Education in Ancient Greece
Greece for Kids
Both daily life and
education were very different in Sparta than in Athens or in the other
ancient Greek city-states.
ancient Athens, the purpose of education was to produce citizens trained
in the arts, and to prepare citizens for both peace and war.
Until age 6 or so, boys
were taught at home by their mother or by a male slave. From age 6 to
14, boys went to a neighborhood primary school or to a private school.
Books were very expensive and rare, so subjects were read out-loud,
and the boys had to memorize everything. To help them learn, they used
writing tablets and rulers.
In primary school, they had to
learn two important things - the words of Homer,
a famous Greek epic poet, and how to play the lyre.
who was always a man, could choose what additional subjects he
wanted to teach. He might choose to teach drama, public speaking,
government, art, reading, writing, math, and how to play another
ancient Greek instrument - the flute.
boys attended a higher school for four more years. When they
turned 18, they entered military school for two additional years.
At age 20, they graduated.
Girls were not
educated at school, but many learned to read and write at home in
the comfort of their courtyard.
ancient Sparta, the purpose of education was to produce a
well-drilled, well-disciplined marching army. Spartans
believed in a life of discipline, self-denial, and simplicity.
They were very loyal to the state of Sparta. Every Spartan,
male or female, was required to have a perfect body.
When babies were
born in ancient Sparta, Spartan soldiers would come by the house
and check the baby. If the baby did not appear healthy and strong,
the infant was taken away, and left to die on a hillside, or taken
away to be trained as a slave (a helot). Babies who
passed this examination were assigned membership in a brotherhood
or sisterhood, usually the same one to which their father or
Boys: Spartan boys were sent to
military school at age 6 or 7. They lived, trained and slept in
the barracks of their brotherhood. They were taught survival
skills and other skills necessary to be a great soldier. School
courses were very hard and often painful.
Although students were taught to
read and write, those skills were not very important to the
ancient Spartans. Only warfare mattered. The boys were not
fed well, and were told that it was fine to steal food as long as
they did not get caught stealing. If they were caught, they were
beaten. The boys marched without shoes to make them stronger. It
was a brutal training period.
says ... A
young Sparta boy once stole a live fox, planning to kill it and
eat it. He noticed some Spartan soldiers approaching. In ancient
Sparta, students were encouraged to steal, but the trick was
that you could not get caught stealing. If you were caught, you
were severely beaten.
As the soldiers
approached, the boy hid the fox beneath his shirt.
soldiers quizzed him on why he was not in school, the boy let the
fox chew into his stomach rather than confess he had stolen it. He
did not allow his face or body to express his pain.
That was the
Spartan way. Lie, cheat, steal, and get away with it, or else (you
would be in big trouble!)
Somewhere between the age of
18-20, Spartan males had to pass a difficult test of fitness,
military ability, and leadership skills. Any Spartan male
who did not pass these examinations became a perioikos.
(The perioikos, or the middle class, were allowed to own property,
have business dealings, but had no political rights and were not
If they passed,
they became a full citizen and a Spartan soldier. Spartan citizens
were not allowed to touch money. That was the job of the middle
class. Spartan soldiers spent most of their lives with their
fellow soldiers. They ate, slept, and continued to train in
their brotherhood barracks. Even if they were married, they did
not live with their wives and families. They lived in the
barracks. Military service did not end until a Spartan male
reached the age of 60. At age 60, a Spartan soldier could retire
and live in their home with their family.
Girls: In Sparta, girls also went
to school at age 6 or 7. They lived, slept and trained in their
sisterhood's barracks. No one knows if their school was as cruel
or as rugged as the boys school, but the girls were taught
wrestling, gymnastics, and combat skills. Some historians believe
the two schools were very similar, and that an attempt was made to
train the girls as thoroughly as they trained the boys. In any
case, the Spartans believed that strong young women would produce
At age 18, if a
Sparta girl passed her skills and fitness test, she would be
assigned a husband and allowed to return home. If she failed,
she would lose her rights as a citizen, and became a perioikos,
a member of the middle class.
In most of the
other Greek city-states, women were required to stay inside
their homes most of their lives. They could not go anywhere or
do anything without their husband's permission. They could not
even visit a woman who lived next door. They had no freedom. But
in Sparta, things were very different for women who were
citizens. They were free to move around, and visit neighbors
works of art or architecture came out of Sparta, but Spartan
military force was regarded as terrifying. Thus, the
Spartans achieved their goal.
from other city-states educated their children much as Athens did
Nearly all the other city-states,
including Athens, had a grudging admiration for the Spartans. They
would not want to be Spartans, but in times of war, they wanted
Sparta to be on their side. The Spartans were tough, and the
ancient Greeks admired strength.
on a pot to find more about ancient Greek education
- The Story, Athens & Sparta
Clip Art Credit: Phillip Martin
Have a great year!