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School - Kingdom, Republic, Empire Illustration

In the Roman Republic
and Empire,
kids went to school

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Roman Education

In its early days, when Rome was a kingdom, kids did not go to school.  Education took place in the home and was done by the family.  If a family had someone who knew how to read and write, the boys were taught how.  They were also taught how to be warriors.  Finally, they were taught how to manage the farm or business and how to behave in society.  All this teaching was done by other males in the household.

Girls were taught by the females in the household.  They were taught how to run a household and how to be a good wife.

If they could afford it the family might hire a tutor to teach math and oration, but mostly the teaching was by the family.

This changed during the republic.  The Romans saw how the Greeks taught their children using paid teachers to educate groups of students.  The Romans figured that this was a pretty good system so they adopted it.  However, school was not free.  You had to pay the teacher, so poor children still did not go to school.

Teachers taught more than just reading and writing.  They also taught math and Greek literature.  But the main subject was Oration or public speaking.

School started before sunrise with students working using candles or oil lamps.  They took a break for lunch and siesta, then worked again until late afternoon.  

The goal of education in ancient Rome was to be an effective speaker.

At age 12 or 13, the boys of the upper classes attended "grammar" school, where they studied Latin, Greek, grammar, and literature. At age 16, some boys went on to study public speaking at the rhetoric school, to prepare for a life as an orator.

Hereís how it worked:

  • School: Children, educated outside of the home, were sent to the house of a tutor, who would group-tutor.
  • Tutors: Wealthy parents might hire a private tutor. Intelligent and gifted slaves also taught children, educated in the home.
  • Parents: Children, in poorer homes, did not have slaves to teach them; their parents taught them, as they did in early Roman days. 

You may have heard that the ancient Romans could not read or write. Actually, the ancient Romans wrote quite a bit. Much of their pottery was signed. Very often, the bricks used to make buildings were stamped with their makerís name. Lead pipes leading to these buildings, by law, were stamped. Scholars have found 200,000 Latin inscriptions and, incredibly, several thousands are still being found every year! From a stash of letters preserved by being waterlogged from being dumped in a well in Scotland, it would appear that some men in the regular Roman army could read and write. Scholarly estimates are at around 30% of all adult men in ancient Rome had the ability to read and write. Thatís a lot, considering school was not free.

Reading, writing and arithmetic were important, but they were not as important as learning to become an effective speaker. The main goal of education was the same for everyone. The goal of education in ancient Rome was to become an effective speaker.

Roman Education for Kids (BBC)

Roman Numerals


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