Fascinating Coming-of-Age Rituals from the Ancient World

Coming-of-age is defined as the process of a person becoming an adult. Many parts of the world have different coming-of-age rituals and while some of them have us scratching our heads, none are more fascinating or confusing as those from the ancient world. From rituals that last for years, to ceremonies attended by the entire family, there was no end to the tasks associated with transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Let’s take a look at the bat mitzvahs and quinceañeras of the old world. 

1. Spartan Training

Before the film 300, many people did not know much about the Spartans and although we have the movie to thank for enlightening the masses, there are still a few details that were missed.  When a Spartan boy turns seven, they are taken from their family to go to the agoge – a boarding school of sorts where they undergo extreme military training in order to become fierce warriors. This went on for 13 years until they took tests to determine their strength and self-reliance. Their last test, the krypteia, consisted of spending one year in the wilderness on their own. If they passed, they would become soldiers. If they failed, they not only brought shame to their families, but they were then made servants. 

2. Yucatec Clothing

In Mesoamerican societies, the appearance of a child, specifically what they wore, would indicate their stage of life. Firstly, children would not wear clothing until the age of five.  Then the boys would wear loincloths with white beads tied in their hair while the girls wore skirts similar to their mothers with red shells around their waist. These were worn until puberty where they would then go through a ceremonial ritual if their parents decided they were ready for marriage. 

3. Mexican Appearance

While the Yucatec signified age by clothing, the Aztecs had a more permanent solution to signify age. While Mexican girls would receive one scar to their hip and chest when they started school, the boys would get a lip plug during a special ceremony. They were then taught manners, behavior and what to expect from the next stage of life… adulthood. Boys would have their heads shaved until 10 when they were allowed to grow buns. When they caught their first enemy, they would cut it leaving it long only over the right ear. It was only after catching their second enemy that they would be able to marry. 

4. Chinese Capping or Hairpin Ceremony

A Chinese tradition that started during the Zhou dynasty signified a child’s age by using caps and hairpins. In the February following a young man’s 20th birthday, a special guest, selected by him, would roll his hair into a bun before placing a cap on the man’s head. The boy and his guest (the head wrapper) would listen to a speech before he received his new name, given to him by his mother and guest. A female’s ceremony would occur between her engagement and her wedding, and her hair would be fastened with pins. 

5. Viking Men

Viking societies had many different coming-of-age-rituals throughout the different regions. In many places, boys were considered men at the age of 12, but in many other places, boys weren’t considered men until they’d experienced 15 winters. In Iceland, boys had to show that they could ride horses and handle their liquor. In some places, children had to help out on farms and were not considered men until they showed that they could run a farm and show their self-reliance. Girls did not have such a process.


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