Schools in ancient Greece

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A Greek school. The students stand before the teachers.

A Greek school. The students stand before the teachers.

Most Greek children never went to school at all. Girls, to begin with, always stayed with their mothers until they were married, either at home or working in the fields. Slaves, whether boys or girls, also could not go to school, and many children in ancient Athens and Corinth and other Greek cities were slaves. Any boy who was poor, even if he was free, also could not go to school: his family could not afford to pay the teacher, and besides they needed the boy’s work at home. There were no public schools.

A Greek student writes an essay on a wax tablet (not a laptop!)

A Greek student writes an essay on a wax tablet (not a laptop!)

A woman reads a scroll: red figure vase from Athens in the 400s BC

A woman reads a scroll

Still, people who could spare the money did try to send their boys to school, because without learning to read and write and generally becoming educated, boys could not hope to participate in politics when they grew up.

Greek schools were small. They had only one teacher and about ten or twenty boys. They met in a small rented storefront, or sometimes just under a tree outside. There were wooden benches, and a chair for the teacher, but no desks.

An athletic coach holding a cane

An athletic coach holding a cane

Boys began going to school when they were about 7 years old, and went until they were about 13. In school, boys learned to read and write, and also memorized large amounts of Homer‘s Iliad and Odyssey. They learned to play the lyre (the kithara) and the pipes (the aulos), and to sing. They learned some astronomy, and some geometry, too. The teacher often hit the boys with sticks if they didn’t learn fast enough.

Learn by doing: making a Greek lyre
More about ancient schools

Bibliography and further reading about Greek schools:

Eyewitness: Ancient Greece , by Anne Pearson. Easy reading.

Ancient Greek Children (People in the Past Series-Greece), by Richard Tames (2002). Easy reading.

Children and Childhood in Classical Athens, by Mark Golden (1993).

Ancient Literacy, by William V. Harris (1991). Groundbreaking. Argues that there was much less literacy in the ancient world than people have assumed.

A History of Education in Antiquity, by Henri Marrou (1948). Nothing better has come along yet, so this is the old stand-by.

The Gymnasium of Virtue: Education & Culture in Ancient Sparta, by Nigel M. Kennell (1995).

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By | 2018-04-16T23:51:44+00:00 July 11th, 2017|Greeks, People|8 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Schools in ancient Greece. Study Guides, July 11, 2017. Web. April 20, 2018.

About the Author:

Karen Carr
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.


  1. kyle February 27, 2018 at 3:42 pm - Reply


  2. oof February 27, 2018 at 3:39 pm - Reply

    this website is great

  3. Lisette Rosas February 27, 2018 at 2:10 am - Reply

    My son got all the information he needed to do his homework on Ancient Greece schools, was very helpful to him. Thank you so much.
    Satisfied Mom
    & Son

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr February 27, 2018 at 8:22 am

      Very happy to hear it!

  4. asleigh February 26, 2018 at 7:54 pm - Reply

    is this true another site says boys start at the age of 6 not 7

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr February 26, 2018 at 11:21 pm

      There’s probably some variation in different places and times – ancient Greece was a lot of different city-states over hundreds of years, so I’m sure there were some changes in when boys started school.

  5. NUN YA February 21, 2018 at 6:45 am - Reply


    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr February 21, 2018 at 9:38 am

      Sorry to hear it! What were you trying to find out?

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