Jump to content
The Education Forum

Education and the Romans

John Simkin

Recommended Posts

As Monty Python once said: "What did the Romans every do for us?" Well, they were the first in Britain to bring in the idea that all children should be educated in schools. This idea was dismissed by the early Christian Church as they thought it was unwise to allow the peasants to learn to read. It was important for the Church leadership that the peasants did not read the Bible. Otherwise they would have discovered all those dangerous ideas promoted by Jesus Christ. The British monarchy agreed and it became illegal for peasants to be taught to read and write.

In the second century BC schools began to emerge in Rome. They were very small and were usually only one room. As well as reading and writing, children were taught elementary arithmetic. The Roman numeral system made arithmetic difficult and most sums were done by moving beads on a counting frame called an abacus.

The Romans were strong believers in corporal punishment. One popular saying was: "A man who has not been flogged is not trained." The main form of punishment was being hit with a leather whip. Terence disagreed with this approach and argued: "The man who keeps to the path of duty through fear of punishment will be honest just as long as he thinks he'll be found out. If he think's he can get away with something undetected, then he'll be back to his tricks. But the man who is attached to you by affection is anxious to treat you as you treat him, whether you're there or not... A man who can't do this should admit that he cannot control children."

Quintilian, an important Roman educationalist in the 1st century AD, was also against corporal punishment. He wrote in AD 96: "Study depends on the good will of the student, a quality that cannot be secured by compulsion... He must be engaged in competition and should be allowed to believe himself successful more often than not, while he should be encouraged to do his best by such rewards as may appeal to his tender years... I disapprove of flogging - although it is the regular custom - because it is... an insult, as you will realise if you imagine its infliction at a later age."

Quintilian also argued that children would do better at school if both the child's parents had also been educated. He was probably the first educationalist to realise that it is the mother, rather than the father, who plays the most important role in the education of the children. This encouraged some fathers to spend money on their daughter's education, but from the evidence that we have this was still fairly rare.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in

Sign In Now
  • Create New...