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Childhood is a far from fixed category, although it was probably the wide circulation of the Christian gospels after the fifth century CE or so which first gave the concept moral and religious force. Nonetheless, as Philippe Ariès, historian of childhood, points out, in almost all paintings up to the middle of the eighteenth century children appear as miniature adults, wearing cut-down versions of their parents’ clothes, mostly playing (as in Brueghel's famous painting Children's Games) with their parents' utensils or with a tiny number of ritual toys (tops and whips, rag dolls, skipping ropes).

Certainly until the mid-nineteenth century, children were pressed into work, especially in poor families, by the time they were five or six, and were until some years older regarded as ...

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