Poor kids had to work
Roman education was for richer boys
Some rich boys, especially if they lived in cities, did go to school. Girls usually did not go to school. Rich kids sometimes had a slave who walked them to school and back and kept them safe.
What was the Roman school schedule?
The Roman school year started on March 24th, like the old Babylonian New Year. Boys were in school from early in the morning until mid-morning, and then often exercised until lunch. They usually walked home for lunch and then came back for an afternoon session.
But they didn’t all necessarily arrive or leave at the same time – some boys came later, or left earlier. In the winter, Roman boys often came to school before it was light out. Then they brought wax candles with them to light the schoolroom.
Roman people hadn’t invented weekends yet, but there was no school on market-days (about every nine days), and there were a lot of religious holidays from school too. There was no long summer vacation, but overall they had about the same number of days of school as kids do today.
Roman schools were small, with only one room, and one teacher, like American one-room schools. The boys usually sat on stools or chairs. Most of the time only the teacher had a chair with a back (though in this picture actually the boys do have backs on their chairs). Nobody had a desk.
The same teacher taught boys of different ages, from about seven to eleven or twelve. (Boys younger than seven didn’t go to school). The boys’ parents paid the teacher, the way your parents pay for music lessons or karate lessons today.
Were teachers well paid in Roman schools?
No, like music teachers today, Roman teachers weren’t paid very well. A lot of teachers were freed slaves – freedmen – so they didn’t have a lot of status.
Teachers were always complaining about being poor. A teacher with 30 students in his class might get about 180 denarii a year, which was maybe enough to live on but not enough to support a family.
Homeschooling in ancient Rome
Some kids (both boys and girls) were home-schooled instead. Either their mothers or fathers taught them, or sometimes they hired a teacher to come to their house. Or (for very rich people) they might buy an enslaved person to be their kids’ teacher.
What subjects did Roman kids learn in school?
The teacher taught the boys how to read and write, and also how to count and calculate some numbers. Because Roman numbers were not useful for adding and multiplying, teachers taught the boys to use an abacus for their calculations. The boys memorized their times tables, too.
Could Roman teachers hit the kids?
If a boy had not learned what he was supposed to learn, the teacher would often hit him with a stick. Many boys were very afraid of their teacher, and hated school because they were afraid of being hit with the stick. But a lot of Roman people thought kids wouldn’t learn anything unless you hit them.
When did Roman education end?
When boys were eleven or twelve, and had learned everything they could learn in this school, many of them stopped going to school. That was all the school most Roman people got. A few kids who were from well-off families, like the scholar Augustine, went on to high school.
Did we answer your questions about Roman education? Let us know in the comments!