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Education in Europe - Roman Education

greek schools rhetoric romans

Education in the early centuries of the Roman Republic consisted primarily of fathers passing on family traditions and skills to their sons. After reaching adulthood at the age of sixteen, the young man came under the guidance of an older man who groomed him in public speaking and other useful skills for a career as a member of a republic. He also served in the army because he would in time be expected to command troops. By the middle of the second century B.C.E., when Rome ruled a far-flung empire, formal education had developed. Greek educational ideas and practices influenced Rome, as they did the rest of the Mediterranean world. The education of upper-class Romans was Greek schooling that later became Latin. The conquest of Greece aided this process by producing Greek slaves, some much better educated than their Roman masters. A Greek slave tutored the child in simple reading until he went to elementary school at six or seven to be taught reading, writing, and arithmetic. At twelve or thirteen the boy went to a secondary school, where he studied mostly Greek literature until the middle of the first century B.C.E. Upper-class Romans were bilingual at this time. Then, after the lifetime of Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 B.C.E.), who had popularized Greek pedagogical and philosophical ideas in his many works, Roman schools became Latin. Students read the great Roman poets Virgil (70–19 B.C.E.) and Horace (65–8 B.C.E.), the historians Livy (59 B.C.E.–17 C.E.) and Sallust (86–35 or 34B.C.E.), the comic dramatist Terence (186 or 185–?159 B.C.E.) and, of course, Cicero, whose treatises systematized Greek rhetorical instruction. While Greek remained part of the curriculum, bilingualism declined.

The highest level of Roman education began at about the age of sixteen and focused on rhetoric. As in Greek education, the goal was to learn to speak and write effectively as needed in public life and the law courts. If anything, the emphasis on oratory in Roman schools was stronger than in Greek schools because other parts of the Greek curriculum, such as music and athletics, were eliminated, and the Romans had little interest in science and philosophy. Roman schools used rhetoric manuals that systematized Greek rhetorical instruction.

Greco-Roman education prepared upper-class males for leadership roles. Educators hoped to give their students the proper civic and moral values based on the traditions and literature of the Greek city or Roman state. They tried to educate the person rather than impart knowledge. Above all, Greco-Roman education taught rhetoric, a practical skill for future leaders of self-governing societies in which the spoken word meant a great deal. The emphasis on rhetoric continued even after Rome had become a dictatorship ruled by the will and whims of emperors. Despite the great mathematical, medical, philosophical, and scientific accomplishments of ancient Greece, Greco-Roman education did not stress these.

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