• Tastes Of History

Educating Romans

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In ancient Rome ludus (pl. ludi) referred to a private school outside the home where a teacher (called a litterator or a magister ludi, and often of Greek origin) taught boys and some girls at the age of 7 basic reading, writing, arithmetic, and sometimes Greek, until the age of 11.

For the most part, however, about 80% of Romans survived as artisans or by farming their small patch of land to feed their families and maybe produce a surplus to buy what they could not grow. Education was only of interest to people of leisure, in other words, the wealthy. Their aim was to rise through the cursus honorum ('course of honours', or more colloquially 'ladder of offices'). This was the sequential order of public offices held by aspiring men of senatorial rank in the Roman Republic and the early Roman Empire. The cursus honorum comprised a mixture of military and political administration posts; the ultimate prize for winning election to each 'rung' in the ladder was to become one of the two consuls in a given year.


Education, therefore, was designed to provide the job training to achieve success. The elite were taught at home (including girls who mainly learned to read and write), but for those who could afford it, attending a private school or ludus was an option. Lessons concentrated on the correct use of language. Accurate reading, writing and pronunciation of Greek and Latin were the focus from ages six to nine. Higher literacy skills were developed from nine to twelve, especially rigorous grammatical and linguistic analysis of poetry. From then on until age 17 the emphasis turned to rhetoric and developing the ability to persuade by argument. In the process moral and philosophical judgement was honed. For a few, a year studying in Greece became a finishing school in all things intellectual and artistic.

Endnotes:


1. From an article by Peter Jones in ‘Q&A’, BBC History Magazine October 2021, p. 57.

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