Going to School in Ancient Rome

Did you ever think your teacher was difficult to please? Children in ancient Rome often had very strict teachers. Roman boys and girls attended elementary school when they were six or seven, if their parents could afford the school fee. The teacher, known as a magister or grammaticus, taught the children basic reading, writing, and math in two languages–Greek and Latin.

Teachers in ancient Rome sometimes made learning very complicated. For example, the teacher would say the letters of the alphabet aloud without showing students what the letters looked like. As a result, learning to write took a long time because students did not know the shape of the letters.

In addition to mastering two languages, Roman children had to behave themselves. Since there was no principal’s office to send a disobedient student to, teachers would physically punish students. The famous Roman Augustine still had nightmares as an adult about the beatings he received for playing ball during lessons.

School days lasted from dawn until noon without a break. Students did have a summer vacation and didn’t attend school on certain festival days. They also had every eighth day off, which was known as market day. Since many “schools” met in small groups outdoors, it would have been impossible to hear lessons on a busy market day.

Only boys went to the ancient Roman version of high school. By the age of twelve, girls left school to learn how to run a household before they married. In the next couple of years, Roman boys learned grammar and studied literature in Greek and Latin. Other subjects like history and geometry were considered less important and science was rarely studied.

Since teachers expected to receive a fee from the students’ parents, not all Roman children had access to education. Some were lucky enough to have household members who knew how to read and they taught the children what they knew. Many children whose parents did not have money or were slaves, however, remained illiterate.

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