I hadn’t thought much about the Roman Empire lately until a recent social media discussion went viral about how men frequently mused about the fallen civilization.
And now, it turns out, I’m pretty curious about schools and school transportation in the Imperium Romanum.
Schools in the Roman Empire
The empire never set up state-sponsored education and never legally required education for its citizens. Rich children often got their education from private tutors
Starting around 3 B.C., children of humbler means, up to the age of 11, attended a ludus litterarius (basically, elementary school) that was managed by a ludi magister (think Dumbledore in different robes). It wasn’t free education, though. Boys and girls could attend, but rarely together. Kids got started early in the morning and worked until midday on subjects including mathematics, reading, and writing.
They didn’t have school buildings. The instructor could essentially have a pop-up school just about anywhere – at home, in a park, on the side of the road. The Romans borrowed a lot of their educational ideas from the Greeks, although the Roman Empire tended toward practicality while the Greeks embraced art and music as ends to themselves.
Eventually, lower-class boys went on to become apprentices, while girls focused on becoming brides and mothers. More affluent families next sent their boys to a grammaticus, who helped them with writing, speaking, and poetry analysis. The rich kids learned both Greek and Latin. They didn’t have graded work.
Students stayed with the grammaticus until 14 or so. And if they were really, really wealthy and showed much promise, they might move on to a rhetor and learn about geography, music, philosophy, literature, mythology, and geometry, while also honing their skills at public speaking. Evidence indicates this education most likely came primarily through private tutors rather than organized educational facilities.
Transportation to Roman Schools
Obviously, the Roman Empire (27 B.C. to 476 A.D.) existed long before today’s school buses took to the roads. The Romans didn’t have much in the way of organized education, let alone school transportation systems.
Private tutors came to the wealthy Roman family homes, eliminating the need for a child to travel. Boarding schools were another option, with families sending their children to attend studies with philosophers or teachers of repute.
Students of the ludus, grammaticus, or rhetor likely walked to their lessons in Roman cities and towns that were designed to be compact. Richer children might be accompanied by hired escorts or servants, or driven aboard a chariot (ancient Roman limo service).
So, most children in ancient Rome walked to school while those from wealthy families might have had more comfortable transportation options.
Centuries later, though, we don’t usually have to worry about barbarians sacking the school district.