Education of young people in the Roman world was done much differently from the way we educate our own children, yet some things were done very much like in our society. A father would never dream of having his son sit in a group of twenty five or thirty other youngsters to learn math, but athletic training and sports were done in groups like we do today. Also, we must remember that the "Romans" were not just one group of central Italian people with their own Latin customs, but encompassed cultures, languages, and educational systems from the entire Roman world. This spread from the misty isle of Britain to the Egyptian desert and encompassed all cultures in between. In general, education of children of the families of Senatorial class would follow either the Greek model or the traditional Roman model, and sometimes drew on both systems. Also, education varied with social class, as it does today despite the efforts of some to provide a uniform education to all citizens. A son of a rich merchant of the Equestrian class would receive an education that included much hands - on business management while a noblewoman's education might prepare her for administration of a large manor and hundreds of slaves during her husband's absence. The sons of craftsmen would be apprentices, either in their father's shop or in the shop of another craftsman of the same trade.
The father in the traditional Roman home was a stern figure, and believed his sons shouldn't be coddled but must build character. It was important that the young man develop gravitas, a serious and stern sense of purpose. What little comfort and physical love the child was allowed came from his mother or his nurse, who might be either male or female. Often, the child was given into the care of a wet nurse soon after birth, and this person often remained the boy's loyal servant even after he had grown up and throughout the rest of his life. From early childhood, the boy might never see his mother and father except in the evenings to take a formal supper with the family.
As the boy grew, he was given a pedagogue or private tutor. The pedagogue was responsible for teaching the child basic reading and laying the foundation for learning the art of rhetoric, or public speaking which would come later. There were three phases to a proper Roman education, primary instruction, reading of literature (called grammar by the Romans) and formal schooling in rhetoric. Rhetoric was considered the most important art the young man could acquire, except if the family came from a military tradition. In this case, it was important to teach the boy the arts of war, swordsmanship, hand - to - hand combat, and about life in an army camp. Athletic training in these cases was often harsh, the boy having to endure cold and hunger in order to teach him to survive while on campaign. Some of the later rich Senatorial families looked down on this type of upbringing, preferring to concentrate on the political arts. On the other hand, rigorous military training was part of the Roman experience during the early Republic and was valued by all Romans.
Reading and writing were taught by the pedagogue to children of Senatorial class, at times just to boys and at other times to both boys and girls. There was no hard and fast rule concerning the education of girls. Some families provided an education to their girls and others considered an educated woman to be lacking in the feminine virtues. Reading itself consisted of the classics. Mythology was popular, and the works of Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek scholars were important in the education of the young Roman. Writing was done on a wax tablet with an ivory, bone, or metal stylus. One end of the stylus was sharp to make a clean mark in the wax, while the other end was often shaped like a little spatula for smoothing away mistakes so they could be corrected. The wax tablets were made like a little wooden frame or tray into which hot melted wax was poured. A pigment was often added to the wax to make the letters stand out. A nice personal wax tablet could be quite elaborate, with several hinged, folding sections and ornately decorated covers. When one really wwnted to clean them off and make them like new again, he just remelted the wax and poured it back into the wooden frame to harden with a pristine surface. These were the same writing tools employed by adults. Papyrus, especially the finely woven grade suitable for legal documents, was expensive and parchment from cow hides was only beginning to be used and even more expensive. Everyday words could be erased when we were finished with them. Roman wax tablets were a lot like our modern floppy disks, only they held a little less text. The article on writing materials in the Roman world goes into more detail concerning these wax tablets.
In the cities, the grammaticus often taught the sons of craftsmen and merchants after they had grown out of their tender years. The lessons were often memorizing passages they had read and writing them down from memory. Correct sentence structure and spoken form were emphasized. the grammaticus would often reinforce his lessons with cruel blows from a stick he kept for the purpose. An error in pronunciation or forming of his letters on his wak tablet often earned the boy a swat across the back.
The profession of teacher was not always a highly respected one in Roman society. Several times during the Republican period, the Senate banned all philosophers and grammatici from Rome on the grounds that they corrupted the minds of young Romans by teaching them to be lazy and overly clever. As Rome progressed into the Imperial period, the role these people played in educating the citizens was more fully acknowledged and they were encouraged to follow their profession.
Great universities were an old and time honored institution by the time the Romans inherited the Mediterranean world. Universities existed at Athens and alexandria, as well as Rome itself. Often, the sons of wealthy senators went to live, study, and spend Daddy's money in Athens just as the children of well to do families still do today. In Athens, you could get a classical education studying Greek dramas, poetry, logic, mathematics, or philosopy. In Roman and Greek times, philosophy included the study of natural sciences, mathematics, and other branches of knowledge rather than being as narrowly defined as it is today.
For the study of law, the city of Rome herself provided the best schools. Of all the contributions to scholarship made by the Romans, their greatest gifts to the world were in the area of law and government. The law schools of Rome were the finest available for preparing a young man for a career as a magistrate in government service.
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