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literacy rate in Greco-Roman world

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  Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: literacy rate in Greco-Roman world
    Posted: 05-Aug-2007 at 10:26
Have any scholars ever made any investigation into the literacy in ancient Greece and Rome?
 
The Spartans, as many assume, were mostly illiterate because they dedicated all their lives to the deeds of war.
In Athens, all citizens, or citizens of the wealthy class, were apparently given tuition in basic culture. However, little is said about the popular classes and non-citizens.
 
The Roman Empire, in theory, would have had a literacy rate confined only to its social elite or those who could afford to send their children to school. However, many evidence contradicts this:
Graffiti has been found on the walls frequented by the "rough" types, stringing together full sentences and texts.
The letters of many legionaries have also been found, and legionaries were usually not recruited from the cream of society.
 
 
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  Quote Lannes Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05-Aug-2007 at 16:22
I'm short on time, but I'll address this oft-presented-but-erroneous assumption:
 
Originally posted by calvo

The Spartans, as many assume, were mostly illiterate because they dedicated all their lives to the deeds of war.
 
This idea is the birthchild of belittling remarks from Athenian chroniclers of the later Classical Age regarding Sparta's supposed struggle with things intellectual and too by the inexplictness of contemporary Agoge studies on anything other than military training.
 
To put it simply, the accounts of the Spartan's raising program presumably don't divulge in accounts of Spartiates learning to read and write because that wasn't the uniquely Spartan aspect of the Agoge schooling that would have intrigued the contemporary foreign historian into detailing the experience.  Thusly, the unique military training and relationships of Spartan schooling are what is detailed by foreign historians such as Herodotus, who obviously wouldn't have been interested in detailing aspects of schooling every Greek would know.
 
Moreover, Spartan government utilized a variety of documents in its proceedings, clearly demonstrating literacy.  And because many of the offices involved in the construction of government documents weren't relegated to the Spartan political elite, the average Spartiate must've been expected to have been literate.
τρέφεται δέ, ὤ Σώκρατης, ψυχὴ τίνι;
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  Quote dexippus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-Aug-2007 at 14:09

You ask a loaded question, which scholars still fiercly contend. The general consensus is that only about 10% of the population of the Roman empire was literate circa 100 AD, but this is just a guess. Some people, basing their arguments on the Pompeii graffitoes, which suggest very humble people could not only read but also write, argue for a higher level of literacy for the populace, but even these would probably not argue a rate above 20% even for urban areas. Clearly urban areas had a higher rate than the country. Certain institutions, like the Roman army, had a very high rate of literacy, as basic reading and writing was essential to manage logistics, and soldiers left epigraphic records of their service at a rate higher than most Roman citizens. We know that many women could also read and write, as the wife of a Batavian commander sends a birthday invitation preserved in the  swamps of Vindolanda, while Perpetua was literate in Latin and Greek.

The actual rate of literacy in the ancient world remains a mystery. What can be said, is that the culture assumed that a reasonable number of people were literate. Thus the edicts of emperors and governors were posted in plain view, and inscriptions on monuments were a major form of imperial propaganda.
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-Aug-2007 at 16:28

It should be noted that "reading, riting, rithmatic" are not mutually inclusive. A lot more could read than write, many could do basic arthimatic. Sort of like with people born in late 80's onward, knowledge of computers and literacy went hand in hand, before that it was  not the case.

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  Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Aug-2007 at 03:48
In Greek city states like Athens, and even in Ptolemy's Alexandria, all citizens should have been literate as they were obliged to undergo some basic education. Little could be said about the "foreigners" who in reality formed the bulk of the population of the city states.
 
Regarding the literacy in the Roman army, I wonder if learning to read and write formed part of the basic training; because if only 10% of the populace had been literate, the pool of potential recruits to the legions would be greatly reduced. At least during Pax-Romana, legionary recruits usually did not come from sophisticated, intellectural backgrounds.
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Aug-2007 at 04:14

It was probably an aquired skill. Needed to send messages.

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  Quote dexippus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Aug-2007 at 14:14
Vergetius actually says that "nota" are a skill that Roman recruits should have.  Some probably learned to read and write in the Army, but the army in turn may have enhanced literacy back on the areas from which soldiers were recruited. The most evidence for rural literacy we have comes from a region of Holland known as Batavia, which was a major source of recruits into the Roman Army. In short, Roman recruits joined the army, learned to read, and then taught their relatives and children, many of whom eventually joined the Roman army as well. As the Roman army recruited mostly from communities of veterans stationed along the frontier, these communities likely had higher literacy rates because of the army's continued presence than the average peasant villiage in the interior of the Roman Empire.
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