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Roman Family Funeral Slab 1st C
Familia - The Roman Name for Family:
The Roman family was called familia, from which Latin word 'family' is derived. The familia could include the triad with which we are
familiar, two parents and children (biological or adopted), as well as slaves and grandparents. The head of the family (referred to as the
pater familias) was in charge of even adult males in the familia.
See Jane F. Gardner's "Family and Familia in Roman Law and Life" reviewed by Richard Saller in The American Historical Review, Vol.
105, No. 1. (Feb., 2000), pp. 260-261.
Purposes of the Roman Family:
The Roman family was the basic institution of the Roman people. The Roman family transmitted morality and social status across
generations. The family educated its own young. The family tended its own hearth, while the hearth goddess, Vesta, was tended by
state priestess called Vestal Virgins. The family needed to continue so that dead ancestors could be honored by their descendants and
connections made for political purposes. When this failed to be motive enough, Augustus Caesar offered financial incentives to families
to breed.
The wife of the pater familias (the mater familias) might have been considered part of her husband's family or part of her natal family,
depending on the conventions of the marriage. Marriages in Ancient Rome could be in manu 'in the hand' or sine manu 'without the
hand'. In the former case, the wife became part of her husband's family; in the latter, she remained tied to her family of origin.
Divorce and Emancipation:
When we think of divorce, emancipation, and adoption, we usually think in terms of ending relationships between families. Rome was
different. Inter-familial alliances were essential for garnering the support needed for political ends.
Divorces could be granted so that partners could remarry into other families to establish new connections, but the family connections
established via first marriages need not be broken. Emancipated sons were still entitled to shares of paternal estates.
Adoption also brought families together and allowed continuity to families that would otherwise have no one to carry on the family
name. In the unusual case of Claudius Pulcher, adoption into a plebeian family, led by a man younger than himself, allowed Cl audius
(now using the plebeian name 'Clodius') to run for election as tribune of the plebs.
For information on the adoption of freedmen, see "The Adoption of Roman Freedmen," by Jane F. Gardner. Phoenix, Vol. 43, No. 3.
(Autumn, 1989), pp. 236-257.
Familia vs. Domus:
In legal terms, familia included all those under the power of the pater familias; sometimes it meant only the slaves. The pater familias
was usually the oldest male. His heirs were under his power, as were the slaves, but not necessarily his wife. A boy without mother or
children could be a pater familias. In non-legal terms, the mother/wife could be included in the familia, although the term usually used
for this unit was domus, which we translate as 'home'.
See "'Familia, Domus', and the Roman Conception of the Family," by Richard P. Saller. Phoenix, Vol. 38, No. 4. (Winter, 1984), pp. 336355.
Household and Family Religion in Antiquity, edited by John Bodel and Saul M. Olyan
Meaning of Domus:
Domus referred to the physical house, the household, including the wife, ancestors and descendants. The domus referred to the places
where the pater familias exerted his authority or acted as dominus. Domus was also used for the dynasty of the Roman emperor.
Domus and familia were often interchangeable.
Pater Familias vs. Pater or Parent:
While pater familias is usually understood as "head of the family," it had the primary legal meaning of "estate owner." The word itself
was usually used in legal contexts and required only that the person be able to possess property. The terms usually used to denote
parenting were parens 'parent', pater 'father', and mater 'mother'.
See "Pater Familias, Mater Familias, and the Gendered Semantics of the Roman Household," by Richard P. Saller. Classical Philology,
Vol. 94, No. 2. (Apr., 1999), pp. 182-197.
Pater familias
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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The pater familias, also written as paterfamilias (plural patres familias) was the head
of a Roman family. The term is Latin for "father of the family" or the "owner of the
family estate". The form is irregular and archaic in Latin, preserving the old genitive
ending in -as (see Latin declension). The pater familias was always a Roman citizen.
Roman law and tradition (mos maiorum) established the power of the pater familias
within the community of his own extended familia. He held legal privilege over the
property of the familia, and varying levels of authority over his dependents: these
included his wife and children, certain other relatives through blood or adoption,
clients, freedmen and slaves. The same mos maiorum moderated his authority and
determined his responsibilities to his own familia and to the broader community. He
had a duty to father and raise healthy children as future citizens of Rome, to maintain
the moral propriety and well-being of his household, to honour his clan and ancestral
gods and to dutifully participate—and if possible, serve—in Rome's political,
religious and social life. In effect, the pater familias was expected to be a good
citizen. In theory at least, he held powers of life and death over every member of his
extended familia through ancient right but in practice, the extreme form of this right
was seldom exercised. It was eventually limited by law.[1]
The Roman familia
The Roman household was conceived of as an economic and juridical unit or estate:
familia originally meant the group of the famuli (the servi or serfs and slaves of a rural
estate) living under the same roof. This meaning later expanded to indicate the familia
as the basic Roman social unit, which might include the domus (house or home) but
was legally distinct from it—a familia might own one or several homes. All members
and properties of a familia were subject to the authority of a pater familias: his legal,
social and religious position defined familia as a microcosm of the Roman state.[2] In
Roman law, the potestas of the pater familias was official but distinct from that of
Only a Roman citizen held the status of pater familias and there could only be one
holder of the office within a household. He was responsible for its well-being,
reputation and legal and moral propriety. The entire familia was expected to adhere to
the core principles and laws of the Twelve Tables, which the pater familias had a duty
to exemplify, enjoin and if necessary enforce, so within the familia Republican law
and tradition (mos maiorum) allowed him powers of life and death (vitae necisque
potestas). He was also obliged to observe the constraints imposed by Roman custom
and law on all potestas. His decisions should be obtained through counsel,
consultation and consent within the familia—these were decisions by committee
(consilium). These family consilia probably involved the most senior members of his
own household—especially his wife—and if necessary his peers and seniors within
his extended clan (gens).[3]
Augustus' legislation on the morality of marriage co-opted the traditional potestas of
the pater familias. Augustus was not only Rome's princeps—he was its father (pater
patriae) and as such was responsible for the entire Roman familia. Rome's survival
required that citizens produce children. This could not be left to individual
conscience—the falling birthrate was a marker of degeneracy and self-indulgence,
particularly among the elite who were supposed to set an example. The Augustan Lex
Julia maritandis ordinaribus compelled marriage upon men and women within
specified age ranges, and remarriage on the divorced and bereaved within certain time
limits. The Lex Julia de adulteriis coercendis severely penalised adulterous wives and
any husbands who tolerated such behaviour. The Lex Papia Poppaea extended and
modified these laws in relation to intermarriage between social classes and
inheritance. Compliance was rewarded and exceptional public duty brought
exemption but dictatorial compulsion was deeply unpopular and quite impractical.
The laws were later softened in theory and practise, but the Imperial quaestio
perpetua remained. Its public magistrates now legally over-rode the traditional rights
of the family concilium and pater familias. The principate shows a clear trend towards
the erosion of individual patria potestas and the increasing intrusion of the state into
the juridical and executive independence of the familia under its pater.[4]
Pater familias as priest of Familia, gens and genius
Main article: Gens
Main article: Genius (mythology)
The domestic responsibilities of the pater familias included his priestly duties (sacra
familiae) to his "household gods" (the lares and penates) and the ancestral gods of his
own gens.[5] The latter were represented by the di parentes as ancestral shades of the
departed, and by the genius cult. Genius has been interpreted as the essential, heritable
spirit (or divine essence, or soul) and generative power that suffused the gens and
each of its members. As the singular, lawful head of a family derived from a gens, the
pater familias embodied and expressed its genius through his pious fulfillment of
ancestral obligations. The pater familias was therefore owed a reciprocal duty of
genius cult by his entire familia. He in his turn conferred genius and the duty of sacra
familiae to his children—whether by blood or by adoption.[6]
Roman religious law defined the religious rites of familia as sacra privata (funded by
the familia rather than the state) and "unofficial" (not a rite of state office or
magistracy, though the state pontifices and censor might intervene if the observation
of sacra privata was lax or improper. The responsibility for funding and executing
sacra privata therefore fell to the head of the household and no other. As well as
observance of common rites and festivals (including those marked by domestic rites),
each family had its own unique internal religious calendar—marking the formal
acceptance of infant children, coming of age, marriages, deaths and burials. In rural
estates, the entire familia would gather to offer sacrifice(s) to the gods for the
protection and fertility of fields and livestock. All such festivals and offerings were
presided over by the pater familias.[7]
TASK: List some of the rights and responsibilities of the paterfamilias below:
Further information: Women in Ancient Rome and Marriage in ancient Rome
The legal potestas of the pater familias over his wife depended on the form of
marriage contracted between them. In the Early Republic, a wife was "handed over"
to the legal control of her husband in the form of marriage cum manu (Latin manus
means "hand"). If the man divorced his wife, he had to give the dowry back to his
wife and her family.[8] By the Late Republic, manus marriage had become rare, and a
woman remained legally a part of her birth family.[9]
Women emancipated from the potestas of a paterfamilias were independent by law
(sui iuris), but had a male guardian appointed to them. A woman sui iuris had the
right to take legal action on her own behalf, but not to administer legal matters for
The laws of the Twelve Tables required the pater familias to ensure that "obviously
deformed" infants were put to death. The survival of congenitally disabled adults—
conspicuously evidenced among the elite by the partially lame Emperor Claudius—
demonstrates that personal choice was exercised in the matter.
The pater familias had the power to sell his children into slavery; Roman law
provided, however, that if a child had been sold as a slave three times, he was no
longer subject to patria potestas. The pater familias had the power to approve or
reject marriages of his sons and daughters; however, an edict of the Emperor Caesar
Augustus provided that the pater familias could not withhold that permission lightly.
The filii familias (children of the family) could include the biological and adopted
children of the paterfamilias and his siblings.
Because of their extended rights (their longa manus, literally "long hand"), the patres
familias also had a series of extra duties: duties towards the filii and the slaves
(though some of these duties were not recognized by the original ius civile, but only
by the ius gentium, specially directed to foreigners, or by the ius honorarium, the law
of the Magistratus, especially the Praetor, which emerges in a latter period of Roman
Adult filii remained under the authority of their pater and could not themselves
acquire the rights of a pater familias while he lived. Legally, any property acquired by
individual family members (whether sons, daughters or slaves) was acquired for the
family estate: the paterfamilias held sole rights to its disposal and sole responsibility
for the consequences, including personal forfeiture of rights and property through
debt. Those who lived in their own households at the time of the pater's death
succeeded to the status of pater familias over their respective households (pater
familias sui iuris), even if they were only in their teens. Children "emancipated" by a
pater familias were effectively disinherited. Should a paterfamilias die intestate, his
children were entitled to an equal share of his estate. Where a will was left, children
could contest it.
Over time, the absolute authority of the pater familias weakened, and rights that
theoretically existed were no longer enforced or insisted upon. The power over life
and death was abolished, the right of punishment was moderated, and the sale of
children was restricted to cases of extreme necessity. Under Hadrian, a father who
killed his son was stripped of citizenship and all its attendant rights, had his property
confiscated and was permanently exiled.[11]
IN YOUR OWN WORDS, explain below the place and position of the wife and children in
a Roman Family, using as much detail as possible:
A Roman Dinner Party Is Not Just
Dinner with Friends
The dinner parties of ancient Rome were more to further careers rather than an
evening meal with friends. Much like in modern times, small talk and networking
for support were as important as what was served. They were extravagant events
meant to impress influential guests. Therefore, a Roman dinner party included a
sumptuous meal, followed strict etiquette and ritual, and ended with extended
hospitality past saying goodbyes.
The lavish meal consisted of three parts:
Appetizers (or gustatio in Latin) usually included salads, radishes, sardines,
eggs, and oysters.
The main course (or prima mensa) followed with six to seven courses
including fish, poultry, and meat. The most popular servings of meat were
mutton, boar, venison, lamb, and even suckling pig.
Dessert (or secunda mensa) consisted of a wide assortment of honeysweetened cakes and fruit. These included favorites like stuffed dates and
honeyed breads.
In between the main course and dessert, there was a usually a short period of silence
in which an offering was made to the household gods on the family altar.
Apart from this intermission, the Roman dinner party involved much observance to
etiquette and ritual. These included:
Following a seating arrangement planned by the host's wife.
As they ate, men could recline on the low couches next to the rectangular tables that
food was served on. Women, of course, had to politely sit.
Using tableware pottery that was "in style" that added to the good reputation of the
host and his family.
Following table manners such as eating with three fingers (the refined way to eat in
Rome and all Europe) and keeping the ring finger and pinkie clean while eating.
Bowls of tepid water were provided within easy reach of the guest for washing
between each course.
The host drinking from the first wine poured and toasting to his guests' health.
Belching which was actually considered polite.
Watered down wine was always served before and during dinner. Subsequently, more
wine mixed with water was consumed after dinner when everyone assembled in the
main room to be entertained by readings from the classics, some poetry, and
discussions from business to literature. However, some Roman dinner parties also
provided music, song, conjurors, acrobats, and dwarves as entertainment. More
importantly, this was the opportunity for the host to make an impact on his guests
with a tour of his house and to show his collections, including art and other
The host's hospitality did not end when the dinner party was over. Usually, he would
also send his servants, equipped with torches,
to deliver the guests safely home. During a
time with no street lighting, this last bit of
hospitality was certainly useful especially to
guests who indulged in too much drinking.
STARTER (___________)
MAIN COURSE (______________)
DESSERT (___________)
The Ideal roman House
Pompeii and Herculaneum offer us an exceptional insight into Roman life in the first century
AD, no more so than what it tells us about the houses the inhabitants lived in. Both towns
have many examples of the 'domus', the one family home, as it was between the fourth
century BC and the first century AD.
The basic layout was established by the Samnites and was plainly the outcome of previous
experience. This was the 'domus italica', a house with a series of service areas off a central
axis. Thus the areas for sleeping, cooking and eating were alongside areas used for family
and social life.
The latter areas were almost completely covered, like the atrium, or completely open, as in
the peristyled garden, while between the atrium and the peristyle was the family's most
sacred room, the tablinum. Light and air for the rest of the house usually came from these
central spaces alone, very rarely from the exterior.
The 3D view above shows the layout of a typical atrium house. The main
points of note are: (Try labelling the areas of the house with English terms)
..........................................1. Fauces
..........................................2. Tabernae
..........................................3. Atrium
..........................................4. Impluvium
..........................................5. Tablinum
..........................................6. Triclinium
..........................................7. Alae
..........................................8. Cubiculum
..........................................9. Culina
..........................................10. Posticum
..........................................11. Peristyle
..........................................12. Piscina
..........................................13. Exedra
This model stood the test of time and varied little in its basic layout. Variations
included a covered atrium, the addition of a second floor and more
recreational areas - perhaps a second peristyle or private baths. The atrium
roof often had supporting columns.
The architectural orders used in the buildings were the classical ones,
identified by their capitals; Doric, Ionic, Corinthian or Composite, a
combination of Ionic and Corinthian. In Pompeii and Herculaneum the orders
have some characteristics of their own, rooted, in particular, in the Samnite
Roman Slavery
Slaves were very important to the Romans. Without slaves, the wealthy of
Rome would not have been able to lead the lifestyles that they wanted to.
Slaves tend the hair of their mistress
Who were slaves? They were people who were frequently captured in battle
and sent back to Rome to be sold. However, abandoned children could also
be brought up as slaves. The law also stated that fathers could sell their older
children if they were in need of money.
A wealthy Roman would buy a slave in a market place. Young males with a
trade could fetch quite a sum of money simply because they had a trade and
their age meant that they could last for quite a number of years and, as such,
represented value for money. Someone who was a cook by trade could be
very expensive.
Once bought, a slave was a slave for life. A slave could only get their freedom
if they were given it by their owner or if they bought their freedom. To buy your
freedom, you had to raise the same sum of money that your master had paid
for you – a virtually impossible task.
If a slave married and had children, the children would automatically become
slaves. Young children were sometimes killed by their parents rather than let
them become slaves.
No-one is sure how many slaves existed in the Roman Empire. Even after
Rome has passed it days of greatness, it is thought that 25% of all people in
Rome were slaves. A rich man might own as many as 500 slaves and an
emperor usually had more than 20,000 at his disposal.
A logical assumption is that slaves lead poor lives simply because they were
slaves. In fact, a good master looked after a good slave as an equally good
replacement might be hard to acquire – or expensive. A good cook was highly
prized as entertaining was very important to Rome’s elite and rich families
tried to outdo each other when banquets were held – hence the importance of
owning a good cook.
Those slaves who worked down mines or had no trade/skill were almost
certainly less well looked after as they were easier and cheaper to replace.
A slave’s day began at daybreak. If his master lived in a cold climate, the first
job of the day for a day would be to fire up the hypocaust. When his master
awoke, a slave would be expected to assist dressing him. When the day
properly began, a whole group of slaves started set tasks, such as walking
children to school, cleaning a villa, washing clothes, tidying a garden etc. A
group of slaves would work in a kitchen preparing the day’s meals. When a
rich man and his family bathed at home, slaves would help out by drying them
once they had finished and dressing them. When a master moved around,
slaves would carry him in a litter. When a master entertained, slaves would
ensure a constant supply of food and drink. If guests had to return home and
it was dark, a slave or slaves would walk ahead of them with a lighted torch.
The Roman writer Seneca believed that masters should treat their slaves well
as a well treated slave would work better for a good master rather than just
doing enough begrudgingly for someone who treated their slaves badly.
Seneca did not believe that masters and their families should expect their
slaves to watch them eat at a banquet when many had only had access to
poor food.
The Romans - Slaves
A slave's life was hard. Slaves were usually
prisoners captured in war, but some were
people who had been kidnapped in Italy.
Slaves were sold at a slave-market. They
were put on show, naked, with a notice
around their necks. anyone who had enough money could buy
them. Once sold they were the property of their new owner and had
to work for no money. Sometimes a rich man would have as many
as 400 slaves.
Some slave owners beat their slaves and slaves that ran away
could be killed. Slaves could not argue with their masters, they
had to do exactly as they were told or else they would be
punished. If a slave killed his master then all the other slaves in
the household would be killed.
Both men and women were sold as slaves
and young boys were the most expensive
slaves to buy. Some slaves were well
educated, especially those from Greece, and
they would be used to teach the children of
the house.
Women slaves would be used as
hairdressers, dressmakers, cooks and servants for rich women.
Other slaves worked in small workshops making leather or silver
goods or pots and pans.
The slaves who had the hardest lives were those
who were put to work in the mines. They had to
spend long hours underground in hot, cramped
conditions. The mines were also unsafe and often
slaves were killed in accidents. Farmers used
slaves to do the hardest work on their farms like digging and
Some slaves were called public slaves; they worked
for Rome. Their job was to build roads and other
buildings and to repair the aqueducts that supplied
Rome with fresh water. Other public slaves worked
as clerks and tax collectors for the city.
Although they, and other slaves, would be killed if
they ran away, many did try to escape. However, this was very
difficult because they had no one to help them and many of them
did not speak Latin.
Spartacus was a famous Roman slave who did manage to
escape and form a group of slaves who defeated the Roman
army in battle. However, their success did not last for long as the
army managed to stop more slaves from joining Spartacus and
killed those that had survived the battle.
Compared to other ancient peoples of the Mediterranean basin, the Romans were
relatively liberal in freeing slaves and granting them Roman citizenship. In fact,
freedmen formed about 5% of the population of Rome during its Imperial Age.
Slaves were able to earn their freedom in more than one way. Educated and trained
slaves were almost always freed, a practice that was so common that Emperor
Augustus passed a law prohibiting the freeing of slaves before they reached the age of
thirty. A slave could also be freed as a reward for long and dedicated service, and
many were freed in the wills (and therefore at the death) of their owners. The
Augustan law also restricted the numbers of manumitted slaves. No more than 100
slaves per household, and a lower number in less affluent households, could be freed
in this way. A slave was able to buy his own freedom through his peculium (money),
or personal possessions.
When an owner freed a slave, the act was called manumissio, from the Latin words
manus (meaning hand), and mitto (meaning send). The oldest method of manumission
was in a legal ceremony, where a witness claimed that the slave did not actually
belong to the master, who did not deny this. As a result, the slave was freed.
Liberti or Libertini are two words that were, at different times, used by the Romans to
describe the condition of former slaves who had been freed. There is some distinction
between these words. The term libertus meant the freedman, when considered in
relation to the owner who had bestowed liberty upon him. The term libertinus denoted
the freedman when considered in relation to the state he had occupied in society since
his manumission.
Freedmen were able to own their own land. However, they were not full Roman
citizens. They could not run for public office, nor hold a high rank in the army,
although their children were afforded full citizenship.
QUESTIONS: Answer in your jotter. Answer in sentences and IN DETAIL!
1. List some ways to become a slave
2. What were some of the jobs performed by
a. skilled slaves
b. unskilled slaves
3. Explain the usual process for the purchasing of slaves
4. How did duties inside and outside the home for male and female slaves differ?
5. What opportunities for freedom did slaves have?
Education was very important to the Ancient Romans. The rich people in Ancient Rome put a
great deal of faith in education. While the poor in Ancient Rome did not receive a formal
education, many still learned to read and write. Children from rich families, however, were
well schooled and were taught by a private tutor at home or went to what we would recognise
as schools. In general, schools as we would recognise them, were for boys only. Also, Roman
schools were rarely an individual building but an extension of a shop - separated from the
crowd by a mere curtain!
Boys being educated
Learning in Roman schools was based on fear. Boys were beaten for the slightest offence as
a belief existed that a boy would learn correctly and accurately if he feared being caned if he
got something wrong. For boys who continued to get things wrong, some schools had a policy
of having pupils held down by two slaves while his tutor beat him with a leather whip.
There was not a great deal of subject choice in a Roman school. Therefore a boredom
threshold must have been quickly reached by children. This must have been made worse, by
the fact that the school day was longer than children now are used to. It seems likely that
during the school day, a child would rise at sunrise (not wanting to be late as this would lead
to a caning), work all day with a short break at lunch, and then home to be in bed by sunset
for the next day. Lessons were simply learned by heart. Children did not need to know why
something was right - only to know that it was right and that they would escape a beating.
Lessons were also simply dictated as there were no books as they were simply too
There were two types of schools in Ancient Rome. The first type of school was for younger
children aged up to 11 or 12 where they learned to read and write and to do basic
mathematics. At these schools, children worked on an abacus to learn basic mathematics.
For writing, they used a stylus and a wax tablet. Older children would go to more advanced
schools where they did specific studies on topics such as public speaking. They would also
study the writings of the great intellects of Ancient Rome such as Cicero. Girls rarely went to
these schools as they were allowed to get married at the age of 12 whereas boys had to wait
until they were 14 to get married.
Children worked a seven-day week - there was no break for the weekend! However, this was
not as dire as it appears. There were many school holidays - religious holidays (and there
were many of them) meant that children did not have to go to school. Market days also
resulted in school closures and children also had a summer holiday!
In general, girls did NOT go to school. Girls from rich families did receive an education, but
this was done at home. Here they were taught how to run a good household and how to be a
good wife in general - in preparation for the time they got married. Part of their education
would have been music, sewing and the competent running of a kitchen.
For boys, practice made perfect. They were not allowed to write on what we would consider to
be paper as it was very expensive. Boys first practised on a wax tablet. Only when they had
shown that they could write well, were they allowed to write on paper - which was made on
the Ancient Egyptian method of papyrus reeds. Their 'pens' were quills and their ink was a
mixture of gum, soot and, sometimes, the ink from an octopus.
"The teacher must decide how to deal with his pupil. Some boys are
lazy, unless forced to work; others do not like being controlled; some
will respond to fear but others are paralysed by it. Give me a boy who
is encouraged by praise, delighted by success and ready to weep over
failure. Such a boy must be encouraged by appeals to his ambitions."
Quintilian, a teacher in the 1st Century AD.
Task: list some details about boys’ and girls’ educational
Tiers of Roman Schooling
Moral Education
At the framework of ancient Greek education was an effective system of formal education, but in
contrast, the Romans lacked such a system until the 3rd century BCE. [8] Instead, at the foundation of
ancient Roman education was, above all else, the home and family, from which children derived their
so-called "moral education."
Whereas Greek boys primarily received their education from the community, a Roman child's first and
most important educators were almost always his or her parents. Parents taught their children the skills
necessary for living in the early republic, which included agricultural, domestic and military skills as
well as the moral and civil responsibilities that would be expected from them as citizens. Roman
education was carried on almost exclusively in the household under the direction of the paterfamilias.[8]
From the paterfamilias, or highest ranking male of the family, one usually learned "just enough
reading, writing, and 'rithmetic to enable them to understand simple business transactions and to count,
weigh, and measure.[9]
Men like Cato the Elder adhered to this Roman tradition and took their roles as teachers very seriously.
Cato the Elder not only made his children hardworking, good citizens and responsible Romans, but "he
was his (son's) reading teacher, his law professor, his athletic coach. He taught his son not only to hurl
a javelin, to fight in armor, and to ride a horse, but also to box, to endure both heat and cold, and to
swim strongly".[10]
Job training was also emphasized, and boys gained valuable experience through apprenticeships.
Mothers, though, cannot be overlooked for their roles as moral educators and character builders of their
children. Cornelia Africanus, the mother of the Gracchi, is even credited as a major cause of her sons'
renowned eloquence.[9]
Perhaps the most important role of the parents in their children's education was to instill in them a
respect for tradition and a firm comprehension of pietas, or devotion to duty. For a boy, this meant
devotion to the state, and for a girl, devotion to her husband and family. As the Roman Republic
transitioned into a more formal education beyond the 3 R's, parents began to hire teachers to do this
level of advanced academic training. For this, "the Romans began to bring Greek slaves to Rome" to
further enrich their children's knowledge and potential; yet, Romans still always cherished the tradition
of pietas and the ideal of the father as his child’s teacher.[8]
Rome as a republic or an empire never formally instituted a state-sponsored form of elementary
education.[11] In no stage of its history did Rome ever legally require its people to be educated on any
It was typical for Roman children of wealthy families to receive their early education from private
tutors. However, it was common for children of more humble means to be instructed in a primary
school, traditionally known as a ludus litterarius.[11] An instructor in such a school was often known as
a litterator or litteratus, which was seen as a more respectable title. [11] There was nothing stopping a
litterator from setting up his own school, aside from his meager wages. [11] There were never any
established locations for a ludus litterarius. They could be found in a variety of places, anywhere from
a private residence to a gymnasium, or even in the street. [12]
Typically, elementary education in the Roman world focused on the requirements of everyday life,
reading and writing. The students would progress up from reading and writing letters, to syllables, to
word lists, eventually memorizing and dictating texts.[12] The majority of the texts used in early Roman
education were literature, predominantly poetry.[11] Roman students were expected to work on their
own. There was little sense of a class as a cohesive unit, exemplified by students coming and going at
different times throughout the day.[12] Young Roman students faced no formal examinations or tests.
Their performance was measured through exercises that were either corrected or applauded based on
performance. This created an unavoidable sense of competition amongst students. [12]
Using a competitive educational system, Romans developed a form of social control that allowed elites
to maintain class stability.[12] This, along with the obvious monetary expenses, prevented the majority
of Roman students from advancing to higher levels of education.
At between nine and twelve years of age, boys from affluent families would leave their litterator behind
and take up study with a grammaticus, who honed his students' writing and speaking skills, versed
them in the art of poetic analysis and taught them Greek if they did not yet know it. [9] By this point,
lower class boys would already be working as apprentices, and girls—rich or poor—would be focused
on making themselves attractive brides and, subsequently, capable mothers. [9]
Daily activities included lectures by the grammaticus (enarratio), expressive reading of poetry (lectio)
and the analysis of poetry (partitio).[3] The curriculum was thoroughly bilingual, as students were
expected to both read and speak in Greek as well as in Latin. [1] Assessment of a student's performance
was done on-the-spot and on-the-fly according to standards set by his particular grammaticus, as no
source on Roman education ever mentions work taken away to be graded.[12] Instead, pupils would
complete an exercise, display their results and be corrected or congratulated as needed by the
grammaticus, who reveled in his self-perception as a "guardian of language".[13]
Famous grammatici include Lucius Orbilius Pupillus, who still serves as the quintessential pedagogue
that isn’t afraid to flog or whip his students to drive a point home, [9] and the freedman Marcus Verrius
Flaccus, who gained imperial patronage and a widespread tutelage due to his novel practice of pitting
students of similar age and ability against each other and rewarding the winner with a prize, usually an
old book of some rarity.[12]
Even at the height of his career, Verrius Flaccus, whose prestige allowed him to charge enormous fees
and be hired by Augustus to teach his grandsons, never had his own schoolroom. [12] Instead, he, like
many of his fellow teachers, shared space at privately financed schools, which were dependent on
(usually very low) tuition fees, and rented out classroom space wherever they could find it. [9] Other
teachers sidestepped rent and lighting costs by convening their classes on pavements, colonnades or in
other public spaces, where traffic noise, street crowds and bad weather were sure to pose problems.[9]
Though both literary and documentary sources interchange the various titles for a teacher and often use
the most general of terms as a catch-all, a price edict issued by Diocletian in 301 CE proves that such
distinctions did in fact exist and that a litterator, grammaticus or rhetor, at least in theory, had to define
himself as such.[12] This Edict on Maximum Prices fixed the salary of a grammaticus at 200 denarii per
pupil per month, though the edict was unenforceable, ignored and eventually repealed.
Children continued their studies with the grammaticus until the age of fourteen or fifteen, at which
point only the wealthiest and most promising students matriculated with a rhetor. [9]
The rhetor was the final stage in Roman education. Very few boys went on to study rhetoric, and early
on in Roman history it may have been the only way to train as a lawyer or politician. [9] This is where
spokesman, the original translation of orator, comes from.
In early Roman times, rhetoric studies were not taught exclusively through a teacher, but were learned
through a student's careful observation of his elders.[9] The practice of rhetoric was created by the
Greeks before it became an institution in Roman society, and it took a long time for it to gain
acceptance in Rome.[11]
The orator, or student of rhetoric, was important in Roman society because of the constant political
strife that occurred throughout Roman history.[11] Young men who studied under a rhetor would not
only focus on public speaking. These students also learned other subjects such as geography, music,
philosophy, literature, mythology and geometry.[9] These well-rounded studies gave Roman orators a
more diverse education and helped prepare them for future debates.
Unlike other forms of Roman education, there is not much evidence to show that the rhetor level was
available to be pursued in organized school. Because of this lack of evidence, it is assumed that the
education was done through the previously mentioned private tutors. [11] These tutors had enormous
impact on the opinions and actions of their students. In fact, their influence was so great that the
Roman government expelled many rhetoricians and philosophers in 161 BCE.
There were two fields of oratory study that were available for young men. The first of these fields was
the deliberative branch of study. This field was for the training of young men who would later need to
urge the “advisability or inadvisability” of measures affecting the Roman Senate.[11] The second field
of study was much more lucrative and was known as judicial oratory. These orators would later enter
into fields such as criminal law, which was important in gaining a public following. The support of the
public was necessary for a successful political career in Rome. [11]
Later in Roman history, the practice of declamation became focused more on style and art of delivery
as opposed to training to speak on important issues in the courts. Tacitus pointed out that during his day
(the second half of the 1st century CE), students had begun to lose sight of legal disputes and had
started to focus more of their training on the art of storytelling. [9]
A final level of education was philosophical study. The study of philosophy is distinctly Greek, but was
undertaken by many Roman students. To study philosophy, a student would have to go to a center of
philosophy where philosophers taught, usually abroad in Greece. An understanding of a philosophical
school of thought could have done much to add to Cicero's vaunted knowledge of 'that which is great',
but could only be pursued by the very wealthiest of Rome's elite. Romans regarded philosophical
education as distinctly Greek, and instead focused their efforts on building schools of law and
1. What was a litteratus and what did he do?
2. What was a Grammaticus and what did he do?
3. What was a rhetor and what did he do?
4. What were some of the instruments a boy would need to use at school?
Study the image above and answer the questions that follow.
What would a Roman boy be expected to learn at school? Give details.
__________________________________________________________(5 marks)
Explain how a boys’ and girls’ schooling would differ and the reasons for
this difference.
__________________________________________________________(5 marks)
Would you have liked to be at school in Ancient Rome? Give reasons for
your answer.
__________________________________________________________(5 marks)