Friday, November 07, 2008

Education at Rome

My year 8 class has recently been looking at what school would have been like in Roman times. Here is what my Oxford Companion to Classical Literature has to say about education at Rome:

"Education at Rome in the very earliest republican times was very limited in extent, and chiefly given in the home. There was a good training in religious cults, duty to the state, modesty of demeanour, and physical activity; an education calculated to produce frugal, hardy, patriotic industrious citizens, but intellectually narrow. Children were shown the imagines or busts of their ancestors and taught to read the inscriptions recounting their exploits. They were taken to hear the encomiums on great Romans who died. They learnt by heart the Twelve Tables of the law. We read that old Cato himself taught his son his letters, the laws of Rome, and bodily exercises.

"Later as a result of contact with Hellenic civilization, education was entrusted to a tutor or a school; the teachers were often slaves or freedmen, frequently Greeks, and the pupils were taught, among other things, sententiae or moral maxims, besides reading, writing, and calculation. A characteristic figure, introduced under Greek influences, was the paedogogus, a slave who attended the boy to school, waited for him there, and brought him home; he taught the boy to speak Greek and looked after his manners and morals.

"There was also the higher school of the grammaticus, where the teaching was literary, in Latin and Greek, language, grammar, metre, style and the subject-matter of poems. Under Greek influences music and dancing were introduced into education; these, and especially the latter, were not looked upon with favour by conservative Romans. The only physical training that they approved of was such as would fit young men for war.

"After a Roman youth had assumed the toga virilis, he might be attached as a pupil to an advocate or sent to receive training in oratory under a rhetorician. He might also study philosophy at Rome, or go for this purpose to Athens, Rhodes or some other Greek educational centre; Caesar, Cicero, Octavian, Horace, all went abroad for study. The effect of all the rhetorical education of later republican and early imperial times is seen even in Virgil, more in Ovid, and especially in Lucan and Seneca.

"It may be added that it was not until the middle of the 1st c. A.D. that the State attempted to any control of education; Vespasian instituted State professorships at Rome in Greek and Latin rhetoric, and Hadrian founded a chair of Greek rhetoric at Athens. The salary assigned by Vespasian to the professors was 100,000 sesterces, equal to the salaries in the second grade of the Roman civil service."

Tacitus gives us a good example of a traditional, conservative Roman attitude towards education, as practised by a range of famous Romans:

Nam pridem suus cuique filius, ex casta parente natus, non in cellula emptae nutricis, sed gremio ac sinu matris educabatur. Sic Corneliam Gracchorum, sic Aureliam Caesaris, sic Atiam Augusti matrem praefuisse educationibus ac produxisse principes liberos accepimus.

For in the good old days, every son, born from a chaste mother, was brought up not in the chamber of a hired nurse, but in the lap and bosom of his mother. We are told that Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi was in charge of their upbringing in this way, and in the same way Aurelia the mother of Caesar and Atia of Augustus, and that they produced children who became great leaders.
(Tacitus, Dialogus 28)

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