This articulated bone doll must be considered one of the most beautiful examples of this type conserved from the Roman epoch. Anthropomorphic and zoomorphic toys had great importance in the education of children in the Greco-Roman world. The earliest dolls still in existence are of terracotta and come from Corinth, dating from the 5th century BC. The production of the Roman pupae in bone continued until the 6th to the 7th century AD.

The doll’s body and head is of one piece while the bent arms have been produced separately and are connected to the body using a mortise and tenon joint. Details of the clothing and facial features have been incised. The eyes would have been painted with dark pigment, now missing. However, the delicate shaping of the minute nose and the lips demonstrates the skill and talent of the artist. The styling of the hair, with a central part and wavy locks on each side then gathered at the back of the head, brings to mind the hairstyle imposed by Julia Domna, wife of the emperor Septimius Severus. We may, therefore, consider the piece to date from the end of the 2nd century to the beginning of the 3rd century AD. It is of interest to note that the ears are pierced, which might indicate that the doll was decorated with jewellery or pasta vitrea. The robe incised on the doll is a chiton with a ribbon below the breast. This has been worked both on the front and the back of the doll, another detail contributing to the quality of the piece.

Roman pupae were made of diverse materials: clay, wood, ivory, amber and bone. The state of preservation of this piece in question is of note, especially considering that the material is of organic origin. Dolls were common objects in the daily life of girls and were included in their funerary goods, both in the tombs of the extremely rich and those of more modest means. In contrast with most of the pupae which have been found, this one does not have articulated legs, and neither can it be dressed with different materials or garments as the chiton is carved onto the body itself. These characteristics would have limited the manner in which the doll could be played with. This, along with the fact that the doll resembles a statuette, could indicate that it possibly had a ritual function.

In antiquity much importance was given to play and leisure time during infancy, both for its educational and religious function. The presence of dolls in funerary contexts has been explained by their symbolic and affective relationship with the deceased. The custom of dedicating these dolls to Venus has also been documented, especially in rites of passage when a girl came of age, or after the birth of a child, when a mother would beg Diana to protect the newborn child, represented by small figurines.


- BALIL, A. Muñecas antiguas en España. Archivo Español de Arqueología, 35. 1962. p. 70-85.
- COLETTI STRANGI, A. Sulle pupae nel mondo Romano e sulle muñecas di Ontur. Scholia. Rome. 2012. p. 7-33.
- MORAW, S. and KIEBURG, A. Mädchen im Altertum /Girls in Antiquity. Frauen, vol. 11 2014. p. 315-318.
- PIZZAMIGLIO, P. Bambole articolate di èta romana: proposta diclassificazione. Rassegna di studi del cívico museo archeoligoco e del cívico ganinetto numimatico di Milano, 71-72. 2003. p. 83-103.

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