In a Bolchazy-Carducci presentation for middle and high school-aged students, To Be a Roman, authors Margaret A. Brucia and Gregory N. Daugherty provide a chapter on Roman education. In this article, I summarize Brucia and Daugherty's information on ancient Roman education, supplementing it with details from the Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World and other sources listed below. You may also want to read Sources on Ancient Roman Education.
Roman Elementary Education
The family was responsible for the education of its children, which formally began at about age 7. (Before age 7, women of the household molded the speech of the children and their mores, according to Caro Lynn.) There were various people who might educate the children:
- If the family could afford it, they would acquire a tutor. This might be done by buying a Greek slave who would teach the boys and sometimes the girls, as well.
- If the family couldn't afford a slave, it might hire a professional instructor.
- If the option of a professional instructor was beyond the family's means, it might send the children to a school, where the teacher would be the magister ludi. The school or ludus -- the same word you find in gladiatorial training schools and Roman games -- would generally be outdoors or it might be in the teacher's private room. According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World, the person responsible for the first fee-based elementary school was Spurius Carvilius Ruga, a freedman of the second half of the 3rd century B.C. At this time, the Romans adopted the Greek custom of employing a chaperone known as a paedogogus to take the children to school.
- The father might also do the teaching.
Ancient Roman elementary education consisted of reading, writing, and basic arithmetic, practiced on re-usable wax tablets using a stylus. Occasionally, papyrus might be used, if it could be afforded. Corporal punishment was part of the education.
Roman Secondary Education
Beyond the basic education needed to be a good citizen, were the stages of education devoted to grammar (including poetry and language), taught by a tutor or at a school, and rhetoric (Greek materials until the start of the 1st century B.C.) -- both stages requiring competency in Latin and Greek. The Latin playwright Plautus wrote puns in his comedies that presupposed audience knowledge of Greek, according to Roman Education, by Augustus Samuel Wilkins (1905). Children would go from elementary education to the grammaticus by about the age of 12 and would progress to the rhetor by about age 15. After these was the possibility of study abroad at the centers of Greek learning.References:
- "education, Roman" Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World. Ed. John Roberts. Oxford University Press, 2007.
- Roman Education, by Augustus Samuel Wilkins (1905)
- "The Descent of Grammar," by Caro Lynn; The Classical Journal, (Nov., 1933), pp. 104-116.
- To Be a Roman, by Margaret A. Brucia and Gregory N. Daugherty.
See N.S. Gill's review of To Be a Roman.