In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Education, Greco-Roman

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Collections of Papers
  • Reference Works
  • Sources
  • Education for Girls and Women
  • Apprenticeship and the Education of Slaves
  • Numbers
  • Music
  • 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

Biblical Studies Education, Greco-Roman
Mark Joyal
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 April 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 April 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0300


As a title, “Greco-Roman education” implicates both subject-matter and chronological boundaries. The phrase has traditionally referred to systems or patterns of elite education in the Mediterranean world which were initiated by Greeks after a long period of development in the Archaic and classical periods and whose principal elements were subsequently adopted, and adapted as necessary, by the Romans. These systems and patterns evolved during the Hellenistic period and are the ones that Romans encountered when they were first making sustained, substantial diplomatic, military, and social contacts with Greeks in the 3rd century BCE and later. The structure of this education permitted considerable variation, but at its core it relied on literacy and the development of verbal dexterity. In its most developed form it expressed itself through the display of rhetoric, though some students pursued the study of philosophy instead of or in addition to rhetoric (Cicero is the most celebrated example of someone who studied both subjects at a high level). Much of this bibliography is dedicated to a consideration of the many elements of “literate education” in the Greco-Roman world, including female participation in it, but it takes account of other forms of training as well. Civic education, especially mandatory military service, is covered, as is apprenticeship and the education and training of slaves. The evidence and source-materials that are the focus of the scholarship discussed here extend to the end of Antiquity, and in some cases beyond.

General Overviews

Marrou 1975 (first edition 1948) remains the most comprehensive and widely used single-authored work on Greek and Roman education, though it has been overtaken by scholarly developments and the emergence and application of new information. Despite its conventional treatment, Bowen 1972 has the virtue of placing Greco-Roman education into its wider cultural and historical context since it is part of a larger history of education. Bonner 1977 covers the development and main features of Roman education from its earliest stages to the 1st century CE. The scope of Wolff 2015 is similar to Bonner 1977 but it is more expansive both chronologically and methodologically. Christes 1975 focuses on literate education and its teachers in Greek and Roman society as a whole. Morgan 1998 is a learned overview of the “school” curriculum and its contents that connects its character in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds with the educational conditions that had preceded. Cribiore 2001 is an impressive synthesis of the literary, documentary, and material evidence for the late Hellenistic and Roman periods. Cribiore 2009 examines the contribution that papyrological remains make to our understanding of educational practices in these periods. Pomeroy 1977 is interested especially in those women who are distinguished in our sources by the fact that they received an education more usually associated with men. Although it is not focused specifically on Greco-Roman education, Koester 1995 provides a good, reliable introduction to the society and culture of the Hellenistic world and the Roman Empire.

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

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520347762

    A reliable, scholarly treatment that makes full use of the evidence from ancient sources while demonstrating a broad familiarity with modern scholarship.

  • Bowen, James. A History of Western Education. Vol. 1, The Ancient World: Orient and Mediterranean, 2000 B.C.–A.D. 1054. New York: St. Martin’s, 1972.

    Although rather dated, this volume provides a solid narrative especially for the reader who is coming to this large subject for the first time.

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

    Christes focuses on the role of “higher” education and its teachers in Greek and Roman society.

  • Cribiore, Raffaella. Gymnastics of the Mind: Greek Education in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400844418

    Draws together and assesses literary and documentary evidence of many kinds to produce a compelling picture of practices in Greco-Roman Egypt.

  • Cribiore, Raffaella. “Education in the Papyri.” In The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology. Edited by R. S. Bagnall, 320–337. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    Assesses the evidence for education on the basis of papyri and material remains that date to the Hellenistic, Roman, and early Byzantine periods, and compares this evidence with the picture produced by more familiar literary sources.

  • Koester, Helmut. Introduction to the New Testament. Vol. 1, History, Culture, and Religion of the Hellenistic Age. 2d ed. New York and Berlin: de Gruyter, 1995.

    Provides detailed contextualization for the intellectual and cultural characteristics of Greco-Roman education and its delivery.

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

    Since its initial publication in 1948 this has been the standard survey of Greek and Roman education, though it is now out of date. The review by Glanville Downey in Classical Journal 52 (1957):337–345, though largely negative, deserves attention. 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). Translated into several languages.

  • Morgan, Teresa. Literate Education in the Hellenistic and Roman Worlds. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

    Describes in detail the content and character of literate education in the Greco-Roman period, with special attention to the evidence of papyri and materials produced by teachers and students.

  • Pomeroy, S. B. “Technikai kai mousikai: The Education of Women in the Fourth Century and in the Hellenistic Period.” American Journal of Ancient History 2 (1977): 51–68.

    Concentrates especially on Greek women who attained a high level of education, including those who practiced professions that required superior technical knowledge.

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

    An authoritative account of Roman educational practices and goals throughout the period of the Republic and much of the Empire.

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