Education was extremely important in the Ancient Roman Empire – or at least, it was important in the second half of the Empire.
For the first part of Ancient Rome’s history, when Rome was still known as a “Kingdom,” nobody received a formal education. All learning was done in the home.
But for the second part of Rome’s history – the years of the “Republic” – education was much more important.
Though the poor of Ancient Rome (the plebeians) did not receive an education besides learning how to read and write, the rich people (patricians) did.
Many patricians were very well-educated, and were taught by both a private teacher at home (what we’d call a private tutor) and a second teacher at school.
However, not all patricians received an education. While Roman girls did receive a small education, it was only done at home.
This education centered around “domestic skills,” or the skills that would be required of them to know for when they would someday be wives and mothers. For example, they’d learn how to cook, clean, sew, play music, and sing.
The last two were to make sure they would be an entertaining host at parties! Only boys received the chance to be formally educated – but this education was very different to what children receive nowadays.
For starters, Ancient Roman children would have to be up by sunrise – though school began a few hours later, it was very important that they were on time, as they would be severely punished otherwise.
They would get one small break at lunch, and spend the rest of the day working until sunset. At sunset, they would return home and go straight to bed, so that they’d be on time for the next day.
They also worked a seven-day week; they didn’t even get a rest on Saturdays and Sundays!
Another problem with the Roman education system was that it was based on the principle of “corporal punishment.”
This meant that when students broke a rule (like speaking out of turn) or got a question wrong, they would be beaten or whipped. This was done because the Romans believed it would help students learn better.
This is, of course, banned in modern schools – but for Roman children, it made school a rotten experience. Because students were terrified of getting questions wrong, they were forced to learn things off by heart.
They didn’t need to understand what they were learning, as long as they could repeat it back correctly.
But besides how scared Roman students would have been of school, there was another problem with it, too – boredom.
There were not many subjects to choose from in Ancient Roman school (just basic reading, writing, and mathematics) and it’s likely that students got bored quickly.
Though there were two types of school in Ancient Rome, this problem was present in both. From the ages of 4-12, Roman children would attend a “basic” school where they’d learn to read, write, do simple mathematics and learn the basic history of their culture and gods.
But after the age of 12, if a child wanted to keep learning, they would attend a “grammar school” instead. These “grammar schools” taught their students skills like public speaking and literary analysis (finding out the hidden meaning of stories.) The skill of literary analysis was important for the scribes and writers of Ancient Rome.
The main goal of Roman education was to make people effective speakers.
This was because the Romans believed that strong verbal expression was the most important skill to have for any job – for example, for teachers, politicians, businessmen, military leaders, etc.
If a student left school unable to speak well in public, they were seen to be a failure.