one could not gain, any prolongation of life from the gods.

To conclude: if a beginning must be set for old age, the sixtieth year is the one having the greatest authority. Senectus, then, is that period of life which commences at 60 years and ends with death.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Old age

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-17 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:36:12.

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