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The History of Physical Education in Rome

By Seeta Shah Roath, Ed.D.

Formal education in the Roman Republic was for the wealthy, and it was mainly in Latin and Greek studies. Physical education, done by fathers for sons, was rarely formalized.

Origin

Roman ideals of physical beauty and health owed much to the Greeks, who were often hired as tutors for both intellectual and physical education. The sports of the Olympic Games were imported and practiced in organized competitions and at home.

Purpose

As with the Greeks, sports, games and physical recreation were meant to prepare boys and young men for military service. During the Republic and early Empire, all Roman citizens were expected to be able to serve in the military.

Methods

In physical matters, boys and young men learned primarily by example, assisting their fathers in daily routines. This meant visits to the many Roman baths, which included exercise rooms and central courtyards where wrestling and boxing were practiced. Other common exercises were the javelin and equestrian sports.

Games

Boys played by doing numerous physical activities, such as riding hobby horses, flying kites and walking on stilts.

Public Schools

As the Empire and its economy grew, a better-educated citizenry became necessary. Public schools were local institutions catering to middle class boys. Physical education was part of the curriculum, explicitly for military preparation.

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