How was the Education system in Ancient Rome?

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

Rich people invested in private tutors and sent their kids abroad to Greece to ensure they were well-schooled. The poor 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 the education systems all over 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

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 more 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 instilled good ethics in their children. The state and parents were 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 discusses the importance of learning “good conduct first, then eloquence, for eloquence without good conduct is ill- acquired.”

Ancient Roman students were placed in a certain class as per their abilities instead of their ages. This is because the Romans believed in the ability to state how far students would progress in their education. 

Similarly, rivalry among the students was created to motivate them to study. Children had to reach school before sunrise and face specific threats, violence, and abuse in case of any misconduct or 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

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. On the other hand, girls were only allowed to learn to read and write. 

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

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From the early age of 7, boys were under the supervision of tutors, and girls stayed home as their mother’s companions.

Roman girls were married young, so their schooling was cut short and, in the meantime, were taught things that books did not teach. 

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 role of the mistress of her household- the most reputed position for a woman in ancient Rome.

The boys were their father’s companions, 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 in military exercises and manly sports, including riding, swimming, wrestling, and boxing.

Unlike the Greeks, their strength and agility were kept in mind rather than their graceful movement.

Tiers of Roman curriculum

An image depicting a maiden reading a text in Ancient Rome

1.      Moral education

Until the third century, Romans had an informal system of education which later changed to a formal one influenced by Greece.

Roman homes and the family installed moral education within the children, unlike Greece, where boys received their primary education by learning from their communities. 

The parents’ responsibility was to teach their children necessary skills at the beginning of the Roman republic, including agriculture, domestic, moral, civil responsibilities, and military skills.

Parents needed to instill in their children the value of tradition and devotion to duty which, for boys, it meant a commitment to the state, and for girls, it meant devotion to their husband and family.

Later, to advance the level of academic training, the Romans brought Slaves from Ancient Greek to Rome. However, the traditional method of a father being his child’s teacher remained cherished.

2.      Ludus

People of Rome were not required to reach or complete a certain level of education. The children from affluent families received their education from 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 primary level of education in ancient Rome ranged from writing and reading letters and syllables and wordlists to memorizing and dictating literature, mostly poetry.

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The students worked alone, with a hint of some sense of a cohesive classroom, and came in and went out at various times of the day.

There were no formal examination systems, but their exercises would be measured and corrected in necessary cases. This brought along competitive nature among the students.

This competitiveness helped the higher class maintain the class system’s stability and prevented students from going to higher education, developing social control.

3.      Grammaticus

Grammaticus Ancient Rome
Grammaticus Ancient Rome

The males belonging to elite families would start studying with the Grammaticus after reaching the age of twelve and leave behind their private tutors.

They would focus on perfecting their speaking, writing, and poetic skills. They would also learn Greek, in case they have not yet. While by this age, boys from lower status would begin working, and girls would be married.

Grammaticus took lectures and taught expressive reading and poetic analysis. The study material was bilingual, consisting of Latin and Greek.

The assessment of student performances was mostly done when the classes were ongoing by the language guardian, the Grammaticus, compared with the already set standards and not graded. 

Famous Grammaticus, Marcus Verrius Flaccus, would pit students with another and reward the best one with some prizes to hone their skills to perfection.

However, he could not manage to get into his schoolroom even when he reached the highest level of his career. He kept teaching at private schools and charged a much lower fee despite having the prestige to charge an enormous expenditure. 

The students, after reaching the age of 15, transferred learning from Grammaticus and moved to Rhetor.

4.      Rhetor

The final learning stage of Roman education was the Rhetor, and only a few boys studied rhetoric, which was an essential way of training as a politician or lawyer.

Rhetoric studies weren’t taught but learned by observing the elders’ actions.

It was accepted after a long time by the Romans and taken up from the Greeks.

Due to the constant political strife in Rome, a rhetoric student was considered very important and, along with public speaking, also learned mythology, music, geometry, geography, philosophy, and literature.

This field helped the student to gain expertise in outspoken areas such as debates.

Similarly, the rhetoric tutors impacted many students to express their actions and opinions freely, which was taken as a negative response by the Roman government.

As a result, in 161 BC, numerous philosophers and rhetoricians were expelled from Rome.

5.      Philosophy

The philosophical study was the level after Rhetor of Roman study after Rhetor for those who wanted 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.

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People used to instead focus on constructing law schools and rhetoric since philosophical education was considered distinctly Greek. 

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.

The empire’s power, wealth, and territory 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 of being well-schooled by private tutors and sent abroad for higher studies. Although the poor did not receive a formal education, they 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 to make the children count, weigh, measure, and understand simple business transactions. 

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

In contrast, a higher-status son 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 be good wives. 

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 the students’ careful observation of the elders.

Lastly, some elite or up-and-coming students went for Philosophical study, 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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