Of all the things that ancient Athens cared for none was more important than education. The ancient Athenians developed a very unique system of government which allowed for its citizens to attend free lectures and become highly educated. Here is exactly why ancient Athens prioritized education as highly as they did.
There are 3 reasons why education was so important to ancient Athens. First, the Athenian version of democracy created a need for educated Athenians. Second, the Athenian military sought to have the most educated lead it. Third, in order for ancient Athens to survive it would need to innovate which also increased a need for educated citizens.
When we think of education in ancient/classical Greece we often think of Athens. In particular people think of the academy which was created by Plato. However, across the mainland of Greece nearly every city-state had their own education program which reflected the values of that state.
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Without further ado, here is an article going over the 3 reasons why education was important to ancient Athens.
Athenian Democracy Created A Need For Educated Citizens
After the Athenian revolution in 508-507 BC which overthrew the monarchy of Athens a democracy was installed. In this form of government the male citizenry basis of Athens would have a direct say in the actions of the Athenian state.
Here each citizen would have a vote on how the government should run. This was not the first example of a democracy in human history. However, this is one of the examples of democracy on a large scale. It is estimated that the city of Athens during the 5th century BC had over 300,000 people living within it.
If every citizen was ignorant of mathematics, science, history, and law then the state would be governed by idiots. To correct this Athens began to educate its young population so that when they grew up the state was in educated hands.
Over the 5th century Athens would reach its peak after each generation of Athenians would seek to educate their children. These children would grow up to educate their own. This built upon previous generations’ knowledge and led to a compounding effect.
Today this is one of the main reasons why when we study ancient Athens we see massive academic names such as Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. These men were born into the educated citizen class of Athens and would help to build upon the previous generations’ knowledge.
Plato himself would recognize that there was a growing demand for a public place of higher learning. This resulted in Plato creating the world’s first university to train what we would call today graduate students.
As such one of the main reasons why education was important to ancient Athens was because it helped to train the rising generation on how to better administer the state.
The Military Of Athens Sought To Have The Most Educated Lead It
Unlike other Greek city-states of the ancient/classical time Athens would seek to find its most educated citizens to lead its military as the officers.
Several prominent examples exist of educated officers successfully leading their men into battle. The first example of this is Cimon who led the Athenian military to successfully defeat the Persians at the Battle of Salamis.
Cimon would have received an education from a series of private tutors during his early years. This was because his father was the legendary hero of Athens Miltiades who defeated the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. Both of these men were highly educated individuals by Athenian standards.
However one example exists far above both Cimon and his father Miltiades. The famous Athenian statesman Pericles. From 461-429 BC Pericles would lead Athens through its golden age as the Strategos or military leader of Athens.
Pericles was known for his incredible wit and intelligence. He would both bolster the Athenian military as well as heavily promote the arts, sciences, and literature. Under Pericles Athens would become the strongest military power in ancient Greece until defeated by Sparta during the Peloponnesian War.
As such one of the main reasons why education was so important to ancient Athens was because it gave the military the ability to pull from the smartest individuals to lead it.
Ancient Athens Would Have To Innovate To Survive Which Created A Need For Educated Citizens
One of the main reasons why ancient Athens considered education so important was because it led to innovation and expansion of the economy.
During the height of ancient Athens there was a vibrant market and manufacturing sector within the city near the port. This demonstrated something incredibly unique about the ancient city, that it was a manufacturing center in ancient Greece.
Across the ancient world goods would make their way to Athens to be refined. Athenian entrepreneurs would engage in a complex series of loans and business startups. This would drive innovation which required educated people to do.
These ancient business owners would figure out ways to more easily manufacture a product. Much of this information has been lost to use outside of some paintings on old vases and some primary sources dealing with taxation in the Athenian port.
Athens would collect a portion of whatever products were being shipped in and out of the port. They made their own coinage and lots of it. We know of this because Athenian coins can be found as far as Egypt and modern Iran.
However, in order to even drive a manufacturing sector the Athenians would have to create an educated population that could figure out how to make a product better or more cost effective.
This is one of the main reasons why ancient Athens found education so important. An educated businessman could easily drive innovation.
There you have it; an entire article going over the 3 reasons why education was so important to ancient Athens.
Today not much has changed when you compare our modern education system with the education system of ancient Athens. Both societies prioritize educating their children so that they stand the best shot at a successful life.
Here at The History Ace I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If you enjoyed this article then consider subscribing to the free newsletter and sharing around the web.
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