The Roman Empire was like any other empire in that it was made up of families. These families raised their children so that the children would, in turn, one day serve or rule. Therefore, it is reasonable to make the conclusion that there was some style or way in which the Romans raised their children. This post will provide a brief look at how Rich and poor Romans went about approaching the challenge of early childhood education.
At birth, a child was swaddled for about two months. This was done to ensure strong limbs and prevent the child from poking at their eyes. During the first seven years of life rich parents had little contact with their child. This was because the infant mortality rate was so high. By avoiding the development of a relationship with the child rich parents avoided a large amount of the grief associated with a premature death of their child. Among the poor, this was not an option and they raised their children from the beginning.
The rich employed slaves nutrix and paedagog to look after their children. The nutrix was a wet nurse. She raised the child until about the age of seven. There were actually qualifications for this job. The nutrix had to have perfect Greek/Latin pronunciation because everyone knew that the child would imitate her speech. A child needed to sound like a Roman and not as a slave. This was important because there is a story of how Hadrian, before he became emperor, read a letter out loud to the senate. The problem is that Hadrian was from Spain and like the proper pronunciation of a Roman Senator. He was, therefore, ridiculed because of his pronunciation.
If a child survived to seven they would begin formal education. This is when the work of the nutrix decreased and the paedaog took over. His job was to be a bodyguard/servant of the child. The paedaog went everywhere with the child. Accompanying them to school, to the bathhouse, and to play with friends. One of their primary jobs was to protect the child from pedophiles.
Besides, the parents would become much more involved in the child’s life as the threat of death was normally much more reduced by this age. The purpose of education was to become an exemplary Roman citizen involved. A parent’s job was to provide an example of what that meant. Girls were taught to aspire towards marriages, having children and managing a home. Fathers had absolute authority over their children and could even lawfully put them to death.
Another key aspect of the early childhood experiences would have been practical matters such as the birth of a sibling or experiencing the entertainment of Roman. Gladiator fights, chariot races, and triumphs would have been experiences that all children would have had. Triumphs, in particular, could have a powerful effect on rich male boys who may have aspired to have their own one day
Childhood in Ancient Rome was really a time of separation from parents during the most formative years combined with the preparation of citizenship. Being a Roman was considered inherently valuable and parents invest a great deal in this for their children