Athenian Education During Antiquity

Greek education has influenced the Western world strongly. We will look at Greek education, in particular, Athens in this post. Also, we will look briefly at the views of Plato and Aristotle concerning education.


The worldview of Athens was one of individualism and liberty. Speaking freely and having a choice was deeply ingrained in Greek culture. Even education was democratic as slaves also received some form of education.

There has been speculation as to way Greeks were so more individualistic. Some have suggested that the rugged mountainous terrain allowed people to be more independent because the threat of invasion was low. In contrast, many parts of Asia are readily available because of the wide-open spaces and flat terrain in many parts. Whatever the reason, individualism was just more accepted in Greece compared to Asia

Schools in Athens were private but the government kept an eye on what was happening. School began at the age of 7  and continue until the age of 20. A young boy was often accompanied to and from school by a slave called a pedagogue whose job it was to watch the child and keep him out of trouble.

School lasted for everyone from about the age of 7 until 14 years of age. The early years are focus on physical education such as gymnastics combined with rudimentary training in the 3Rs. A 14, the lower classes would leave school to work or learn a trade while the rich continued.

From 14-20, upper-class Greeks would study music, rhetoric, grammar, and philosophy. At the age of 20, a student’ss education was considered complete and he began whatever vocation he was called to.


Plato had some somewhat radical views on education compared to mainland Greeks. For example, unlike the strong individualism of the typical Greek, Plato believed that children along with everybody belonged to the state, which is a view held by many Asia countries. Plato stated that marriages should be arranged by the state, weak children should be killed, and children should be raised by the community and not by their parents. Naturally, you can infer from this that Plato never had a wife or children.

For Plato, there were 5 levels of education. The first three were for everyone and the last two for the elite. Level 1 was from 0-7 and focused on physical training. Level 2 was from 7-13 and included both physical and mental training. Level 3 was from 14-19 years of age with the same emphasis as level 2. Level 4 was for the best students and lasted from 20-30 years of age. Finally, level 5 was from 30-35 and was for the best of the best of those from level 4.

Plato also went on to propose a caste system based on education among other things. Common people completed anywhere from level 1 all the way to 3. Citizens completed level 3 and maybe 4. Lastly, The rulers would complete all 5 levels of education.

To say that Plato’s views were radical would be an understatement. However, Plato was a radical thinker and these ideas of his are just a reflection of his independent thinking.


Aristotle’s views on education are more practical than Plato’s.FOr him, education is a life long experience. For children, education was divided into three levels. From 0-7 the child was at home. From ages 7-14 the child’s mind was trained in academic studies. Some of the subjects studied included music, drawing, grammar, math, dialectics, political science, and philosophy.

From 14-21 a child was trained for life preparation. This would vary depending on the future occupation of the child. Future leaders got involved in leadership, soldiers went into military studies, etc. There was no need to continue formal education beyond 21 because people continued to study informally when the had time.

Aristotle also made comments on teaching. He proposed that teaching should move from the concrete to the abstract. From the literal to the symbolic. This is essentially what Piaget said 3,000 years later with his stages of cognitive development.


Athenian education provided an opportunity for individual growth in a way that was not even considered in Asian education. The state was there for dealing with the occasional external threat for the Greeks. In contrast, the state was there for its self in the Asian context. This difference in who serves who is reflected in the style of education as well.

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