Most Roman children received their education from their parents. The boys would be taught to throw spears, use a sword, box, swim and, if the family possessed one, to ride a horse. A great deal of emphasis was placed on physical training because of a boy's future role as defender of the Roman Empire.
If the father could read and write, the son would also be taught these skills. Reading and writing were often taught by using books on the history of Rome. Learning dates in history was difficult. Events were not recorded by numbered years but by the two consuls who were ruling at the time. As Rome changed consuls every year, this created serious problems for Roman schoolchildren.
Girls were trained by their mothers to cook, make clothes and to do other jobs that the Romans believed would make a girl into a "good wife".
In the second century BC schools began to emerge in Rome. They were very small and were usually only one room. As well as reading and writing, children were taught elementary arithmetic. The Roman numeral system made arithmetic difficult and most sums were done by moving beads on a counting frame called an abacus.
The Romans were strong believers in corporal punishment. One popular saying was: "A man who has not been flogged is not trained." The main form of punishment was being hit with a leather whip. Terence disagreed with this approach and argued: "The man who keeps to the path of duty through fear of punishment will be honest just as long as he thinks he'll be found out. If he think's he can get away with something undetected, then he'll be back to his tricks. But the man who is attached to you by affection is anxious to treat you as you treat him, whether you're there or not... A man who can't do this should admit that he cannot control children."
Many rich Romans preferred to employ private tutors to educate their children at home. It was usually cheaper to buy an educated Greek slave to teach children than to send them to school. As most of the books used were in Greek, Roman children were brought up to be bilingual.
Quintilian, an important Roman educationalist in the 1st century AD, believed that schools were better than private tutors. He argued that schools encouraged competition between children and in doing so improved standards.
Wealthy Romans gradually became convinced by these arguments and schools became more popular.
Quintilian also argued that children would do better at school if both the child's parents had also been educated. This encouraged some fathers to spend money on their daughter's education, but from the evidence that we have this was still fairly rare.
At the age of fourteen children of the rich went to a school where they were taught the skills of oratory (public speaking). This was to enable them to become successful politicians and lawyers when they became older.
The patricians worried about the power of teachers to shape the minds of young people and in 92 BC the Senate expelled all teachers from Rome for encouraging their pupils to be "too clever". The Senate was particularly concerned about the teaching of Greek Philosophy which they believed encouraged disobedience.