The Beginning of Education in Rome

A Roman School from an ancient Relief in Trier. Johnston, Harold Whetstone. The Private Life of the Romans. 1932. (accessed October 13, 2011).

In the beginning of the Roman Empire, Rome did not have any public education set up.  Most of the education at this point was done through the families.  In the family the children were taught the techniques for farming, physical skills for war, Roman traditions and legends, and the young boys were taught about public affairs. 

In the 2nd and 3rd centuries B.C. the Roman’s contact with the Greek world during the Macedonian Wars inspired new ideas about education.  Now the richest Romans wanted their children to learn about Greek studies.  Many of these children who were exposed to this education later served Rome as administrators, officials, and possibly even members of the Senate.  In this new idea of education there was the concept of “humanitas,” which was an education in the liberal arts or humanities.  They hoped that this would help students to be well-rounded and not too focused in one area.  Romans thought it essential to have a complete knowledge of Greek which led to the beginning of schools being taught by professional scholars.  At the very top is a relief with a scene of a roman school.

Think Quest. Elementary Schools in Ancient Rome. September 11, 2011. (accessed October 13, 2011).

Those who had lots of money were able to provide tutors for their children.  Those who did not have very much money went to private schools that were taught by educated Greek slaves.  At school kids would wright on wooden tablets coated with wax. A sharp stick made of iron or bronze was used to incise letters into the soft wax of a writing tablet. The stick was called a stylus. The broad flat end of the stylus was used for erasing. There is a picture of these above.  Children were taught the basics of reading, writing and arithmetics.  By the age of twelve or thirteen, those children who showed promise could attend the “Grammaticus” which was the school for grammar.  The standard curriculum in the liberal arts included literature, dialectics, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music.  The core if the curriculum was Greek literature.  The students were exposed to the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle and Zeno of Elae, along with the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides along with many others.  Most of the Romans were bilingual; they knew both Latin and Greek.  The brightest students would end their education studying Greek oratory.  Many of the best schools were located in Athens. 

Along with all of these schools were also libraries to hold books. Books were treasured possessions but were usually owned privately.  Because of this, in many wealthy Roman households, there was usually a slave called a “copyists” who copied books.  By A.D. 400, Rome had more than thirty libraries in existence; the most important one was located at Alexandria.  It was a giant storehouse of knowledge.

The Romans were extremely intellectual people and the addition of an education system into their everyday lives had an outstanding impact on their grown and prosperity.


Bonner, Stanley Frederick. Education in Ancient Rome: From the Elder Cato to the younger Pliny. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 1977.

Johnston, Harold Whetstone. The Private Life of the Romans. 1932. (accessed October 13, 2011).

Kreis, Steven. A Brief Social History of the Roman Empire. August 4, 2009. (accessed October 13, 2011).

Think Quest. Elementary Schools in Ancient Rome. September 11, 2011. (accessed October 13, 2011).


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3 responses to “The Beginning of Education in Rome

  1. You contradicted yourself in this blog stating that only the wealthiest families could afford to educate their chldren and then later on stated the different levels of education they could receive for their money. Was education only reserved for the Senatorian class, with few Equestrains affording this, or was it open to any family who could afford either a tutor or afford to send them to Athens, Greece for their eduaction? Were the females not educated at all?

    This was a very informative blog, that I enjoyed reading. On some levels little has changed over the millienia. The rich are still the ones who can afford to provide the best education to their children, while the other classes do the best that they can with the resources available to them. Parents still want the best for their children, so that they can have opprotunities that might not have been available to them. Then again, there are the parents who felt that their children should have to suffer throught the same torments that they did, while growing up in the educational system.

    I am looking forward to reading your next blog.

  2. hadrian73

    Did this idea of education last (in the “Roman” home) till the “fall,” or had it started to ween at that time? We can only speculate on the knowledge lost with the burning of the library of Alexandria.

  3. maximus4720

    As we can read education was important then as it is now. Having money then helped their children get the best education which still applies today for some but most people today can get a good education with some help. I think it was cool that most Romans could speak Latin and Greek. I thought it was interesting that the educated slaves would teach their children. I guess it’s better than getting put to death or be put in as a gladiator, who would certainly die eventually.

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