How Were Wealthy Boys Educated in Ancient Greece?

Writing was a crucial subject in ancient Greek schooling.
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Schooling for youth in ancient Greece was in many ways markedly different than that of contemporary life. Firstly, in most Greek states only boys had the privilege of attending school. And it was usually costly. A boy only received an extensive education if he came from a family with the means to pay for it. School for wealthy boys in ancient Greece usually began when they were about 7 years old.

1 Three Levels of Education

The earliest Greek forms of education were probably rather informal, involving home schooling and tutors, but Greek states gradually developed schools and a classroom setting for students. The broadened and formalized ancient Greek educational system served as a model for the modern Western schooling structure. Formal education in ancient Athens was divided into three distinct levels -- primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary education focused on writing, reading, music and physical fitness. Secondary and tertiary schooling -- equivalent to our high school and college levels -- was more advanced and would include subjects such as philosophy and rhetoric. Although courses varied from state to state, a Greek education strongly reflected the values and priorities of the society that provided it.

2 Writing and Reading

Language arts -- grammar, writing and reading -- were prominent in ancient Greek schools. Many relics of these studies have been uncovered, including wooden tablets that were used as writing surfaces, styluses and written documents themselves. Boys in school practiced writing with a stylus on the tablets, which were covered in a layer of wax, which when warmed would refresh the surface and "erase" the previous lesson. In studying reading, boys memorized speeches, verses of poetry and lengthy segments of literary works. They frequently took exams to demonstrate how much information they had retained from their reading -- the Greek educational method put great emphasis on memorization.

3 Mathematics

Considering the huge advances the ancient Greeks made in the field of mathematics, they did not make math much of a priority in a young boy's education. It is known that in the classical period of ancient Greece (480 B.C. to 323 B.C.), older students in Athens were taught to perform calculations involving subtraction, addition, multiplication and division, as well as how to use fractions, but younger students spent their time on other subjects.

4 Physical Education

The ancient Greeks highly valued physical education in the academic environment, and the subject became a central focus for boys from about the age of 12, with training in sports such as running, jumping, wrestling, and throwing the javelin and discus. In fact, the Greeks called their secondary school level (ages 14 to 18) the gymnasium, a word which today connotes physical training in English, and still means "secondary school" in some European languages. Because of its militaristic society, physical education in the city-state of Sparta was especially intense and centered heavily on fighting and conditioning the body for power and stamina.

5 Music

Music was another important part of a Greek boy's schooling, too, and musical ability was considered an essential social skill. Learning how to play the lyre, or kithara, was a standard component of a thorough education, with lessons provided by a special instructor. Although music had a prominent place in ancient Greek education, graphic arts such as drawing were not usually part of lesson plans. Instead, Greek boys were trained to develop their public speaking skills -- considered much more important in a society that expected democratic participation from its citizens.