In ancient Athens, boys started going to school at
about the age of six or seven. They had to go to three different
schools one for sport, one for music, and one for things
like reading and writing. If they could afford it, a family also
had a special slave called a paidagogos who would accompany
their sons to all of their schools, making sure that they were safe,
that they turned up and that they behaved. Paidagogoi might
also help the boys with their work. If there was more than one boy
in the family, then they would share one paidagogos between
them. These special kinds of teachers were often very good friends
to the boys they looked after.
The Three Kinds of Schools
Boys did physical education at the palaistra an open field. Men trained there at the same time. You had to take all your clothes off to do any sport. At the palaistra, boys learnt javelin, discus, long jump, running, boxing and wrestling.
In music lessons, boys mostly learnt the lyre, which is like a small harp. They were also taught how to sing along with the lyre.
At their third school, boys learnt to read and write
and to do arithmetic. They also studied literature, learning passages
from poets like Homer off by heart. The poetry was mostly selected
to teach the boys about right and wrong. Sometimes boys were also
taught drawing and painting. The teachers could be very strict
students who misbehaved were hit with sandals!
All of the ancient Greek schools were private and
the parents had to pay fees. Parents decided how long their sons
should stay at school, and that sometimes depended on how much money
they had. There were no laws which said that boys had to be educated
for a set number of years, and some people received no education
at all. Other people only went to one or two of the three schools.
The Greeks didn't agree on which school was the most important.
If a young man wanted to continue his education, and
if he could afford it, then he might go to a philosophical school
such as the Academy set up by Plato or the Lyceum set up by Aristotle.
These schools were sort of like universities. If the young man wanted
to learn more practical skills he could go to a teacher, often a
sophist, who would teach him to make speeches
and debate. These were useful skills if you wanted to get into Athenian
politics. Alternatively, you could go to a school of medicine to
become a doctor. Some boys from poorer families went on to learn
a trade, often from their fathers.
Did Girls go to School?
Athenian girls were not as well educated as boys.
Some of them were taught by their mothers at home, others seem to
have gone to special girls' schools. Some girls may have learnt
to read and write, but they were probably mostly taught how to do
Education in Sparta
In Sparta, life was very different. There, education
was mostly aimed at creating good soldiers, because every male citizen
had to serve in the army for most of his life. Citizen boys had
to leave home and join the army at the age of only seven. They were
forced to live a hard life all together in barracks with only a
mat on the floor for a bed. They were only allowed one cloak each
year to wear and they were not allowed to have shoes. They were
encouraged to steal food so that they would be able to steal when
they were on campaign with the army. But if they got caught stealing
food, they would be beaten. Sometimes, they were beaten just in
order to toughen them up. They were also taught basic reading and
writing and to play music, but physical education was considered
the most important thing.
Citizen girls also received a state education in Sparta.
They lived in special girls' barracks. We do not know whether these
were as harsh as the boys' barracks. Much of their education was
also physical education, as it was believed that it was necessary
for mothers to be strong in order for them to have strong children.
But it was also considered important to teach girls music and dancing.
Sophist: a "wise man" who can teache people how to argue for anything, whether it's right or wrong.
Philosophy: Ancient Greek Thinkers
The Olympic Games
Fashion and Food
Religion, Ritual and Worship
Athenian Politics and Government
Greek Architecture: then and now
Greek Art: Vase painting and sculpture
Education in Ancient Times
A Trip to the Theatre