This fascinating cultural and intellectual history focuses on education as practiced by the imperial age Romans, looking at what they considered the value of education and its effect on children. W. Martin Bloomer details the processes, exercises, claims, and contexts of liberal education from the late first century BCE to the third century CE—the epoch of rhetorical education. He examines the adaptation of Greek institutions, methods, and texts by the Romans, and traces the Romans’ own history of education. Bloomer argues that while Rome’s enduring educational legacy includes the seven liberal arts and a canon of school texts, its practice of competitive displays of reading, writing, and reciting were intended to instill in the young social as well as intellectual ideas.
Introduction: Three Vignettes
1. In Search of the Roman School
2. First Stories of School
3. The School of Impudence
4. The Manual and the Child
5. The Child an Open Book
6. Grammar and the Unity of Curriculum
7. The Moral Sentence
8. Rhetorical Habitus
W. Martin Bloomer is Associate Professor of Classics at Notre Dame University. His books include Valerius Maximus and the Rhetoric of the New Nobility and The Contest of Language.
“Bloomer's study is cultural history at its best. He grasps the inner workings of Roman education together with its goal of creating a particular type of adult. The range of sources used is impressive, and familiar material takes on new significance when viewed, with Bloomer, from the perspective of the child at his tablet. This is an important book for classicists and for anyone interested in the history of education.”
—Thomas Habinek, author of The Politics of Latin Literature: Writing, Identity, and Empire in Ancient Rome.
“In this authoritative book, Martin Bloomer studies Roman education not only as a process of cultural hegemony that worked through the repetition of exercises and practices, but also as a vehicle that allowed some male members of the elite to reach a remarkable ability and success. I particularly applaud his illuminating study of upper education as it projected an idealized social order. This training and display of stylized speech prepared the protagonists for the social system of patriarchy, patronage, and imperial administration. Education in ancient Rome could not have found a more perceptive and competent treatment.”
—Raffaella Cribiore, author of Gymnastics of the Mind: Greek Education in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt
In Search of the Roman School
The centuries-long efforts and activities of students, teachers, parents, and patrons in Roman schools will be explored in this book as an important and innovative component in the making of Roman culture, with significant consequences for the methods and agents of education in the West. Histories of education tend to celebrate founders and revolutionaries. In such dramatic narratives, the Greeks have fared better than the Romans. No matter that the the notions of "Greeks" and "Romans" are rather vague, and, in our period, overlap; that the Greeks too were transmitters (and modifiers) of techniques and institutions of the training of children in literacy and numeracy; and that the broad strokes of this understanding reflect an Enlightenment prejudice that reduces to nearly unself-conscious mediators any, especially the Roman and the medieval, who stand between the Greek founders and the European spiritual and cultural revivers and heirs of early modernity. Modernity, however, should not take all the blame. The Romans themselves furnished the outlines for a history of education that misappraised their own roles. This chapter traces the origins of the underestimation of the Roman contribution to schooling and depicts the early centuries of schooling at Rome as a complex and thriving period.
The narratives and anecdotes of early schooling display the strong colors of an institution's and a society's mythmaking. Roman schoolmen reflected on the origins of their cherished institution, and, more generally, writers from the late republic and early empire investigated their past with complex presuppositions about the transfer of culture from Greece. Typically, they imagined a native hardiness and simplicity, long since lost or even spoiled by luxury and civil discord. This chapter recalls what Roman cultural etiology and archaeology forgot-the existence of schools before the influx of Hellenistic teachers after Rome's successful wars of the third and second centuries. Scholarly investigation has revealed that Roman archaic culture was bound to a broader Italic cultural community. The native history of the school, rich in symbolic contrasts and dramatic beginnings, deserves serious attention both for its influence and for its insight into the thinking of Roman educators. As mobile, flexible, and impermanent places and as an institution of and for children, Roman schools have left only a small imprint in the historical record. What is clear, nonetheless, is that the model of sudden cultural transfer is flawed and partial; that the Romans' reluctance to adopt gymnastic education during the third century can be explained; and that the educational milieu that the Hellenistic experts encountered and exploited needs to be differently, and better, understood.
Suetonius, most famous as a historian of the emperors, also included grammarians and rhetoricians in his study of famous men. In his biographies of the grammarians he noted that the old Romans had neither studied nor esteemed grammar and that its first teachers were those half-Greeks Ennius and Livius Andronicus. Suetonius had little to say of them and began his account of the origins of schooling with the first theoretical grammarian whose presence at Rome he could verify, the learned Crates of Mallos. The better-documented teaching of the internationally famous Crates appealed to Suetonius far more than did that of the republicans Ennius and Livius, of whom he knew much less, perhaps only a few anecdotes, which he could have drawn from Cicero and the early Latin poets' versions of Greek tragedies and of Homer's Odyssey, more unusual Hellenistic texts like the Epicharmus, and the works on Roman subjects, such as the Annales. The achievements of poets from Virgil through Lucan, Martial, and Statius had eclipsed those of the early poets. Crates' embassy to Rome in 168 formed instead a concrete and more dramatic point of origin-the bringer of culture arrived fully laden.
Writing ca. A.D. 100 in the Quaestiones romanae (Roman Questions) (59), a work of decidedly antiquarian flavor, the Greek scholar Plutarch similarly imagined a point of origin that inaugurated the history of Roman schooling as a cultural transfer of Hellenistic education to Rome. Plutarch identified Spurius Carvilius as the first teacher to have a school of letters in the city of Rome. He was probably wrong, but no more so than the Romans themselves. He chose the freedman of the consul of 235 B.C., Spurius Carvilius Maximus, because Spurius Carvilius was the first to charge for his services.
These two accounts of the origins of the Roman school serve as intimations of the understanding of the category "school" in the year A.D. 100 rather than as an archaeology of education in the city. School was what Suetonius and Plutarch had been to and what a scholar such as Crates represented-the Hellenistic grammatical and literary curriculum taught by a man for pay. It is instructive that neither Plutarch nor Suetonius wrote of a building or a place.
Young Romans learned to read and write, do arithmetic, and deliver advice and speeches. They may have attended a place of instruction outside the house for at least some of their lessons. In understanding the beginnings of their cultural history, Romans of the late republic, who not only served as the chief sources for Roman scholars in the imperial period but still hold a privileged place among modern historians, focused on a period of innovative cultural practices. They traced the theater, literature, schooling, and scholarship back to the arrival of Greeks captured in the Punic Wars or visiting in the aftermath of these wars or, especially, the Third Macedonian War. Their adventitious archaeology of culture had some truth: like Toynbee in the nineteenth century, contemporary classicists follow Livy and Sallust in recognizing the important legacy of the Punic Wars for the Romans. Contemporary scholars, however, do not stigmatize renewed Greek cultural influence as the introduction of luxury; rather, like Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, modern scholarship asks about the effect of imports upon Roman social and political life.
Is schooling, then, another luxury introduced to Rome by the Greeks as late as the mid-third century B.C.? If so, for what end? Was it merely to create and nourish Roman taste or cosmopolitan feeling? We might ask also, Did schooling contribute to the aristocracy's sense of self (and if it were a matter of social distinction, who were the uncultivated)? Were the Romans adopting schooling awed by Greek culture? Did it, like the theater, have native or Italic antecedents all but forgotten by the Romans of the middle and late republic? These schematic questions, all of which assume that Greek culture was a belated and accidental visitor to the city that would be great, hardly do justice to the complexities of Roman social life or the traditions of Italic literacy and cultural systems. But in asking these questions, we imitate the ancients themselves, most especially Suetonius, who tells us that Livius Andronicus and Ennius, the first practitioners of Latin literature, were also the first to keep school at Rome. He knew that one Plotius was the first to have a school of rhetoric (and we have seen that, in Plutarch, Spurius Carvilius was the first to have a grammar school). No doubt, Suetonius, writing a sort of biographical encyclopedia ca. A.D. 100, recorded the best information he had. His sources were all documentary and primarily literary. He knew Livius and Ennius were Rome's first poets, and somehow had an additional item of information: they had taught in both Greek and Latin in their own homes and outside their homes. The second notice of place (foris) may imply a public place or may simply mean that they taught at other people's houses. At any rate we have an early notice of two categories of place devoted to teaching. For Suetonius, "school" seems to mean not so much a particular space dedicated to instruction as a master, a distinct curriculum (in grammar, rhetoric, or philosophy, i.e., on the Greek model), and a number of students.
Roman writers of the late republic and the early empire remembered the origins of their schools in clear and forceful stories. The lack of apposite written sources before the third century and changes in the Latin language and in the institutions of the city go some way toward explaining why Romans did not recall their early schooling, but stories of schooling have particular ideological characteristics. They speak of the training of youth in a society's or a class's values, and this symbolic weight can easily lead to idealizations and associations that have more to do with the present and with a wished-for identity, and less with the past as a historical reality. The Roman stories reflect lines of imagination of simple, fundamental contrasts: of old, Roman fathers had educated their sons at home. Greek-style education, with a literary curriculum, paid teachers, and a school outside the home for social peers of different families, came to Rome in the recent past, the third and second centuries B.C. Here too were to be found the origins of Latin literature. The Romans' interest in their own institutions apparently arises in the same period. The poet and teacher Ennius wrote a work entitled Origines. The statesman Cato, who looms large in accounts of early Roman schooling, consistently contrasted Roman customs and institutions with the recently arrived and corrupting Greek.
Later Romans and Greeks followed the lead of these sources in three ways: they assumed this period to be one of origins; they understood the origin of schooling to be a transfer of the superior Greek culture to their (rude and hardy) ancestors; and they ascribed the impulse to adopt a new cultural practice to a named individual. This thinking, at once etiological, cultural, and biographical, has a powerful, ideological appeal. It identifies the Romans as valid (if only recent) participants in the Hellenistic paideia-that literary culture that identifies civilization and empire and the civilized inheritors of a great tradition-and grants then something in addition, a nativist, ancestral virtue that makes the Romans superior to those who have only schooled customs and schooled virtue.
No long-enduring building or locale, or great sentimentality about the institutions of childhood, guided Plutarch in his notice of the first school at Rome. Rather, he saw education as a cultural translation. The techniques, texts, and teachers of schooling came, he thought, from Greek cities in the aftermath of the wars of the third century. A history of Roman schooling could begin only when a curriculum, if not a place, modeled on Greek practice had made its way to Rome. Further, as noted above, a biographical tendency informs the accounts of early schooling: developments are attributed to a named individual. Before that, the Romans concocted stories of paternal instruction in the manly arts of farming and soldiering, a theme that owes much to proud propaganda from the elder Cato about how he handled the training of his son (without need of the entourage of Greek experts who attended other wealthy Romans). But before we come to the stories of Cato and his generation, we need to look beyond the limits of Plutarch's knowledge.
The Roman school is a difficult place to visualize. With one noteworthy exception, archaeologists have found no Roman classroom, in part because the school did not necessarily depend on dedicated space. Many places would do, and a particular grammar school was not a long-lived institution. Searching for the places of Roman schooling requires a reappraisal of the physical requirements of a school. In contrast to the modern furniture-stuffed, well-lit, blackboard-at-one-end-behind-the-teacher's-desk plan for the schoolroom, the ancient grammar school did not prize so highly the line of sight. Instead, students came individually to the teacher to read lessons and receive instruction. In addition, the students' own slaves, the pedagogues, helped provide discipline. Similarly, acoustics were not important when students were all murmuring their own lessons, and the single student ordered to perform spoke within two or three feet of the seated master, thus-at least for a young student-at the ear level of the older man.
The school had no desks and need not have had any bookcases. Students, or their pedagogues, brought lamps, papyrus rolls in a book bucket, wax tablets, pens and styli (whose flattened end served as an eraser for writing on wax), and also perhaps ink in a handy case (see the funerary relief from Neumagen), even abaci. The teacher sat in a large chair at the front. He provided benches or perhaps, in the deluxe setting, the round-backed chairs we see on a funerary relief, sometimes wax tablets, far more commonly the instruments of punishment: the ferula or virga (the cane but not the whip-the flagellum-that the Romans reserved for slaves as the more severe and humiliating device). Children did not have school uniforms, although we are told that Plato's scholars wore a uniform. Of course, the free boys and girls who went to school wore their own version of a class uniform: the toga praetextata for boys, a tunic for girls, and for both the bulla (amulet) about their necks that signaled their free status. In the rhetorical schools older boys might well have advanced to wearing the toga virilis for declaiming in Latin and the Greek pallium for declaiming in Greek. The school could be a well-equipped place, with maps and busts of famous authors. It certainly was often crowded or close, at least to our eyes, for children bent over their reading and writing, with wax tablet or papyrus roll balanced on their knees. They read by rolling the scroll out with the left hand and taking in with the right, even steadying the roll with their chin. A slave pedagogue (tutor and mentor as well as daily companion) and perhaps a slave porter (the capsarius) attended each student.
The physical requirements for a grammar school were minimal: school, like any small ancient business, could be held on the street, under or above a portico, near an important public building such as a temple, or at a rented shop. A wall painting from Pompeii, now lost, showed school near a portico and decidedly amid the bustle of the city. School could be held "in private," at the teacher's home or the house of the patron. The famous schoolman Verrius Flaccus taught Augustus's grandchildren in the atrium of a villa on the Palatine (Suet. Gramm. 17). Augustine on coming to Rome in A.D. 383 held school at home ("at first" he writes; perhaps he transferred to some other facility; cf. Conf. 1.5.12). Augustine, of course, was teaching rhetoric; the home is apparently that of his host. He would move, presumably to grander facilities, when in the succeeding year he went to Milan to teach rhetoric at the imperial court. But this was the acme of the teaching/performing profession of the rhetorician.
More elaborate structures have occasionally been interpreted as educational venues. Ray Laurence has explained the second, seemingly superfluous, theater in Pompeii by reference to similar structures in Corinth, Argos, Athens, and Epidauros, which apparently were used for the performances of rhetorical or literary works. Aurelius Victor (Caes. 14.2-3) wrote that the Athenaeum at Rome, built by Hadrian, was first a school of the liberal arts. This assembly hall was later used by declaimers, but we do not know where it was. A library was attached.
Part of the difficulty in evaluating the ancient evidence for the location, design, and functions of schools stems from the plasticity of the term school, whose semantic range extends from a modest room or the corner of a street for teaching basic literacy and numeracy to a performance place for elite youth and professionals to declaim. My list of the places of Roman schools is by no means exhaustive, even for Rome, and every city had its schools. One fragment of an Egyptian papyrus letter, apparently from a wife to her husband, who has learned Egyptian letters, affords a glimpse into a modest school, or the hope for a school, which classical, literary sources would scarcely admit. The wife congratulates the addressee for now having a job prospect: he will be able to teach boys at the house of the enema doctor.
Subliterary evidence, the correspondence of the modestly literate, the graffiti on city walls, does not so much round out the evidence from literary authors as tantalize with the suggestion of a larger, less sophisticated world of literacy and schooling. The best preserved of ancient Roman cities, Pompeii, has an unrivaled breadth of graffiti that implies, like the Egyptian school at the enema doctor's house, schools and schooling that a Cicero or Quintilian would ignore. Graffiti indicate schooling took place at several locations in Pompeii and at Rome. The places of instruction are unremarkable shop stalls. Two exceptions to these modest locales merit attention, since they seem to have dedicated space and indicate an education that is decidedly not modest. The emperor's palace had a slave-training complex known as the paidagogia, and the villas of the wealthy had as part of their design semicircular recesses, or exedrae. The latter, like private libraries, are places of culture, perhaps of poetry reading or rhetorical training. Varro portrays the gymnasium and the new-style villas as exemplars of the new urbanization-part of his habitual complaint that the Romans have abandoned their ancestral agricultural ways (Rust. 2 pr.) More positively, Varro is commenting on a new lifestyle, an association of the Roman elite with Hellenistic paideia, or with physical places that evoke the great paideia of the Hellenistic cities. The civic gymnasium, the private and imperial libraries, the frescoes of poets on villa walls, and the presence of small but discrete places within the grand Roman house for reading, recitation, or education demonstrate an increasingly visible connection of the Roman elite with places of culture. The villa of course also made room for slaves, who included the expert scribes, accountants, readers, and teachers. Slaves were trained within the emperor's complex for bureaucratic positions, which no doubt centralized for the growing imperial administration what was already common practice both within elite households and in private enterprises, such as the training of slaves in literate skills by Atticus.
Activity and agents, rather than a designed, dedicated, or abiding place, defined the Roman grammar school. The Roman ludus did not translate a Greek place or institution, as it also kept a Latin name and did not borrow the Greek scholē. Stanley Bonner argued that the application of the term ludus to a gladiatorial school and Augustus's use of the expression lusus Troiae for his revival of an archaic rite of military training of young boys suggested that ludus had originally meant "a group of boys in training for war." Ludus would thus be the play form of war, and the term was extended to the group training of boys, whether mental or physical. The grammar school, the ludus litterarius or ludus magistri, was where one found a teacher training children in early literacy (and perhaps numeracy) skills for a fee. Thus when young Marcus Cicero, the son of the orator, received tutoring at home, he was not attending a ludus.
The search for a single architectural correlate to a social or cultural institution is perhaps misguided. The Roman senate did not always meet in the curia. Trials were not attached to a specific building. The Roman house was itself "multi-use," flexible, and permeable space. The Mediterranean climate also allowed a flexibility of location: the street schools would be dreadful, even impossible, in Rome in March. One would love to track some struggling schoolmaster, searching for a dry venue in the Italian winter, decidedly unlike the well-off Quintilian, perhaps a freedman with a niggardly patron, who sold his learning to centurions' sons, and those even lower on the social ladder. He did not need papyrus or many books. Writing materials could be of humble, recycled material, pottery shards and bits of wood, or the eminently practical and reusable wax table. Fees were not always paid; the place was noisy; the rod much used; and perhaps he moved his school as the weather and his pocketbook allowed. Flexibility of place, equipment, and personnel, and ease of entry into the profession favored the impecunious schoolmaster.
Unlike the grammar school, the school of rhetoric required an audience, even if the assembled body numbered only students, their slave companions, and a teacher. No matter the size, the group of orators in training made for a different sort of school. First, all were aware that they were engaged in higher studies. They had left behind, if they had not quite been graduated from, grammar school. In fact, curricular change may not have been as important to the scholars' sense that they had taken up a new and superior enterprise as the change to an all-male student body and to new, more sustained, and complex modes of performance and evaluation. Quintilian informs us that in his day grammar-school teachers had taken over much of the rhetorical curriculum (adding controversia and prosopopoia to their traditional duties, the progymnasmata, or exercises in composition and delivery). Indeed, one of the great legacies of Quintilian's work is its educational outlook of an integrated curriculum. Many of his fellow teachers did not share his attitude: they did not deign to teach the earlier parts of the curriculum. Instead, they gave instruction in declamation. Rome probably had so many well-prepared students and so many experts that this kind of specialization succeeded: declamatory schools could become institutes unto themselves. The declaimer Latro, celebrated in the pages of his fellow Spaniard Seneca the Elder, gave no instruction. Rather, students came to his school to hear his model speeches and divisions of the case. Quintilian did not like the lecture format, passive learning, or the style of speaking so created. He certainly practiced declamatory training, but as the final stage of education. He suggests a carefully controlled environment: boys speak in the order set by the master, which moves from the best to the weakest speakers; he suggests revising the order from time to time.
We do not know if other schools followed these principles, but both Quintilian's school and the schools that relied on extemporaneous speaking or declamation alone (of which he disapproved) reflect the same needs for organization of space. Boys sat in front of their master, who in turn sat on a large chair known as the cathedra. Such a disposition suits the needs of both performance and group teaching. The declamations that stem from Quintilian's school bear some marks of teaching practice. The master presented the facts of the case, then divided the case into two or three tactical approaches, and delivered a sample speech. From the collection of the elder Seneca it is clear that boys competed in a set order. The whole class seems to have declaimed on the same theme, each boy walking to the front of the room to deliver his declamation.
The performance of a rhetorical exercise in school mimics the relations in Roman adult life of advocate and jury, magistrate and assembly, and adviser and great patron. As the boy spoke in the persona of lawyer or adviser, the immediate place of the school might have to be imagined away, the listeners transported to other times and places through the fantasy of the plot, and through specific rhetorical figures such as apostrophe and description. The boys might speak as if they were at the centumviral courts in Rome or among the intimate advisers to the reigning Caesar. As in grammar school, they could, in fact, have been in widely different venues. For special performances, the boys might perform in the same space that Pliny or Martial or the leading professional declaimers rented for a recitation or competition. Seneca reports that the declamatory teacher Cestius had the gall to perform his own reply to Cicero's speech in defense of Milo. It sounds as if Seneca had been there to witness the presumption, and one can conclude more generally from his collection that the rhetoricians wanted visitors. They courted fame-and no doubt new students-in a competitive display. Perhaps Cestius had a special place for this special occasion. Seneca does not remark on it, and in all probability he simply dropped in on one of the leading schools of his day, probably at a colonnade cum exedra. The rhetorical school seems to have been treated as a public place where even the mighty might drop by: the declaimer Latro made a most unfortunate gaffe when Augustus, Maecenas, and Agrippa were in the audience. A generation earlier, Cicero and other illustrious men attended the declamations at the school of Gnipho (a freedman who had first taught in Julius Caesar's household).
At home Cicero practiced his own declaiming, perhaps only in Greek and only with his leading set, without the public. During the close of the republic, as declamation spread as an educational and cultural form, elite Romans also performed or attended performances in their own homes. Private villas reveal spaces dedicated to literary practice and performance. The exedrae are small enough that they might be suitable only for the practice of a speech before a few friends or family and expert slaves. They also have a symbolic element: they evoke larger, public cultural spaces (and events), as does a small domestic library. As a recess in a rectangular room that in turn opens on the colonnade and looks out beyond to the garden, an exedra was not a closed space. In all particulars, like the school, this is a set-the recapitulation on a smaller scale of a larger, more serious space-in which a play version of real events is rehearsed. The school did not develop a separate architecture for good reason: it needed only to anticipate a place of real oratory, the noisy law court or the open-air assembly.
An awareness of the fluid meaning of "school" clears away the prejudice that education must take place in a standard architectural site. The search for the schools of early Rome or for schooling in early Rome must proceed on different criteria. Contact with Italic, Etruscan, and Greek city-states and merchants probably exposed Rome to various literacies. The success of the city as a commercial, religious, and political center probably required literacy among some of its citizens. This does not mean that there were schools or, if there were, that instruction was given in Latin. For this reason we must begin not with the strong, polar thinking of the late republic that set an early nativist Rome against an imported and transforming Greek culture, but with the city of Rome in its cultural contacts with Greek, Etruscan, and Italic neighbors. While Suetonius has shortsightedly provided a history only of the school form familiar to him, he may well have been right in believing that the literature-based schooling of the Greeks was not present at Rome before the early third century. The Romans appropriated Greek culture in a selective fashion. Scipio described and deplored a dancing school for young Roman lads and lasses. Cato would go farther and criticize Scipio as a philhellene. Amid the polemic, it is important to remember that schooling was not a sudden, overwhelming introduction of an unknown culture and technology.
The literary record would have us look to the third century B.C. and the richly flourishing Greek culture of the cities of southern Italy as the point of origin for Roman literature and Roman schooling. Possibly, we can push the originary moment back at least a century, but we must shift the place of contact from Magna Graecia to Etruria. From the evidence of the history of Latin writing, this is not surprising. The Roman alphabet had been borrowed from (or at the very least was certainly influenced by) the Etruscans. Aldo Prosdocimi has stressed that the alphabet came with schooling. The literary record contains one (problematic) clue of Etruscan influence in the schooling of Romans: Livy writes (9.36.3) that it is reported that Roman nobles sent their sons to the Etruscan city of Caere to learn Etruscan. He is telling the story of a Roman explorer and finds it more likely that the Roman had learned Etruscan from friends. Livy treats the ability as something exceptional (aliquid praecipuum) and adds that a slave learned in Etruscan accompanied the explorer. Livy may be discounting the evidence-and adding details that made the learning of a foreign language by a Roman more reasonable (to his generation): special connections or an expert slave. One may speculate that more generally some Roman youth were learning the copious and expert religious lore that the libri etrusci contained. The need to learn Etruscan or to communicate through writing involved wider circles than noble youth who wished to travel or prepare perhaps for service in official religion. Rome had increased contact with the cities of Etruria in the fourth century as changes in Etruscan society were replacing the traditional mercantile aristocracy with a group who for centuries would provide Rome's favored contacts in various settings-a landed aristocracy. At the same time Etruscan cities show an increasingly sophisticated use of Greek art forms. It is unreasonable to assume that Etruscans made use of Greek mythology solely for graphic purposes. Otto Brendel drew the connections between Etruscan-Roman contact in the fourth century and the possible contact with Greek literature. He cited the words Aulus Gellius (17.21.45) attributed to Porcius Licinus: "In the Second Punic War the winged Muse descended among the rough and bellicose people of Romulus"; and noted that winged Muses are an Etruscan not a Greek motif. Greek cultural forms could have taken several avenues to Rome, but the Etruscans are implicated. We are lucky to have Livy's notice of the possible early contact of elite Roman youth with Etruscan culture. It is a hint of the significant changes in the social, agricultural, economic, religious, and political relations of these neighbors in the fourth century. Without these indications of the Roman debt to Etruscan literary and artistic culture, we would have only the later material evidence to deduce the connections of the two elites, such as the Romanizing funerary monuments in Etruscan cities, which testify to the strong, almost obliterating influence that Roman cultural forms would have on their conquered neighbors.
The achievement of Roman culture in the middle and late republic and the cultural memory that privileged an unmediated contact with the Greeks have obscured earlier Roman cultural forms. Scholars have recently begun again to argue for a Roman literary culture of long duration-against what the Romans themselves remembered-by emphasizing such aristocratic institutions as the symposium and the sodality (religious fraternity) where song played a vital role. But aside from these partial glimpses of early Roman culture, the institutions and educational practices that contributed to the formation of a governing or a literate class remain opaque. Still we may remind ourselves that we have only touched upon the fourth century, and wonder what the seventh, sixth, and fifth centuries have hidden: periods of song, treaty, and law; of contact with Etruscans, Greeks, and Italic peoples; and of literacy. At a minimum, Rome had schools throughout these periods, and school equipment like alphabet-inscribed writing tablets, and ink jars. Perhaps we must share Livy's uncertainty that in the fourth century there had been a move to educate noble youth in what was probably conceived of as an older, higher (and perhaps religiously more authoritative) technology of literacy, and that boys were being sent not simply outside the house but out of the city.
A sketch of the Etruscan material evidence proves suggestive. Most germane to the student of education are not the ritual texts but the abecedaria, alphabets incised on durable materials. The earliest of these do seem to be grave goods, namely, markers of status that, though perhaps in use in daily life, are often preserved in a funerary context as deluxe, precious versions of objects essential to the identity of the deceased. In an Etruscan milieu these may be Greek or eastern Mediterranean objects, imported as luxury goods, the earliest of which date from the seventh century and include inscribed letters that are not used in the subsequent epigraphic materials (beta, delta, samek, omicron). One such is an ivory tablet from the second quarter of the seventh century from Marsigliana in the Museo Archeologico in Florence, on one long side of which run, from right to left, twenty-five letters. The object represents a wax tablet, but it is something of a deluxe miniature, perhaps not meant for real practice. A similar ivory miniature wax tablet, though not inscribed, was found in 1935 on a hilltop of Puglia outside Arezzo. This tablet dates from the second half of the first century B.C. and is part of a girl's grave goods, which also include toys and small daily objects. Certainly, five hundred years separate the objects, but the two do demonstrate the importance of commemorating literacy and schooling for a dead child. From the beginning of the sixth century come examples of an Etruscan alphabet with only the letters used in inscriptions. There are further reforms of the alphabet, but from this point on, the inscribed abecedaria correspond to the language being used in contemporary Etruria.
In addition to abecedaria, incised syllabaries show the familiar, if tedious, process of learning to read. With some of these we may have artifacts of the Etruscan school (although whether this was at home or outside, tutoring a few or schooling a group, we do not know). In their adoption of Greek literary and artistic culture, and in the prominence of writing in their funerary iconography (ranging from the incised abecedaria and syllabaries to the reclining sculptures of the dead who hold inscribed texts in their hands), the Etruscans show a keen and enduring interest in literacy. The evidence indicates that far from developing from modest utilitarian beginnings, literacy was part of an elite's religion and commemoration. Etruscan religious technology was certainly part of Rome's tradition. Much later, in the fourth century, it may be that elite Romans sought out Etruscan learning. In between, in all likelihood, schooling in Latin had its own Roman institution.
To insist on an exclusively Etruscan milieu for the introduction of schooling would require ignoring direct contact with both Greek city-states and the Italic literary culture seen in hymns and law codes. Among the evidence for Italic literacy training, a Venetic votive plaque, in bronze representing a wax tablet (dating to the fifth-fourth centuries B.C.), is especially important. Again, as with the funerary objects, we do not have the "real" artifact of a school but a symbolic version that attests to the important status of literacy, as well as to the fact of school training. In the sanctuary of Reitia at Este, a Latin writing exercise was found among Venetic exercises on a lamina. No doubt this exercise attests to the process of "Romanization," but it also reveals one practical way the language was learned and spread before the standardization (of sorts) that Greek-style schooling would help achieve. The early Italic history of the uses of literacy, and the uses of different languages and scripts on the peninsula, lie beyond our topic. Aside from general indications of the level of literacy and of a ritual, diplomatic, and legal culture, the first-century B.C. historian Livy has some stories that presume there were schools in the fifth and fourth centuries. Like his contemporary Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Livy tells the story of Verginia and has her going to school in the forum in the year 449 (Livy 3.44.6; Dion. Hal. 11.28); Livy also mentions schools at Falerii and Tusculum (5.27 and 6.25). It is conceivable that all are anachronisms, but they are additional chinks in the well-armored story that schooling began in the third century.
Whether or not the Romans first experienced advanced literacy training in an Etruscan school or in some system of apprentice learning, or simply learned the alphabet with the aid of Etruscan abecedaria, they were not awaiting the arrival of Greek teachers. The material evidence undercuts the stories from Roman literature that schooling had suddenly irrupted into a cultureless third-century city of Italy. The materials and the disposition for education were centuries old by the time Livius Andronicus wrote the first Latin translation of a Greek school text (the Odyssey, sometime in the third century B.C.). We should conclude that in the third century there came to the most powerful Italic city, one with various elite activities (religious, legal, political, and diplomatic) dependent on literacy, an international technology of schooling in the mobile form of human experts. The dazzling qualities of the expert performers-the trained memory abilities that seem miraculous, the achievements of philosophical argumentation, the pyrotechnics of virtuoso oratorical delivery-riveted the Romans. Even more importantly, these experts (and the less dazzling, more commonplace teachers of grammar and rhetoric) fundamentally changed Roman institutions. As the Romans secured and came to govern a far-flung empire, and as the elite competed for positions of leadership and came to forge a new Roman culture of governors, memories of an earlier educational culture, one informed by contacts with the Etruscan, Greek, and Italic worlds, were displaced by stories that celebrate a new founding-the era when Roman patrons befriended and employed Hellenistic scholars. The qualities of the Romans' memory of the capture and transformation of the educational culture of the Greeks concern us next.
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