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Plebeians and their letters
Something occured to me today. I know the patricians and equestrians would be very literate, in Latin and Greek, their families being able to afford good tutors, free or not. But generally in pre-modern times, as you go lower down the rung, the education level goes with you.

Now, if a plebian was well off or comfortable, he'd have to know at least a basic amount of letters and numbers for transactions, reading the news in the Forum and such. Am I right? There would always be a large amount of illiteracy among the menial kind of slaves, and plebs not much better off. What about the average working Joe in Rome?
---AH Mervla, aka Joel Boynton
Legio XIIII, Gemina Martia Victrix
You've said it yourself; the education level goes along with the money and time to spend on tutors and schools. There were no public schools.
On the other hand, children were given into custody of craftsmen at an early age to learn these crafts; this kind of "home schooling" must sometimes have included basic literacy and maths.
Compared to the medieval, however, literacy must have been astounding. We have of simple roof tiles, inscripted with jokes and comments by their slave makers, curses and prayers, price and adress tags, owner marks on simple items which indicate that reading and writing was not just the privilege of the ruling class.
Tertius Mummius
(Jan Hochbruck)
<a class="postlink" href="">
Graffiti - proof of widespread literacy if you ask me Smile
TARBICvS/Jim Bowers
For the clarity of discussion: plebeian is everyone in Rome who is not a patrician - related to the early 'patres' of Rome. Until 287 BC there was an ongoing struggle between these two classes for political power. After that time, the difference is only in status. There are many examples of plebeian senators and equestrians who were therefore by no means poor!
If you mean the (especially urban) poor of Rome, it's the proletarii, those whose only possession was their children.
As to literacy in Rome, yeah, it seems to have been at a higher level than normal in pre-industrial society. Think of massive numbers of the tombstones. Formulaic, yes, but still text. And it's likely there were wooden ones too, cheaper, but still markers with a text on them.
On the other hand, being literate was a criterium for advancement in the army, and there are definitely signs that not all soldiers were literate, such as in contracts.

Jasper Oorthuys
Webmaster & Editor, Ancient Warfare magazine
#5 well as grafitti ( e.g the rather saucy Suspirium puellarum Celadus thraex = Celadus the Thracian gladiator makes the girls moan ! and Virgula Tertio suo: indecens es= Virgula to her Tertio: you are one horny boy!...and if you think these are saucy, you should see others from the bordello :roll: ) there are also political slogans and public announcements/posters regarding various events etc which implies literacy was very widespread - even slaves needed to read and write in their daily business, so literacy was probably as widespread as in 18th or 19th century Europe ( which also suffered from a general lack of schools..not essential to literacy)
"dulce et decorum est pro patria mori " - Horace, ODES
(It is a sweet and proper thing to die for ones country)

"No son-of-a-bitch ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country" -GeorgeC Scott as General George S. Patton
Paullus Scipio/Paul McDonnell-Staff
Quote:Graffiti - proof of widespread literacy if you ask me
Well, if you ask me, graffiti would be "ill" literacy.

(don't kill me)
M. Demetrius Abicio
(David Wills)

Saepe veritas est dura.
I"m away from my bookshe;lves right now, but basically the aswer is "it depends" as far as we know. Literacy was not the decisive requirement for entry to polite society we think of it as today. There is evidence (from Vindolanda as well as Egypt IIRC) of even wealthy and pretty high-ranking people being if not illiterate, then unused to handling writing tools. On the other hand, writing was a useful skill for anyone in an urban environment. Given that the Latin alphabet is pretty much phonertic for Latin, learning how to use it was not that hard (certainly not as hard as for modern English-speakers blessed with the phoneme-grapheme relastionship from hell). So you"d find people far down the social scale being literate enough to keep notes, write graffiti and read advertising. AS you leave the city, this changes.

I recall reading an estimate that said about 80% of urban Italians, 60% of Egyptians overall and around 50% of soldiers having been literate, but this is very much IIRC and I"ll need to dig to find where it was from.
Der Kessel ist voll Bärks!

Volker Bach
You're right, Jan, I did pretty much answer my own question. I guess I'd unconsciously assumed every citizen could read, even knowing that education depended on your circumstances and access, in the days before universal schools. But I'm glad I asked; I've been researching the civilian side of Rome as well as the army, but this is one topic that didn't occur to me before.
---AH Mervla, aka Joel Boynton
Legio XIIII, Gemina Martia Victrix

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