Written by Kocha Changelia

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light” – Plato

Light itself is education, as we can understand from the words above, education in the ancient world was the only way to enlightenment, and the way to this light (education) is an acknowledgment of the world around you. The manner of education and evolvement of it has proceeded differently in each part of the world, and exactly in this essay, we will be examining education in the ancient city-states to get a full understanding of how was it operated.

I would like to pay attention to the educational system and education itself in Athens, education in Athens is very captivating due to its fundamental concept and objective “to prepare them for both peace and war„ under the blue Attic sky, teachers, philosophers, Poets, Scientists and Artists coming from all over the ancient world and youths from all over Greece visiting Athens to ease their inquiring minds, made up a society full of life, motion, and beauty, where the man lived in harmony with nature and learned from it. 

Childhood education, as in many other ancient city-states, was highly dependent on one’s gender. In Athens boys from wealthy families, during the classical period, went to schools where they faced both physical and mental challenges unlike boys’, girls’ educations were typically haphazard, often occurring at home, if they occurred at all.

In the fifth century B.C., Greece’s greatest minds were preoccupied with the most effective ways to raise children. Socrates, a Greek rhetorician, and contemporary of Plato, boldly proclaimed what he saw as Greece’s leadership in education: “So far has Athens left the rest of mankind behind in thought and expression that her pupils have become the teachers of the world.” The educational tool that Socrates praised was known by Greeks as paideia, a term originated from pais, the Greek word for child. In ideal terms, paideia was meant to allow male children to purify the vile parts of human nature so that they could achieve the highest moral state.

On a practical level, it also equipped society with well-prepared men to take on the political and military responsibilities of citizenship as adults. Paideia, however, was not designed for female children. Generally, only children from wealthy families were able to afford the full range of educational opportunities, and in most cases, those children were boys. Most daughters, even wealthy ones, received an informal education at home. In classical Athens, women were not educated for service in public life, as only men could be citizens. Although evidence has come down of some important exceptions, in general, the role in life allotted to girls was in the home.

The second city-state that I am about to discuss is Sparta. Education in Sparta is totally different from Athens’ and the main difference is in the objective of education, even though these two ancient city-states had one cultural background “Hellenistic” their education differed from one another. Spartans reckoned that the most important was “discipline, self-denial, and simplicity”, and so the objective of education was, to produce an army for military purposes. When babies were born, soldiers came to check the newborn. If it appeared healthy and strong, they would be assigned to a “brotherhood” or a “sisterhood” however if the baby appeared weak and small, the infant would be left to die on a hillside or taken away to be trained as a slave.

It was “survival of the fittest” in Ancient Sparta. Regarding the structure of the education in Sparta, Male Spartan children were sent to military school at the age of six or seven. They lived with their brotherhood. School courses were very hard and painful for boys, and school was described as a “brutal training period”. Between the age of 18 and 20, Spartan males had to pass a fitness test that consisted of fitness, military ability, and leadership skills. If he didn’t pass, he became a person who had no political rights and was not even considered a citizen called a perioidos. If he did pass, he would continue to serve in the military and train as a soldier until he was 60, when the soldier could retire to live with his family. Females were getting an education from their mothers, in other words, spartan women were receiving informal education they had to be physically very strong since they had, most important role, to give birth to a new healthy soldier. 

As far as we have discussed two city-states with the identical cultural background it would be interesting to bring in the city-state from a totally different land and thus I would like to introduce you to the education in Babylon, mostly the type of education that Babylonian could receive would be scribal type the ones who were sent to the school to train as a scribe had to be children from the wealthy families. Unlike Athens and Sparta in Babylon girls possibly were admitted to schools as well, there is no doubt that rich women often had a lot of freedom and influence. The objective of scribal education was to multiply religious texts, by the time of Hammurabi Sumerian language was replaced with the Akkadian but still, Sumerian was used for nearly all religious texts It was therefore necessary to train students, not only in the script, cuneiform but in the language as well.

The education of one’s child would begin at the age of nine. Each day students would get up at sunrise and go to school which commonly was known as the “tablet house”. The tablet house was run by a schoolmaster his title in literal translation means “the expert”, in the teaching process other teachers were involved as well, each of them was specialized in different aspects of Sumerian and its writing. Student’s work would consist of copying tablet with the usage of a slab of wet clay, also one of the obligations was to learn texts by heart, and at the end if the student successfully passed an examination the one would become a scribe.

To summarize all the above-mentioned, I reckon that every educational system was the product of its time and therefore the similarities in the part of educational discrimination, on the basis of gender, is the product of the time as well. Education or educational system is a concept that has developed through hard work and experience, thus education varies from city-state to city-states and it differs due to preferences that state had, for instance, Sparta’s main objective was military strength hence he was specializing in it, same is with other city-states they were specializing in the spheres that were priority and preference for its citizens. As Aristoteles said, “human being without education and polis is apolis – who’s either above or below the humanity”, thus in every case education was the gift that was given to the “chosen” ones, to become full members of society and therefore honorably serve the city-state.


Cactus Porpoise – “Education in Ancient Sparta and Ancient Athens” (https://rb.gy/ude8jw)

National Geographic – “Education in Ancient Greece” (https://rb.gy/7ghccd)

Britannica – “Education in the earliest civilizations” (https://rb.gy/nd5j1o)

Bible History – “Ancient Babylonian Schools” (https://rb.gy/nqezyb)

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