Saturday, August 14, 2010

Education in Ancient Civilizations

Education in Ancient Civilizations

Ancient history is the foundation of the modern-day educational system. During the period from 610 B.C. to 1285 A.D. many cultures, countries, dynasties, and religions provided several commonalities and disparities. This analysis discusses the educational systems of Greece, Roman, Hebrew, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian cultures. In addition to the commonalities and disparities, discussion includes the reasons they existed and certain elements that provided positive educational possibility for the future.


Males and the Wealthy. In the early days of the Roman Republic, education occurred within the family home. Boys and girls received education based on future needs of the family. However, males received education in the areas of reading, math, writing, religion, and honorable behavior; whereas, females received training in the areas of cooking, sewing, and domestic work. Young males received no formal training from the government in the area of war tactics, thus fathers taught their sons how to prepare for war (McGill, 2009).

The Greek civilization developed an advanced system of education, influenced by Roman studies in the areas of geometry, grammar, music, astronomy, rhetoric, literature, philosophy, medicine, and studied scholars such as Cicero. This system of education spread from Greece, across the Mediterranean world. Boys received private school education in the areas of math, writing, and reading from the ages of six to 11. Boy’s only grammar schools continued from the ages of 12 to 16. Within grammar school, boys learned Greek, geometry, and literature. These advanced subjects provided young men with the necessary knowledge to lead the ever-changing advanced Greek society (McGill, 2009).

Rhetoric was an advanced subject taught to the children of wealthy families; this discipline, trained men for political and public office by mastering the art of public speaking. Students learned and practiced speeches created by significant figures of the present and past. These speeches helped train students to write, memorize, and recite speeches to large groups of people. Nobles within society maintained an immense faith in the system of instruction as formal education became a staple within society. Royalty and noble families hired brilliant preachers and slaves, regardless of class, to teach their children. Formal education among poor families was nonexistent; however, informal family instruction included reading and writing. Women and young girls did not receive an advanced education; primary education was meant for men and young boys. Women married at the age of 12, so advanced education was obsolete in most cultures. By contrast, the men and young boys married at the age of 14, thus allowing advanced education to become reality (Pillai, 2010).

Other cultures share the theory of a male-dominated educational system. Hebrew, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian education involve educating both males and females; however advanced education involves males, whereas, females learned homemaking, light military duties, household management, languages, crafts, and the arts.

Religious and Military. Common educational elements of ancient cultures include the concentration on religious or military influence. The goal of education prepared the child for future endeavors as a citizen. Each city-state varied in educational focus, but the curriculum centered on religion or military. In Rome, Christianity brought with it universities and formal schools. In Greece, boys went to school at the age of six or seven, but the education and daily life differed between Sparta and Athens. Sparta focused on the military city-state. Education focused on authoritarian, well-drilled, well-disciplined army tactics. However, the Spartans believed in a disciplined life of simplicity, loyalty, religion, arts, and culture (Culture of Greece, 2010).

In Hebrew education, religion took place in synagogues. Specifically, bet ha-midrash for higher education and bet midrash for general education. The focus included religious studies in the areas of the Torah and the Old Testament. In Hindu education, priests taught students in temples and the curriculum is religious. The tradition included the emphasis on spiritual needs. A major factor of Hindu religion involves becoming one with the universe by renouncing one-self. In Muslim culture, focus of education centered on memorizing the Qur’an; however, institutions of higher learning educated theologians and scribes. Mosque schools (madrasah) provided philosophy, music, jurisprudence, and natural science. The differences varied, but the focus was in religious studies. In Christianity, education occurred within cathedral schools and monasteries. The curriculum centered on religion, liberal arts, and agriculture. In all, each culture included, in one form or another, a focus on military or religious beliefs. In today’s society, religious schools exist and thrive. Military schools from grade school to higher education institutions provide discipline in the same way as the ancient civilizations (University of Phoenix, 2010).


Females. In ancient history, many of the survived sources are written by men for men. A male-dominated society commonly appeared in all aspects of life, thus history shows males at the forefront in education. In addition to written evidence, physical evidence appears in the form of temples, buildings, and memorials. Such physical evidence shows males as the educational leader. In early civilizations, history speaks of the exploitation and containment of women. Art work of the past features the women in a negative light, especially within Athens. Athens denied women the right to vote. Modern times look at Athenian art in an honorable way, yet women did not receive the education deserving of all citizens. The treatment of the women during ancient times was second class. According to the scholar Thucydides, whether in praise or blame, to be least talked about among men is the greatest glory (Scott, 2009).

The treatment of women in ancient times provides a window into the world of education. The rapid expansion of modern society caused historians to look at women in a different light. The depth and nature regarding the role of the woman caused a greater understanding among all citizens, especially the male. The evidence suggests that women ruled ancient civilizations, served as priests, had the divine power of gods, portrayed as models within the works of Homer, even as poets of literary genius (Scott, 2009).

In Greece and Rome, the role of the woman included homemaking and lighter military duties. As history continues, women received a greater degree of freedom, especially within the nobility and freeman classes. The liberated and egalitarian view of the woman expanded, especially during the middle ages. Fathers viewed their daughters independently from their sons; however a difference continued to exist. In Christianity, men and women had spiritual equality, even though women held positions only as nuns. Many of the artistic, scientific, literary, and philosophical leaders took refuge in the nunneries. Convent schools, lead by nuns, taught girls in the subjects of writing, reading, cooking, and spinning of wool. Even though women continued to improve their status, a difference existed (Murphy, 2006).

Rationale. The concept of the “schooling perspective” is the foundation of the modern-day educational system. The instructor is responsible for the success or failure of education because the system is instruction-centered. The opposite argument is a concept known as the “learning perspective.” This concept, based on attaining new knowledge, ways of thinking, and skill provides a different perspective. The schooling perspective finds its roots in the West; however, the learning perspective originated in the East. In modern day, state-run educational systems are reality because of ancient Christian, Roman, and Greek culture. Differences in viewpoints of Christianity and Plato exist. Teacher directed and teacher orientated is a Western concept. The Asian educational system comes from Buddhism and Confucianism, whereas putting more emphasis on learning (Shinil, 1996).

Limits within the schooling perspective provide an intriguing argument. The subject and object (teacher versus student) create a dichotomy-based education that includes an unequal relationship between the two. The learning perspective is uncommon in modern-day Western education because the teachers (subject) and the learner (object) are both learning, thus respecting the rights of the learner in the process (Shinil, 1996).

Location of Instruction. Where instruction took place in ancient times depended on the culture, the focus of instruction, and the instructor or teacher. The Roman schools consisted of a single room with a curtain divided in the middle. Schools during this time provided a structure that young children used for socialization and rudimentary education. Children in Rome used these structures as their educational facility until the age of 12. In Greece, instruction within the home and structured Lyceum became the origin of the professoriate (University of Phoenix, 2010). Sparta had military academies. Rome provided instruction within the home, yet Christianity provided formal schools and universities. Synagogues with the Hebrew faith provided students with a place to study and worship, usually one in the same. In Hindu, priests taught students in temples, whereas Muslim’s educated their youth in the neighborhood mosque. Christians used the formal school and university, but convents became the norm (University of Phoenix, 2010). Each of these locations, dependent on religion, culture, or country has similar purposes for instruction.

Improving Modern-day Education

Foundation. Education today produces graduates at a higher rate than ever before; however, many critics argue that education of the past produced viable options to improve our current system. A religious focus within the educational system tends to produce results; in that the whole student educates not just academically, but spiritually. Human thirst for knowledge is apparent, both in the past and the present. Small group methods used in past systems focuses on the individual. The adjustment of adult education according to daily life allowed each eligible person to participate, regardless of age (MacGregor, 1971).

Building on the Past. Topics from each culture that could improve modern day education includes: (1) Sparta, which produced focused military and gymnastics academies, (2) Rome, which mastered the concept of religious education in the home, (3) Hebrew, which studied the Old Testament and the Torah, (4) Hindu, which followed the concept that anything not inconsistent with the Vedas is admissible, (5) Muslim, in that boys studied law, religion, and military arts at a young age, (6) Christian, which studied within Monasteries and cathedral schools (University of Phoenix, 2010). Each of these important ancient civilization contributions provides modern-day educators with a glimpse educational improvement.


It is difficult to argue that ancient history is the foundation of our modern-day educational system. During the period from 610 B.C. to 1285 A.D. several cultures, countries, dynasties, and religions provided several commonalities and disparities. This analysis discussed the educational systems of Greece, Roman, Hebrew, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian cultures. In addition to the commonalities and disparities, discussion included the reasons they existed and certain elements that provided positive educational possibilities for the future. Building on past successes and producing creative solutions for current problems enables us to improve our educational system, one problem at a time.


Culture of Greece. (2010). Greek culture. Retrieved from

MacGregor, N. (1971). Some Adult Educational Elements in Ancient Eastern Education.  Retrieved from ERIC database.

McGill, S. (2009). Daily Life in Ancient Rome. Daily Life in Ancient Rome, 1. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database. 

Murphy, M. M. (2006). The history and philosophy of education. Voices of educational pioneers. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education. 

Pillai, M. (2010). Ancient Roman education. Teach 12. Retrieved from 

Scott, M. (2009). The Rise of Women in Ancient Greece. History Today, 59(11), 34-40.  Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database. 

Shinil, K. (1996). "Learning Perspective" in the Asian Viewpoint. Retrieved from ERIC database. 

University of Phoenix. (2010). Greek, Roman, Hebrew, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian Education (610 B.C. - 1285 A.D.). Retrieved from University of Phoenix, EDU/712 website.

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