Roman Education in Antiqiuty

The Roman Empire is considered by many to be the transmitter of Greek culture to many parts of the world. Part of what Rome has shared with the world is the influence of Greek education in their own educational system. This post will look at some of the many aspects of Roman education.

Education of Children

Education began in the home with the mother. One of the things that mothers would teach their small children was the Twelve Tables of Roman Law. These tables explained the rights and duties of Roman citizens. This example provides just one picture of how important citizenship was to a Roman when they explained laws to toddlers. Imagine someone reading and explaining the US constitution to pre-schoolers in our time.

School began when a child was about 5 years of age. This is younger than the 7 years of age in Greece. Just like Greece, the Romans employed a Pedagogue to watch the child as they went to and from school. The pedagogue would also carry the child’s book and discipline them when necessary. Unlike Greek pedagogues, Roman pedagogues did not provide as much educational support to the child and function primarily as a servant with authority.

From the age of 5-12 Roman children studied with what is called a literator. These were men of low social standing who may have failed at other careers in life. These men taught basic reading, writing, and arithmetic. Richer parents would avoid the literators and hire private tutors for their children.

From the age of 12-16 Roman teenagers would study with a literatus. Being a literatus was considered more prestigious than being a literator. At this level, students would study Greek, Latin, poetry, history, oratory, and public speaking. This experience was similar to going to high school today. It was also common for literatus to be Greek which further added to the prestige of this position.

Higher Education

After studying with the literatus, a young Roman male was considered an adult and had to choose his vocation. For the rich the essentially had 5 choices as shown below

  1. Oratory
  2. Politics
  3. Law
  4. Military
  5. Agriculture

Oratory, politics, and law had huge overlaps in terms of training. Everyone who studied one of these three occupations would be expected to observe senators at the senate. Oratory, in particular, was a highly valued skill in ancient Rome and was perhaps the most prestigious if you could truly speak well.

Young men who went into the military were assigned to a legion. If they were from the upper-class they may have been put in a leadership position within a legion while a commoner did the actual leading. Some would stay in the military while others would use the experience gained here to go into politics.

Lastly, agriculture was for those who had no interests in politics and or did not possess talent. Being a farmer meant being away from Rome and missing all the political nonsense. However, given the pitfalls of Roman politics and the dangers of military life, this may have been the safest option. However, history remembers soldiers and politicians, it does not remember farmers.


Roman education was an opportunity for a child to acquire basic literacy. Also, they were taught their rights and responsibilities as citizens. For the handful of the wealthiest, they had a choice from among several different careers that allowed them to all be successful.

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