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Education in the Middle Ages: Education at the crossroads between ancient and current knowledge and deliberated by opposing forces of the warrior and Christian charity

512px Woman teaching geometryLearning contents:

The school at Charlemagne's palace follows classic tradition, in line with the Greeks and Romans.

In the episcopal schools (primary schools for all classes of society), basic reading, writing and counting with chips were taught, along with some notions of Latin.

In the colleges, young people were taught Latin, poetry, sciences, public speaking, and law.

The Knights’ education, established following the crusades, was inspired by the Muslims and Persians. It consisted of physical education, song, music and good manners. The concept of honour was particularly meaningful.

Universities taught the Seven Liberal Arts: the “trivium” (grammar, rhetoric and logic) and the “quadrivium” (arithmetic, music, geometry, astronomy).

Guilds offered professional and moral instruction.


Alcuin of York, the director of the Ecole du Palais, brought teachers from Rome to teach grammar, music and arithmetic.

The episcopal schools were the responsibility of the bishops. This meant that a teacher was present in each cathedral.

The family maintained its role in teaching domestic skills. Professional skills were taught in special institutions known as guilds.

Teaching methods:

In the episcopal schools sacred texts were read with a global method using whole sentences.

In the colleges, teaching was magisterial, by commentaries on texts. Ordinary classes where the teacher presented a subject matter were held in the morning. The afternoons were used to answer questions and to review the content. Once a week a discussion took place, which included free debate time (the “quod libet”). These classes were given either in a stable or in the teacher's house.

In the guilds, the secret was well kept and the teaching mostly practical. It relied on observing and copying. In general, the teaching was given orally and was encyclopaedic, founded on accepted texts and deductive logic.

School organization:

The episcopal schools provided the transition between the Roman grammar schools and the institutions of the Middle Ages. Charlemagne encouraged monasteries to create schools and to organise better training for the clergy. Monasteries contained libraries with both religious and non-religious texts which were used in their search for truth.

The first main European universities were being developed. They were centred around the study of theology and were authorized by the pope or the king.

Training took place in different places depending on whether one was in a town (training in guilds), in the country (the family was in charge), somewhere with a school or university, in the religious world of monasteries or in the world of noblemen and chivalry.

From the age of 14 , students could study at the faculty of arts, which taught grammar, the logic of Aristotle and rhetoric. These studies could be long and students were able to choose their teachers.


Christianity finally adopted the system inherited from antiquity and adapted it to the Christian faith. Added onto what was taught in antiquity was the singing of the Psalms. During the Sixth Century, Barbarian invasions threatened civilization and monasteries became the last refuge for culture. After the Dark Age caused by these invasions, the Carolingian period saw a rebirth of education. The courteous ideal contributed to the humanisation of social relationships and respect for women increased. Emotional education progressed and the art of loving began to gain importance. The disciplines were applied for theology, and logic was used to build a rational philosophy of the church’s doctrine. Pedagogy is implemented to train men to serve God.

Key concepts and important figures:

Charlemagne, Aluin of York, Chivalric education, Aristotelian logic, The Scholastic, syllogism.

Further readings (in French):

Vial Jean, « L'éducation au Moyen-Âge», Histoire de l'éducation, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France , «Que sais-je ?», 2009.

Site web de Bernadette Moussy, si la Pédagogie m'était contée, le Moyen-âge

L'Education au Moyen-Age en Occident selon la Wikipedia

Charlemagne selon la Wikipedia

Alcuin selon la Wikipedia

Ecole cathédrale selon la Wikipedia

Collège (Moyen Âge) selon la Wikipedia

Chevalerie selon la Wikipedia

Aristote selon la Wikipedia

Aristote selon l'édition électronique du Dictionnaire de la pédagogie de Ferdinand Buisson

Syllogisme selon la Wikipedia

Scolastique selon la Wikipedia