In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Education

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Collections of Papers
  • Bibliographies
  • Reference Works
  • Sources
  • Apprenticeship
  • The Transmission of Traditional Wisdom
  • Sparta
  • Numbers
  • Music
  • Physical Training
  • The Sophists and Socrates
  • Fourth-Century Theory and Practice
  • The Hellenistic Period
  • Enkuklios Paideia and Artes Liberales
  • The Study of Grammar
  • Teachers’ Roles and Titles
  • Philosophical Education
  • Legal Education
  • The State’s Involvement in Education
  • Institutional Buildings
  • Christian Adoption of Pagan Systems

Classics Education
Mark Joyal
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 June 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 June 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0015


Greek and Roman educational practices and theories exercised an unbroken though fluctuating influence on Western culture from the end of Antiquity through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Reformation, and into the modern world. The traditional focus in this field has been on the formal, systematic elements of education: schools, teachers and the teaching profession, curricula, methods, textbooks and other pedagogical materials, literary canons, and so on. In more recent years, the definition of “education” has widened to capture other social and intellectual contexts that are far removed from the formal student-teacher relationship. This more expansive approach has emerged in step with the enormous growth of interest in formerly marginalized segments and members of ancient society, and in patterns of behavior that seem unusual to many modern cultures. For instance, the upbringing and education of girls, rites of passage for both males and females, and the transmission of traditional wisdom are now often seen as equally worthy of inclusion in the story of ancient education, broadly defined. The value of study in areas such as these lies especially in the fact that it was mainly wealthier members of Greek and Roman society, and therefore only a minority of the population, to whom the “school” curricula of ancient education were available. It often requires much effort and imagination, however, to uncover and interpret evidence for other kinds of educational experience. This article attempts to do justice both to the mass of scholarship in the more traditional study of ancient education and to other topics that have also attracted significant attention in recent years.

General Overviews

Since the mid-20th century the study of Greek and Roman education has been dominated by Marrou 1975, an encyclopedic work that reached a 7th edition; it can be consulted helpfully on almost all topics cited in this article. Bowen 1972 is a chronological and conventional account, but it has the advantage of revealing the subject’s importance to the broader Western context. Christes, et al. 2006 provides reasonably comprehensive coverage of the subject by a team of specialists. Beck 1964 focuses on 5th-century and 4th-century BCE Athens and deals with most of the relevant texts and much of the material evidence for this relatively well-documented period. Bonner 1977 aims to cover Roman education from its earliest attestation until the 1st century CE. Wolff 2015 expands the range of Bonner’s treatment both chronologically and methodologically. Christes 1975 considers the role of literate education and its teachers in Greek and Roman society as a whole. Barrow 1976 is much more limited in its scope and aims than the foregoing.

  • Barrow, Robin. 1976. Greek and Roman education. London: Macmillan.

    A brief, general overview, but useful as a basic introduction.

  • Beck, Frederick A. G. 1964. Greek education, 450–350 BC. London: Methuen.

    A thorough and generally reliable guide through a crucial period in the development of formal education in the Greek world, but its treatment of modern scholarly opinion is sometimes vague and haphazard.

  • Bonner, Stanley F. 1977. Education in ancient Rome: From the Elder Cato to the Younger Pliny. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520347762

    A detailed, scholarly presentation that depends heavily on the use and analysis of ancient sources, while also taking good account of modern scholarship.

  • Bowen, James. 1972. A history of Western education. Vol. 1, The ancient world: Orient and Mediterranean, 2000 B.C.–A.D. 1054. New York: St. Martin’s.

    Not as comprehensive or authoritative as Marrou 1975, but a good entry point for the serious general reader.

  • Christes, Johannes. 1975. Bildung und Gesellschaft: Die Einschätzung der Bildung und ihrer Vermittler in der griechisch-römischen Antike. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

    Focuses on the place that “higher” education—the preserve of the upper class—and its teachers played in Greek and Roman society.

  • Christes, Johannes, Richard Klein, and Christoph Lüth, eds. 2006. Handbuch der Erziehung und Bildung in der Antike. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

    Ten authors contribute to a broad but coherent and well-organized overview of Greek and Roman education. Includes a chapter on education in early Judaism. Extensive reference to ancient sources and full use of modern scholarship.

  • Marrou, Henri Irénée. 1975. Histoire de l’éducation dans l’antiquité. 7th ed. Paris: Editions de Seuil.

    The standard survey. It is now out of date but has not been superseded by any book of similar scope and remains valuable especially for its rich treatment of ancient source material and its author’s wide learning. The (largely negative) review by Glanville Downey in Classical Journal 52 (1957):337–345 is well worth reading. See also Pailler and Payen 2004 (cited under Collections of Papers). English translation by G. Lamb of the 3rd French edition (1956), A History of Education in Antiquity (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press).

  • Wolff, Catherine. 2015. L’éducation dans le monde romain: Du début de la République à la mort de Commode. Antiquité synthèses 16. Paris: Édition Picard.

    An authoritative, stimulating account of Roman educational practices and goals throughout the period of the Republic and much of the Empire; more than merely a “synthesis.”

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