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Education in the Judea-Christian and Greco-Roman traditions: From family-centred education to the teacher-slaves

canstockphoto30379726Learning contents:

Among the Hebrews: Education is initially the responsibility of families and involved reading, writing and the history of their religion. It was based on sacred texts. Mathematics, astronomy, literature and geography were taught at more advanced levels.

In Sparta: Education in Sparta aimed to train and build brave, strong and patriotic soldiers. It consisted in training for the hunt and in physical and military exercises.

In Athens: Depending on the social status, the level of instruction was not the same. The son of a craftsman would simply learn to read, write and count. The wealthier population would receive a complete education in order to become real citizens. Education aimed to harmonise body, art and soul.

In Rome: Education is military, patriotic and utilitarian: reading, writing, calculus, military training and of course dedication to the motherland. Thereafter, grammar and rhetoric become more and more present at school.


Among the Hebrews: Teachers were well regarded because the Talmud placed them above the father.

In Athens: Until the age of 5 or 6 children were educated by women. When they reached 7 years of age, their education was provided by teacher-slaves. The slave would accompany the children to their lessons and insure that they behaved. A grammarian taught reading, writing, mythology, calculus as well as drawing and geometry. A citharist (player of zither) taught music and a palestra taught gymnastics.

In Rome: Military and religious education was given in the family. From the age of 12, a grammarian taught , grammar and literature in Greek, followed by in Latin. From 17 years of age, a rhetorical orator prepared them for public speaking.

Teaching methods:

Among the Hebrews: Study of sacred texts with teaching based on discipline, rituals, music and dance.

In Sparta: Physical blows and suffering aimed to harden children.

In Athens: Children memorised and recited excerpts from Aesop and Homer. Rituals, dances, singing, theatre, games and parades were also a part of their education.

In Rome: Discipline, respect for power and imitation were important aspects of education.

School organization:

Among the Hebrews: Poor children helped their parents with their work and girls helped with household chores. Higher education was given by priests and scribes in the prophets’ schools. The first elementary schools and the idea of free and obligatory schooling are introduced.

In Athens: Schools for grammar and music are private with teachers competing for students. Schools run by rhetorical orators and sophists taught public speaking and philosophy.

In Rome: Those with enough money called on slave-tutors and on private schools.


In Sparta: Girls and boys received similar education which was aimed at preparing them for being of service to the community. Children belonged to the state.

In Athens: Education aimed at giving both a sense of order and of beauty. Professional education was limited since most needs were fulfilled by the large number of slaves. Manual labour was scorned and only girls with a high-born background were taught to read and write.

In Rome: Girls were limited to being educated within their families. Greek was progressively replaced by Latin.

Key concepts and important figures: Spartan military education, the slave-tutors of ancient Greece, sophism and the art of rhetoric.

Further readings (in French):

Vial Jean, « L'éducation dans les civilisations antiques, ancêtres du monde occidental », Histoire de l'éducation, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France , «Que sais-je ?», 2009.

Site web de Bernadette Moussy, si la Pédagogie m'était contée, la Gaule

L'éducation spartiate selon la Wikipedia

Spartiates (éducation chez les) selon l'édition électronique du Dictionnaire de la pédagogie de Ferdinand Buisson

Athéniens (éducation chez les) selon l'édition électronique du Dictionnaire de la pédagogie de Ferdinand Buisson

Synthèse du cours de Philippe Mérieux : la pédagogie, histoire et enjeux

Le Sophisme selon la Wikipedia

La Rhétorique selon la Wikipedia