During the times of Ancient Rome, the teaching of education was a major part of the Roman society and it was taken very seriously. Schools were set up throughout the land and ‘scholae’ became commonplace, often in the form of a lecture hall or simple room. Roman schools were divided up into levels, or ‘cotters’, so each student was taught according to their age. Traditionally they were taught to read, write and count, but literacy increased throughout the years of the Roman Empire and the types of studies increased too.
It is theorised there were both formal and informal methods of teaching with large emphasis put on education. Teachers, or ‘doctores’, were specialized in their learning and sometimes even taught in the student’s home. They would be chosen depending on the individual student’s needs and could also have a teacher of their own.
Greek scholars played a big part in the teaching of Latin, mathematics and literature. Greek was a language already established in the Roman Empire and was seen as a language of the upper classes, so it was the upper classes who received the most formal education, particularly in the wealthier areas of the empire. But, wherever the student lived, their schooling would have been supervised and supported by the Roman state.
Many of the teaching methods also came from Greece. The most popular was known as ‘Cathechesi’ which translated as ‘instruction’. This method was used as a means of educating children in an orderly fashion, concentrating on the student’s own personal development. There were also ‘Dialogi’ which were used to focus on moral and ethical instruction. The teacher would often lead the students through a series of questions and then answer them with analysis and explanations.
Religious instruction was also part of the curriculum. Roman religion was varied and cutting-edge, which meant the students had access to a wide range of knowledge. Greek philosophy, which often involved discussing difficult topics, was also taught in classrooms. In later years, political topics could also be found in some Roman schools – Censorinus is cited as a teacher of politics during the time of Augustus.
Clearly, a well-rounded education was essential in Ancient Rome, and teaching came from both official and unofficial sources. It is thought that many of the teaching methods used in Ancient Rome can be traced back to even earlier civilizations, such as those in Egypt, Greece, and the Near East. This suggests that educating the citizens of Ancient Rome was already a timeless tradition, one which was still being employed in Roman times.
Education of the Upper Classes
In Ancient Rome there was a distinct difference between the educational opportunities afforded to the wealthy and its regular citizens. Depending on their status or level of wealth, Roman children were taught in different styles – from standardised lessons given by teachers in classrooms, to private tutors that families would usually be expected to cover the costs of.
The highest-ranking members of society, such as senators, could easily provide their children with the most comprehensive education possible – acquiring only the best teachers and private tuition. They were even able to take their children to Rome itself and gain entrance to the best schools in the empire.
When it came to lower social classes, however, educational opportunities were definitely more limited. Children of the lower classes were taught simpler, more basic teachings, such as counting and literacy. The focus was on practical skills such as farming and basic crafting, with very few opportunities to study mathematics or other higher-level subjects.
The teaching of religion was still a major part of Roman education, however. Although most wealthy Roman families would consider themselves more highly educated than the average mortal, their children were still taught the same lessons about the gods and their importance to Roman society.
It is a common misconception that the upper classes did not believe in the gods, but the truth is that religious observance was still an important part of life for them. The rituals and festivals, such as Saturnalia and Laternalia, were still plenty, as was the teaching of Roman religion in the upper classes.
The Influence of Children and Education
Children have always played an essential role in Ancient Roman society, and education was seen as an integral part to their lives. From an early age children were taught lessons, whether it was with the help of their own teacher, or through organised classes. The emphasis was on developing their knowledge, skills and character so they could become strong, successful adults.
The importance of education was further highlighted in the year of 257 AD, when Decius, the Roman Emperor at the time, set up a mandate that everyone had to receive schooling. This marked a momentous period in the history of education in Ancient Rome, as it was the first time that formal schooling was compulsory. It also meant that more people were given the opportunity to access a higher level of education, something that was previously only afforded to a select few.
Furthermore, children were expected to develop more qualities than just knowledge. Roman parents often sought for their children to learn about respect, responsibility and integrity, to be strong-willed and honest and to have a good sense of practicality.
Looking at ancient manuscripts reveals that children were also taught lessons on courage and fortitude, with Roman writers being particularly keen to emphasise the importance of being brave. It was believed that by practicing courage, children could become better citizens and be prepared for any unexpected situations that would come their way.
Legacy of Education in Rome
It is without doubt that Ancient Rome’s legacy when it comes to education is immense. From the way teaching and learning is organised, to the very books and documents that have been describing and analysing every aspect of Roman life, the accomplishments of the Roman Empire can’t be undervalued.
The passion for teaching, learning and advancing knowledge is still very much alive today. Scholars and teachers who are still admiring the accomplishments of Rome have dedicated themselves to studying, understanding and admiring the resources that Ancient Rome has left us with.
Organisations such as the Ancient Rome Network, for example, seek to promote the history of Ancient Rome and its influence in modern education. They host events, conferences and seminars, and work with universities and museums to further spread the love and understanding of the history of Ancient Rome, as well as its contribution to education today.
What is for sure is that Ancient Rome left us with much to learn, and their commitment to education can still be cultivated and celebrated to this day.
Important Latin Texts
A large part of the educational practices of Ancient Rome were based on the study of the Latin language, of which there are many important texts still studied today. One of the most important Latin texts is known as ‘De Architectura’ by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio.
The book is often cited as the oldest preserved book on architecture that is still heavily cited in the modern day. It was written in the 1st century BC and it explains the principles of architecture, including the scientific and technological knowledge of the time period. It was a very important book for the Ancient Roman world, as it sought to explain the standardised architectural approaches that should be respected.
Another important Latin text is ‘De re Rustica’, which translates as “On Farming” – this book is believed to have been written by either Marcus Porcius Cato or his son-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso. It is one of the first surviving books written in Latin, explaining the techniques of Roman agricultural practices. It is considered another important document for understanding procedures for land cultivation, husbandry and fattening of livestock in Ancient Roman times.
Overall, Latin has played a fundamental role in the teaching practices of Ancient Rome, and many important texts from this period are still studied to this day.
The Impact of the Roman Education System
The education system developed in Ancient Rome is widely accepted to have been a major factor in the success of the Roman Empire. It enabled Roman citizens to become articulate in the use of words, particularly Latin, and also to understand the intricacies of mathematics.
The ability to communicate and understand both spoken and written language was a major factor in Rome’s ability to spread its messages across the entire empire. Moreover, the widespread use of technology and mathematics, both in trade and warfare, helped to ensure that Rome stayed ahead of its competitors.
Another significant aspect of the Roman education system was the introduction of public schools. Rather than relying solely on private tutors, children were taught collectively in classrooms, and this enabled the introduction of curriculums and examinations, as well as quality control over the instruction of teachers.
Having access to structured education meant that Roman citizens could develop their full potential, and more importantly stay ahead of their competitors. There is no doubt that this helped to contribute to the success and longevity of Ancient Rome.
The Aftermath of Roman Education
After the decline of the Roman Empire, education in Ancient Rome remained a concept and tradition that was carried on by future societies. Many of the teaching methods, such as the emphasis on discipline, respect, and literacy, were adopted by the church, and formed part of the burgeoning Christian and medieval education that followed.
The Latin language in particular continued to be used, even after the decline of the Roman Empire. Although it gradually evolved into the languages spoken in Europe today, Latin remains one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world, and an official language of the European Union.
Latin also has a lasting influence in other areas, such as law, medicine, science and the arts. It is well documented that many of the world’s most influential thinkers, writers and politicians have used Ancient Rome as a source of inspiration, including Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and John F. Kennedy.
Therefore, it can be seen that Ancient Rome’s legacy when it comes to education remains a lasting impact. From the language spoken around the world today to influential political figures, the teaching practices established by Roman society still remain standing.