While the Greeks were developing their civilization in the areas surrounding the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the Romans were gaining control of the Italian peninsula and areas of the western Mediterranean. The Greeks’ education focused on the study of philosophy. The Romans, on the other hand, were preoccupied with war, conquest, politics, and civil administration. As in Greece, only a minority of Romans attended school. Schooling was for those who had the money to pay tuition and the time to attend classes. While girls from wealthy families occasionally learned to read and write at home, boys attended a primary school, called aludus. In secondary schools boys studied Latin and Greek grammar taught by Greek slaves, called pedagogues.

After primary and secondary school, wealthy young men often attended schools of rhetoric or oratory that prepared them to be leaders in government and administration. Cicero, a 1st century bc Roman senator, combined Greek and Roman ideas on how to educate orators in his book De Oratore. Like Isocrates, Cicero believed orators should be educated in liberal arts subjects such as grammar, rhetoric, logic, mathematics, and astronomy. He also asserted that they should study ethics, military science, natural science, geography, history, and law.

Quintilian, an influential Roman educator who lived in the 1st century ad, wrote that education should be based on the stages of individual development from childhood to adulthood. Quintilian devised specific lessons for each stage. He also advised teachers to make their lessons suited to the student’s readiness and ability to learn new material. He urged teachers to motivate students by making learning interesting and attractive.



Education among the Jewish people also had a profound influence on Western learning. The ancient Jews had great respect for the printed word and believed that God revealed truth to them in the Bible. Most information on ancient Jewish goals and methods of education comes from the Bible and the Talmud, a book of religious and civil law. Jewish religious leaders, known as rabbis, advised parents to teach their children religious beliefs, law, ethical practices, and vocational skills. Both boys and girls were introduced to religion by studying the Torah, the most sacred document of Judaism. Rabbis taught in schools within synagogues, places of worship and religious study.



Saint Thomas Aquinas

Education in the 13th century was shaped profoundly by the work of Italian philosopher and theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas's writings attempted to reconcile the philosophy of Aristotle with the ideas of Christian theologian Saint Augustine. Aquinas employed both reason and faith in the study of metaphysics, moral philosophy, and religion.

During the Middle Ages, or the medieval period, which lasted roughly from the 5th to the 15th century, Western society and education were heavily shaped by Christianity, particularly the Roman Catholic Church. The Church operated parish, chapel, and monastery schools at the elementary level. Schools in monasteries and cathedrals offered secondary education. Much of the teaching in these schools was directed at learning Latin, the old Roman language used by the church in its ceremonies and teachings. The church provided some limited opportunities for the education of women in religious communities or convents. Convents had libraries and schools to help prepare nuns to follow the religious rules of their communities. Merchant and craft guilds also maintained some schools that provided basic education and training in specific crafts. Knights received training in military tactics and the code of chivalry.

Monk in a Scriptorium

Many of the books used for education in medieval Europe were reproduced by monks. They diligently copied entire texts in a monastery room called a scriptorium, which was designed for this purpose.

As in the Greek and Roman eras, only a minority of people went to school during the medieval period. Schools were attended primarily by persons planning to enter religious life such as priests, monks, or nuns. The vast majority of people were serfs who served as agricultural workers on the estates of feudal lords. The serfs, who did not attend school, were generally illiterate (see Serfdom).

Medieval Schools

During the Middle Ages, advocates of Scholasticism sought to forge through the use of logic a connection between classical Greek philosophy and Christian theology. Teachers and instructors employed the concepts of reason and revelation to teach their students how to think. In this 15th-century Italian painting, parents take their children to see a teacher of grammar.

In the 10th and early 11th centuries, Arabic learning had a pronounced influence on Western education. From contact with Arab scholars in North Africa and Spain, Western educators learned new ways of thinking about mathematics, natural science, medicine, and philosophy. The Arabic number system was especially important, and became the foundation of Western arithmetic. Arab scholars also preserved and translated into Arabic the works of such influential Greek scholars as Aristotle, Euclid, Galen, and Ptolemy. Because many of these works had disappeared from Europe by the Middle Ages, they might have been lost forever if Arab scholars such as Avicenna and Averro√ęs had not preserved them.

All Souls College, University of Oxford

Established during the 12th century, the University of Oxford is England’s oldest institution of higher education. During the Renaissance (late-14th century to 17th century) the school became one of the leading centers of higher education in Europe. The University of Oxford is a federation of colleges and residence halls, each with its own structure and activities. Many prominent scholars have been associated with All Souls College, shown here.

In the 11th century medieval scholars developed Scholasticism, a philosophical and educational movement that used both human reason and revelations from the Bible. Upon encountering the works of Aristotle and other Greek philosophers from Arab scholars, the Scholastics attempted to reconcile Christian theology with Greek philosophy. Scholasticism reached its high point in the Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century Dominican theologian who taught at the University of Paris. Aquinas reconciled the authority of religious faith, represented by the Scriptures, with Greek reason, represented by Aristotle. Aquinas described the teacher’s vocation as one that combines faith, love, and learning.

The work of Aquinas and other Scholastics took place in the medieval institutions of higher education, the universities. The famous European universities of Paris, Salerno, Bologna, Oxford, Cambridge, and Padua grew out of the Scholastics-led intellectual revival of the 12th and 13th centuries. The name university comes from the Latin word universitas, or associations, in reference to the associations that students and teachers organized to discuss academic issues. Medieval universities offered degrees in the liberal arts and in professional studies such as theology, law, and medicine.


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