AGE (Fr. age, through late Lat. aetaticum, from aetas), a term used (1) of the divisions into which it is suggested that human history may be divided, whether regarded from the geological, cultural or moral aspects, e.g. the palaeolithic age, the bronze age, the dark ages; (2) of an historic epoch or generation; (3) of any period or stage in the physical life of a person, animal or thing; (4) of that time of life at which the law attributes full responsibility for his or her acts to the individual.
(1) From the earliest times there would appear to have been the belief that the history of the earth and of mankind falls naturally into periods or ages. Classical mythology popularized the idea. Hesiod, for example, in his poem Works and Days, describes minutely five successive ages, during each of which the earth was peopled by an entirely distinct race. The first or golden race lived in perfect happiness on the fruits of the untilled earth, suffered from no bodily infirmity, passed away in a gentle sleep, and became after death guardian daemons of this world. The second or silver race was degenerate, and refusing to worship the immortal gods, was buried by Jove in the earth. The third or brazen race, still more degraded, was warlike and cruel, and perished at last by internal violence. The fourth or heroic race was a marked advance upon the preceding, its members being the heroes or demi-gods who fought at Troy and Thebes, and who were rewarded after death by being permitted to reap thrice a year the free produce of the earth. The fifth or iron race, to which the poet supposes himself to belong, is the most degenerate of all, sunk so low in every vice that any new change must be for the better. Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, follows Hesiod exactly as to nomenclature and very closely as to substance. He makes the degeneracy continuous, however, by omitting the heroic race or age, which, as Grote points out, was probably introduced by Hesiod, not as part of his didactic plan, but from a desire to conciliate popular feeling by including in his poem the chief myths that were already current among the Greeks. Varro recognized three ages: (1) from the beginning of mankind to the Deluge, a quite indefinite period; (2) from the Deluge to the First Olympiad, called the Mythical Period; (3) from the First Olympiad to his own time, called the Historic Period. Lucretius divided man's history into three cultural periods: (1) the Age of Stone; (2) the Age of Bronze; (3) the Age of Iron. He thus anticipated the conclusions of some of the greatest of modern archaeologists.
(2) A definite period in history, distinguished by some special characteristic, such as great literary activity, is generally styled, with some appropriate epithet, an age. It is usual, for example, to speak of the Age of Pericles, the Augustan, the Elizabethan or the Victorian Ages; of the Age of the Crusades, the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, the Age of Steam. Such isolated periods, with no continuity or necessary connexion of any kind, are obviously quite distinct from the ages or organically related periods into which philosophers have divided the whole course of human history. Auguste Comte, for instance, distinguishes three ages according to the state of knowledge in each, and he supposes that we are now entering upon the third of these. In the first age of his scheme knowledge is supernatural or fictitious; in the second it is metaphysical or abstract; in the third it is positive or scientific. Schemes somewhat similar have been proposed by other philosophers, chiefly of France and Germany, and seem to be regarded by them as essential to any complete science of history.
(3) The subject of the duration of human and animal life does not fall within the scope of this article, and the reader is referred to LONGEVITY. But the word "age" has been used by physiologists to express certain natural divisions in human development and decay. These are usually regarded as numbering five, viz. infancy, lasting to the seventh year; childhood to the fourteenth; youth to the twenty-first; adult life till fifty; and old age.
(4) The division of human life into periods for legal purposes is naturally more sharp and definite than in physiology. It would be unscientific in the physiologist to name any precise year for the transition from one of his stages to another, inasmuch as that differs very considerably among different nations, and even to some extent among different individuals of the same nation. But the law must necessarily be fixed and uniform, and even where it professes to proceed according to nature, must be more precise than nature. The Roman law divided human life for its purposes into four chief periods, which had their subdivisions-(1) infantia, lasting till the close of the seventh year; (2) the period between infantia and pubertas, males becoming puberes at fourteen and females at twelve; (3) adolescentia, the period between puberty and majority; and (4) the period after the twenty-fifth year, when males became majores. The first period was one of total legal incapacity; in the second period a person could lawfully do certain specified acts, but only with the sanction of his tutor or guardian; in the third the restrictions were fewer, males being permitted to manage their own property, contract marriage and make a will; but majority was not reached until the age of twenty-five. By English law there are two great periods into which life is divided-infancy, which lasts in both sexes until the twenty-first year, and manhood or womanhood. The period of infancy, again, is divided into several stages, marked by the growing development both of rights and obligations. Thus at twelve years of age a male may take the oath of allegiance; at fourteen both sexes are held to have arrived at years of discretion, and may therefore choose guardians, give evidence and consent or disagree to a marriage. A female has the last privilege from the twelfth year, but the marriage cannot be celebrated until the majority of the parties without the consent of parents or guardians. At fourteen, too, both sexes are fully responsible to the criminal law. Between seven and fourteen there is responsibility only if the accused be proved doli capax, capable of discerning between right and wrong, the principle in that case being that malitia supplet aetatem. At twenty-one both males and females obtain their full legal rights, and become liable to all legal obligations. A seat in the British parliament may be taken at twenty-one. Certain professions, however, demand as a qualification in entrants a more advanced age than that of legal man. hood. In the Church of England a candidate for deacon's orders must be twenty-three (in the Roman Catholic Church, twenty-two) and for priest's orders twenty-four years of age; and no clergyman is eligible for a bishopric under thirty. In Scotland infancy is not a legal term. The time previous to majority, which, as in England, is reached by both sexes at twenty-one, is divided into two stages: pupilage lasts until the attainment of puberty, which the law fixes at fourteen in males and twelve in females; minority lasts from these ages respectively until twenty-one. Minority obviously corresponds in some degree to the English years of discretion, but a Scottish minor has more personal rights than an English infant in the last stage of his infancy, e.g he may dispose by will of movable property, make contracts, carry on trade, and, as a necessary consequence, is liable to be declared a bankrupt. In France the year of majority is twenty-one, and the nubile age eighteen for males and fifteen for females, with a restriction as to the consent of guardians. Age qualification for the chamber of deputies is twenty-five and for the senate forty years. In Germany, majority is reached at twenty-one, the nubile age is twenty for males and sixteen for females, subject to the consent of parents. Without the consent of parents, the age is twenty-five for males and twenty-four for females. The age qualification for the Reichstag is twenty-five. In Austria the age of majority is twenty-four, and the nubile age fourteen for either sex, subject to the consent of the parents. In Denmark, qualified majority is reached at eighteen and full majority at twenty-five. The nubile age is twenty for males and sixteen for females. In Spain, majority is reached at twenty-three; the nubile age is eighteen for males and sixteen for females. In Greece the age of majority is twenty-one, and the nubile age sixteen for males and fourteen for females. In Holland the age of majority is twenty-one, and the nubile age eighteen for males and sixteen for females. In Italy, majority is reached at twenty-one; the nubile age is eighteen for males and fifteen for females. In Switzerland the age of majority is twenty, and the nubile age is eighteen for males and sixteen for females. In the United States the age qualification for a president is thirty-five, for a senator thirty and for a representative twenty-five.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)