How was the Education system in Ancient Rome?

Ancient Rome considered education as a vital part of their development and a significant invention.

Rich people invested in private tutors and sent their kids abroad in Greece to ensure they were well-schooled. The poor, however, could not afford a formal education but still learned to read and write.

The education system in early ancient Rome was informal, where fathers were responsible for teaching their children the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

The plan was to make the children count, weigh, measure, and understand simple business transactions.

Rome went from an informal education system to a level school system within a few centuries- majorly influenced by Greek educational practices. It was mixed with Roman politics, Roman religious beliefs, and cosmology.

This inspired the development of education systems throughout Western civilization. Rome’s rise to world power status ensured adapting its curriculum and methods throughout the provinces it ruled.

Roman Schooling System

A bronze statue depicting a girl reading
A bronze statue depicting a girl reading
Source: Wikimedia Common

The education system heavily relied on the fear factor. The schools were heavily disciplined, and students were punished even for the slightest mistakes.

It was on the belief that students would learn faster and accurately if they feared making a mistake. Students continuously making mistakes were held by slaves and beaten with a leather whip by the tutor.

Roman schooling revolved around moral education and ensured instilling good ethics upon their children. The state and parents were heavily concerned about their children’s character, intellectual development, and cultural knowledge.

Cato talks about the importance of frugality and how a lazy man is a person who learns to do ill. Pliny talks about the importance of learning “good conduct first, then eloquence, for eloquence without good conduct is ill- acquired.”

Students were grouped based on their abilities rather than age, for they believed the ability to state how far the student would progress in their education. 

They would create rivalries within the students to motivate them to study. Children had to reach schools before sunrise and face abuse, threats, and violence in case of any misconduct or making mistakes.

The upbringing of the children

A carving depicting three students of Ancient Rome with their teacher
A carving depicting three students of Ancient Rome with their teacher
Source: Wikimedia Common

The boys and girls, however, did not receive the same type of education. Boys received lessons on honorability and physical training as a practice of man’s role in society and the army. Girls, on the other hand, were only allowed to learn to read and write. 

Girls from affluent families received a home education focusing on skills to be a good wife and run a prosperous household, teaching them music, sewing, and running a kitchen.

From the age of seven, boys were under the supervision of the tutors, and girls stayed home as their mother’s companion. Roman girls were married young, and therefore, their schooling was cut short and, in the meantime, were taught things that books did not teach. 

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Mothers taught their daughters to spin, weave and sew. She was guided through the learnings of household economy and was trained to fit in the roles of the mistress of her household- the most reputed position for a woman in ancient Rome.

The boys were their father’s companions as well, except during school hours. If the father was a farmer, the boy helped him in the fields and was taught how to plow, plant, and reap. If the father was a man of high status, the boy accompanied his father in his chamber, received guests, learned their faces, names, and ranks, and acquired practical knowledge of state affairs and politics. 

And if the father was a senator, the boy followed him to the senate-house to hear debates and listen to the great orators of the time.

Every Roman man has bred a soldier for which sons were trained to use arms and in military exercises and manly sports, including riding, swimming, wrestling, and boxing. Their strength and agility were kept in mind rather than their grace of movement, unlike the Greeks.

Tiers of Roman curriculum

An image depicting a maiden reading a text in Ancient Rome
Source: Wikimedia Common

1.      Moral education

Until the third century, Romans had an informal system of education which later changed to a formal one influenced by Greece. The home and family installed moral education within the children, unlike in Greece, where boys received their primary education from the community. 

The parents’ responsibility was to teach their children necessary skills in the early republic, including agriculture, domestic, military skills, and moral and civil commitments.

Parents needed to instill in their children the value of tradition and devotion to duty which for boys meant a commitment to the state, and for girls meant devotion to their husband and family. Later, to advance the level of academic training, the Romans brought Greek slaves to Rome. However, still, the traditional method of a father being his child’s teacher remained cherished.

2.      Ludus

Rome never legally required the people to be educated on any level. The children from affluent families received education from private tutors, and those from low-income families received education from primary schools- known as Ludus litterarius

The instructors in those schools were known as litteratus, a highly respected title. They could open Ludus litteratus anywhere they preferred, from their own houses, gymnasiums, or even the streets.

The elementary education in ancient Rome ranged from reading and writing letters and syllables and wordlists to memorizing and dictating literature, mostly poetry. The students worked by themselves, with little sense of a cohesive classroom, and came in and went out at different times throughout the day. 

There were no formal examination systems, and their performance was measured through exercises that were either corrected or applauded based on their performances, which created extreme competition among students.

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This competitiveness allowed the elites to maintain class stability, preventing students from advancing to higher levels of education and developing social control.

3.      Grammaticus

Grammaticus Ancient Rome
Grammaticus Ancient Rome
Source: Wikimedia Common

The boys from elite families would leave their litteratus and study with the Grammaticus when they reached the age of twelve to perfect their writing and speaking skills and poetic analysis and learn Greek. By this age, boys from lower status would already be working, and girls would be married.

Grammaticus took lectures and taught expressive reading and analysis of poetry. The curriculum was bilingual, consisting of Latin and Greek. The assessment of student performances was done on the spot by the guardian of the language, the Grammaticus, compared with the already set standards and not graded. 

Famous Grammaticus, Marcus Verrius Flaccus, would pit students among each other and reward the best one with a prize to hone their skills to perfection. He didn’t have his schoolroom even at the height of his career and taught at the private schools and took low tuition fees despite having the prestige to charge an enormous expenditure. 

The salary for the Grammaticus was fixed by the Edict on Maximum Prices of 200 denarii per pupil per month, although it was mostly unfollowed and eventually canceled. Students studied with the Grammaticus until the age of fifteen, after which only the wealthiest and most capable students leveled up to study with a rhetor.

4.      Rhetor

The final stage of Roman education was the rhetor, and only a few boys went to study rhetoric and were the only way to train as a politician or a lawyer.

Rhetoric studies weren’t taught but were learned through careful observation of the elders by the students.

 It was accepted after a long time by the Romans and taken up from the Greeks. Due to the constant political strife in Rome, the student of rhetoric was considered very important and, along with public speaking, also learned geography, music, philosophy, literature, mythology, and geometry. This gave them a diverse manner of education and helped prepare for future debates. 

It is believed that the rhetoric education was given by the above-mentioned private tutors themselves due to the lack of evidence of a rhetor in the schools. They had a significant impact on the opinions and actions of their students, so much so that the Roman government expelled many rhetoricians and philosophers in 161 BC.

5.      Philosophy

The philosophical study was the level after Rhetor of Roman study after Rhetor for those who want to study further, a Greek concept. Students had to go to a center of philosophy in Greece to study philosophy and could be pursued only by the wealthiest Roman elites. People used to instead focus on constructing law schools and rhetoric since philosophical education was considered distinctly Greek. 

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According to Aristotle’s logic, Greek philosophical teachings were quite limited, which, however, had a renewed interest in the eleventh century, and many commentaries on Aristotle’s works were composed for teaching. George Gemistos Plethon, a philosopher, revived the interest in Plato, who was earlier neglected for Aristotle in the early fifteenth century. 

In the ancient Roman world, all philosophical teachings were more concerned with explaining texts than analyzing the problems. As a power, wealth, and territory of the empire, all were eroded during the war in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and the church became the ultimate source of higher education.


Children from affluent families in Ancient Rome had the privilege to be well-schooled by private tutors and sent abroad for higher studies. The poor, although they did not receive a formal education, learned to read and write.

Teaching basic knowledge, including reading, writing, and arithmetic, was the responsibility of parents, along with teaching them life skills. The agenda is making the children count, weigh, measure, and understand simple business transactions. 

After they were done with the school, the boys would accompany their fathers in their respective fields such that the son of the farmer would follow his father to the fields and learn to plow, plant, and reap.

In contrast, the son of a higher status would accompany his father in his chamber, receive guests, learn their faces, names, and ranks, and receive practical knowledge of state affairs and politics. 

The girls, however, at a certain age, were done with primary schooling and were trained to run a good household and to be a good wife in general. 

The main concern everybody had while raising children was to build good character in their children along with intellectual development and cultural knowledge and instill good morals within them.

On the other hand, although not formal in Ancient Rome, education was still highly appreciated, and its main features were derived from the Greeks.

The primary studies were reading, writing, arithmetic, moral education, and basic skills, including agriculture, domestic, military, and ethical and civic responsibilities. 

After that, they were given lectures and were taught expressive reading and analysis of poetry, followed by Rhetoric studies that weren’t physically taught but were learned through careful observation of the elders by the students. Lastly, some elite or up-and-coming students went for Philosophical study, which was the final level of Roman study, a Greek concept. 

Undoubtedly, the Ancient Roman empire is admired for its educational system looking at the various methods of instilling an excellent education system and ensuring an excellent moral standard.

It can be said that they had their unique way of maintaining their social standards based on their education system, which has more so than not created history on its own.

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