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Ancient Roman Education

Maya Pillai Mar 11, 2020
The Roman Empire was one of the greatest empires forged by man. In times dominated by swords and arrows, how did the basic civil service of education function in ancient Rome? Let's take a look.
Ancient Roman civilization was founded on the western coast of the Italian peninsula in the 8th century BC. Initially, Roman civilization was a small agricultural community on the banks of river Tiber. Over time, it grew into one of the most powerful empires in the world.
Although concentrated in Euro-African regions around the Mediterranean Sea, the empire extended to modern-day Iran in the east (where it was blocked by the Parthian empire), and Britain in the north.
Over time, the Roman civilization transformed itself from a monarchy to a Roman republic, and later, to an autocratic Roman empire. Here's a look at the education system put in place by the Romans.

Education in Ancient Rome

Rome (Roman Empire) never had any law requiring its citizens to obtain any minimum level of education. Majority of the education of young pupils was done either at home by their own parents, or, in the case of rich nobles, privately hired tutors. Ancient Roman nobles had great faith in education, and hired educated Greek slaves and preachers to teach their children.
  • Ancient Roman education was largely influenced by older Greek educational practices. Education in the early stages of the Roman empire was limited to parents imparting the social knowledge required for their children to become model citizens. 
The formation of the Roman Republic in the 4th century BC saw the emergence of ludi, the ancient equivalents of modern-day play schools. Education only gained importance during the late Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. Formal schools were first established in the Roman empire.
  • In to the prevalent Roman culture, a child's education -- physical and moral -- began at home under the strict supervision of his or her parents. This preliminary education consisted of Roman law, history, social customs and was aimed at developing a child into a healthy, responsible and law-abiding citizen.
  • As part of education in ancient Roman culture, the girls were trained by their mothers to cook and weave. Boys were taught the various techniques of farming, physical exercise and combat by their fathers. As he grew up, he was taught the knowledge necessary for running a household.
Basic knowledge of what constitutes 'literacy' in most modern administrations -- reading and writing -- was taught to both genders by the pater familias, the male head of the family.

Schools of Ancient Rome

  • Spurius Carvilius, an ex-slave, is credited with opening the first paid ludi in Rome. Although the profession of teaching had been thus established, few took up the vocation. Paid schools did not became the norm until the emergence of the Roman Empire. Many of the first teachers in Rome were Greek slaves, which could have precipitated the introduction of the Greek customs of education into the Roman system.
  • Roman schools were simply an extension of a single room divided by a curtain. The schools started at dawn and carried on till dusk, with a short interval in between for lunch. The young children were not given books, since the Egyptian technology of making paper out of papyrus was extremely expensive; the lessons were learned by heart. 
Basic mathematics was taught using the abacus. The children used wax tablets and stylus for writing. When the student became proficient in the art of writing, he was provided with papers. A quill was used as a pen and ink was made from a mixture of gum, soot and ink of an octopus.
  • Ludi did not deal with many subjects. The primary objective of Roman schools was to inculcate a moral code in their students, since no minimum level of education was needed to secure jobs. The class-based society in ancient Rome meant that only the elite could afford higher education. Thus, education attained by an individual was more of a status symbol than a social necessity.
  • After completing the primary education, girls were not provided with advanced education, since they could get (and generally were) married at the age of twelve, while boys were allowed to marry only at the age of fourteen. The boys did specific studies on topics like medicine, public speaking and also read the literary works of earlier scholars like Cicero. 
The ancient Romans also imparted the art of public speaking and persuasion to the adolescent students. This art was known as rhetoric. This education improved their oratory skills, helping them become better politicians or lawyers -- the premium jobs in ancient Rome. They also learned Greek grammar and literature along with music and astronomy.
An empire can only be sustained for centuries by putting an excellent civic system in place, and not by winning wars alone. The Romans were successful in establishing excellent infrastructural facilities and a structured social order, aiding their march to power.