Roman education

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1. Early Italy and the Republic

In the early period education was centred on the family and was probably based upon apprenticeship supervised by the father—in poorer homes an apprenticeship to agriculture or trade, in more aristocratic circles to military service and public life. The authority of the father, legalized as patria potestas, was absolute. The Roman mother had a more restricted, domestic role, but she was expected to set a strong moral example (see motherhood, Roman). Institutions like the religious calendars, the census, and the codification of the Twelve Tables suggest that by the 5th cent. bc literacy was becoming part of many men's everyday life, and by the end of the 4th cent. it would certainly have been hard for a Roman senator to do without reading and writing. It is not known how such elementary instruction was given, though it was often reckoned to be a parental responsibility.

2. The Later Republic and the Empire

As Rome's contacts with the Greek‐speaking world grew in the 3rd and 2nd cents., a pattern of education evolved which owed much to Greece (see education, greek), but which omitted both palaestra and gymnasium and also the kitharistēs and his lyre school. Aristocratic Roman families often employed Greek‐speaking tutors for their children (Livius Andronicus and Ennius were early examples) and these tutors—often slaves or freedmen—commonly taught both Greek and Latin; competence in both languages remained a feature of an upper‐class education until the western and eastern empires parted company. This tradition of tutors in rich families continued alongside the growth of schools. A freedman, Spurius Carvilius, is credited with opening the first fee‐paying school for elementary reading and writing in the second half of the 3rd cent., and thereafter the elementary teacher (lūdī magister) running a small school became a lowly, noisy, and familiar part of Roman life. The Greek custom of a family paedagōgus who took children to and from school and supervised their life and habits was also adopted; the custom burgeoned esp. after the Third Macedonian War when cheap, well‐qualified Greek slaves became easily available. The second stage of education was in the hands of the grammaticus, who taught language and poetry and who might be either a family's private tutor or a teacher with his own school. He could be a person of some learning and consequence. Teachers of rhetoric (rhetors), the third stage of Greek and Roman education, first appear in the 2nd cent. at Rome, and, in the absence of Latin instructional material, taught Greek theory and practice. Latin materials corresponding to the Greek rhetorical manuals appeared in the 1st cent. and Plotius Gallus is said to have opened the first school for teaching rhetoric in Latin c.94 bc. Cicero's works on oratory were a major contribution to such teaching, and Quintilian's, ‘Education of the Orator’ published c.ad 95 includes a picture of Roman rhetorical training at its best. From the middle of the 2nd cent. bc, when three visiting Greek philosophers made a deep impression with their lectures in Rome, philosophy could play a significant part in the education of some rich young Romans. Teachers were soon available in Italy, though the young were glad to travel and attend one of the four famous schools in Athens or other centres where philosophers taught. From the 1st cent. ad there were law schools in Rome which founded an important tradition of legal education culminating in the great law school at Berytus in the eastern empire. Augustus attempted with some success to use Roman and Italian traditions to create a Roman counterpart to the Greek ephēbeia (see epheboi); in this there was more than a hint of political education. Later emperors, local communities, and benefactors like Pliny the Younger sometimes subsidized charitable and educational activity from personal interest, generosity, a sense of duty, or political expediency, but there was no national or regional provision for education.


Subjects: Classical Studies.

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