Education in Ancient Persia

The Persian Empire was one of the great empires of ancient civilization. It was this Empire that defeated the Babylonians. This post will provide a brief examination of the educational system of Persia.

Background

The religion of Persia was Zoroastrianism. The priestly class of Persia were called Magi. They responsible for sacred duties as well as the education of princes.

These are the same Magi that are found in the Bible in reference to the birth of Jesus. Due to their priestly responsibilities and knowledge of astronomy, this information merged to compel the Magi to head to Jerusalem to see Christ as a small child.

Teachers for the commoners were normally retired soliders. Exemption from the military began at the age of 50. At this age, if a male was able to live this long, he would turn his attention the education of the next generation.

What was Taught

The emphasis in Persian education was gymnastics, moral, and military training. The physical training was arduous, to say the least. Boys were pushed well nigh to their physical limits.

The moral training was also vigourously instilled. Boys were taught to have a strong understanding of right and wrong as well as a sense of justice. Cyrus the Great shared a story about how, as a boy, he was called to judge a case about coats. Apparently, a large student had a small coat and a small student had a large coat. The large student forced the small student to switch coats with him.

When Cyrus heard this story he decided that the large boy was right because both boys now had a coat that fitted him. The large boy had a large coat and the small boy had a small coat. However, Cyrus’ teacher was disappointed and beat him. Apparently, the question was not which coat fit which boy but rather which coat belonged to which boy.

Something that was neglected in ancient Persian education was basic literacy. The reading, writing, and arithmetic were taught at a minimal level. These skills were left for the Magi to learn almost exclusively.

How Was the Curriculum Organized

From the age of 0-7 education was in the home with the mother. From 7-15 boys were educated by the state and were even considered state property. After the age of 15, students spent time learning about justice in the marketplace.

Girls did not receive much of an education. Rather, they focused primarily on life in the home. This included raising small children and other domestic duties.

Conclusion

Persia education was one strongly dominated by the state. The purpose was primarily to mold boys into just, moral soldiers who could serve to defend and expand the empire. This system is not without merit as it held an empire together for several centuries. The saddest part may be the loss of individual freedom and expression at the expense of government will.

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