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by Archaeology Newsroom

Education in Byzantium

The Byzantines inherited from the classical world a deep respect for learning and a high appreciation for the spiritual civilization of the ancient Greeks. Therefore, it is almost certain that the public schools operated without interruption from the Roman period to the Fall of the Byzantine Empire. The theocratic character of the political, cultural, social and ideological structure and thought of the Byzantine Empire supplies an incomplete knowledge of the secular life in Byzantium. Through this basic concept the scholars are inevitably led only to the religious aspects of Byzantine history and art. It is not accidental that most information on education, available so far, refers to advanced studies, which are connected with the life and work of eminent Church personalities. Our knowledge of basic education is comparatively limited. Elementary schools operated not only in the capital but also in the province. However, children of high society had their private tutors as in ancient Greece and Rome. The number of schools and the percentage of the attending children remain subjects of research since both vary according to geographic areas and periods in time and are relevant to the large percentage of illiterates in Byzantium.

The elementary curriculum included grammar, that is writing and reading, as well as syntaxis and introduction to the classic authors, while rhetoric was taught in the secondary curriculum , that is, pronounciation, reciting and the study of the classics. The third level of education concentrated on philosophy, the sciences and the four arts of arithmetics, geometry, music and astronomy. Thus, it becomes obvious that the classical education was fundamental to the schooling system of the Byzantines and it is significant that the classic works have been preserved in the Byzantine scriptoria where educated copyists reproduced manuscripts of ancient texts

It seems that the secular education, organized by the state, was clearly separated from the religious education for which the Church held the entire responsibility. The University of Constantinople was under the auspices of the emperor and remained active from the fourth to the fifteenth century. The major subjects taught there were classic literature, science and philosophy, but not theology. The latter was included in the curriculum of the Patriarchic School, probably founded in the seventh century in the Byzantine capital, where attendants were clergymen and theologians.

Minor schools educating the monks were located in many monasteries.