Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2015

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Dr. E. Christian Kopff

Second Advisor

Dr. Sarah James

Third Advisor

Dr. Carole Newlands


In our analyses of the Ancient World, we tend to attribute literacy in extremes; either someone studied under the tutelage of intellectuals, learned about poetry and debated philosophers or were wholly separate from any educational environment. The intent of thesis is to demonstrate that ordinary citizens had exposure to written language (Greek or Latin) in varying degrees. In addition to their ability to read and comprehend written text, there were different opportunities for lower class citizens to receive an education that mirrored (at least in part) the education of the upper class and elite. Students learned more than just a pragmatic use of the language; they had acumen of Virgil, Homer, and other prolific poets because their moral education was rooted in the pious heroes that espoused these virtues. The first part of this inquiry aims to disprove the idea that there was a very limited number of educated elite in the Roman Empire and illiterate masses still functioned cohesively in society; Essentially, arguing against the likening of Rome to Europe in the Dark Ages. Yet, based on the evidence of widespread written text and writing materials, teachers far all levels, and professions requiring a working knowledge of the language, we cannot assert such a rate of illiteracy. The first chapter closes with and look at the relationship between the oral appreciation and the pragmatic understanding of the written language as well as why contemporary students might prefer the Classical Model of education. The final part identifies the significance of education in the lives of the scholars and emperors; whether they were born in the Italian state or a province of the empire, the quality and depth of one’s education raised himself far above his competitors; securing authority rested on exemplary ability in rhetoric and philosophy. Subsequent emperors deemed education so crucial that imperial decrees banished deviant religions from academic institutions fearing their beliefs might overtake their own. In conclusion, this thesis argues that literacy was much higher in Ancient Rome and discusses the vast influence education had on the realisation of an individual’s intellectual pursuits and political consequences for the Empire.