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The School of Athens, wall fresco by Raphael , 1509–1510

Paideia ( Greek  παιδεία paideia , " upbringing ", " education ") is a key term for understanding ancient culture and a central value concept. On the one hand it stands for intellectual and ethical upbringing and education as a process and on the other hand for education as possession and result of the educational process. He does not only refer to school lessons for children, but also to people's turning to thinking in the essentials and the training of arete . Only through the right Paideia does the soul achieve its “best form”.


The term is derived from the upbringing of the child (παιδεύειν paideúein ), but means from an early age the education that a young person receives and that shapes him throughout his life. In the second half of the 5th century BC The term paideia (παιδεία) was used in the poleis of ancient Greece both by the sophists (in the rhetorical-practical understanding) and by the philosophical-scientific side ( Socrates , later especially Plato , Aristotle etc.). Paideia means, on the one hand, the process of bringing up children and, on the other hand, the result of this educational process, namely education. The gymnastic paideia relates to the physical balance ( symmetria ) and the musical-philosophical paideia relates to the soul-spiritual harmony ( kalokagathia , gr. Καλοκἀγαθία). Later, paideia, as a synonym for civilization and culture, is also the name for an education that, in contrast to the barbarian, characterizes civilized people.


ephebos (youth) on an amphora around 440 BC Chr.


The girls were trained at home. The education system served exclusively to raise the boys ( pais ) and was largely privately organized and financed. Education was not yet seen as a task for the state. Athens also had a number of state palaeosters and grammar schools. Everyone went to school for their sons whenever possible, although there was no compulsion to do so. There was only one provision from Solon, according to which children who had received no education but had been rented out as boyhoods did not have to look after their parents in old age. The school years lasted from about six to sixteen years of age. Caning was not uncommon. Major subjects were writing (including reading and arithmetic), music (including lyre playing ), and gymnastics (including wrestling, swimming, archery, and slinging). Drawing and painting were added later. Foreign languages ​​were usually not taught. The sophists and rhetors were then responsible for higher education . They asked for substantial hearing fees that only the wealthy could afford. Were taught philosophy , rhetoric , history and natural sciences.


The slave who accompanied the boy on his way to school and gave instructions for proper behavior was the paidagogos . Slaves counted not as a person but as a thing. Since the slaves were a capital investment whose labor had to be exploited, often only those slaves were used that were not suitable for other work . Because of the boy love prevailing in Athens, the paidagogos had to be careful that nothing happened to the boy on the way to school. He also carried him the necessary school supplies. Very wealthy parents even afforded the luxury of having their school supplies carried by special servants. The paidagogos attended classes and looked after the boys' homework . Otherwise, under the death penalty, the law forbade adults other than immediate family members from entering the school during class. The paidagogos also taught his protégé outward decency, for example

  • to wear one's garment properly
  • walking decently on the street with downcast eyes
  • When sitting, do not cross your feet or support your chin with your hand
  • to be silent
  • and not being mouthful at the table.

The paidagogos had the right to corporal punishment, which was very harsh. In any case, there was the opinion that a boy should be kept particularly tight. The raw nature of these slaves must have far outweighed them. The representations in art usually show the paidagogos with the face of a barbarian. As a further sign of his foreign origin, he often wears a short sleeve tunic and high lace-up shoes. A bald head, a shaggy beard, a coat and a long, curved stick complete the picture.


At the age of eighteen one became an ephebos (youth) and received three years of military training, which was also accompanied by lectures on oratory, literature, music and geometry. The Ephebe were democratically organized in a kind of self-government and took on important tasks in defense and in public ceremonies. At the age of 21 you finally came of age.

Educational ideal

Homeric time

Achilles learns the lyre from Cheiron

In the courtly culture of Homer's time , an aristocratic image of man was idealized. Accordingly, the performance that is repeatedly put to the test leads to possession, fame and honor. The Homeric hero can wield the lance. He is also capable of informed speech in the council and in the assembly. Like Achilles, he masters the lyre game :

“When they reached the tents and ships of the Myrmidons;
Did they find him, delighting his heart with the sounding lyre,
beautiful and artificially arched, with a silver bridge;
Those chosen from the booty, since he destroyed Eëtion's city: With
this he delighted his heart, and sang victorious deeds of men. "

- Homer, Iliad

Chivalry, politeness, urbane dexterity and empathy characterize him. In the time of the polis, from the 7th century onwards, the virtues of the state were emphasized. Obedience to the laws and the surrender of life for the polis served as models of subordination to the whole.

The sophists

The sophists endeavored to free the highest form of human education, Kalokagathia, from aristocratic descent and the educational privilege associated with it. The realization of the Arete should be made possible through the talent, the instruction and the practice regardless of the origin. The skills of a speaker should be acquired in order to assert oneself politically. The training in ethical behavior played no special role for the sophists.


Plato teaches his pupil Aristotle, relief by Luca della Robbia around 1438

Already Plato's teacher Socrates tried to expose the polymathy the Sophists than meets the eye and to put concern for the soul of the people at the center of education efforts. Plato reproached the sophists that their attitude was only a commercialization of their knowledge, that they even lacked true education . In contrast, he himself represented a philosophical-scientific Paideia: According to this, the state should take over the education. The course of education extends over the entire life of a person and should develop in stages from gymnastic and musical lessons to general education in the oratory and mathematical disciplines to the highest level of dialectics .

“Only the dialectical procedure [...] removes the prerequisites and sets off there: to the beginning yourself, in order to gain a firm footing. And it gradually pulls the soul's eye out of the barbaric quagmire in which it was actually buried and directs it upwards. "

- Plato, Politeia

The turning of the soul ( psyches periagoge ) causes the paideia. At this highest level of the educational process, which is only reached by a few, man gains insight into the idea of ​​the good and thus into reality itself. If one knows the truth through the light of the idea of ​​the good, one acts well. Only the righteous who are oriented towards the good and whose soul has been formed by Paideia can be really happy ( eudaimonia ). Only at this level of education should rule be exercised in the state ( philosopher rule ).


In addition to the mathematical disciplines and dialectics, Isocrates particularly propagated rhetorical education. This not only required a broad knowledge of literature, but also a skillful expression. In the school of Isocrates, education through the love of beauty, especially beautiful speech, is consciously used as a method. The speech shows the spirit of man in style. Education does not consist in an autonomous ability to speak, but in a morality that is expressed in speech. Speech represents the mind in a special way. The complete program of an enkyklios paideia was seldom implemented in practice due to an overemphasis on rhetoric . With his educational concept, Isocrates was far more influential than Plato in his time:

“I do believe, however, that people can become better and more valuable than they naturally are if they are ambitious in speaking and strive to gain persuasiveness in their listeners and also want their advantage, and not the one is taken for it by the incomprehensible, but rather the one who really has this meaning. [...] But anyone who wants to have a convincing effect on others will not neglect virtue, but will pay particular attention to ensuring that they enjoy the best possible reputation among their fellow citizens. "

- Isocrates, antidosis speech

Hellenism and Roman times

Cicero writes his Epistulae ad familiares , woodcut around 1545

In Hellenism and the Roman Empire , the paideia took on its occidental-humanistic form: In the course of the expansion of Greek (and later Greco-Roman) culture, classical education represented an important link, although the Romans initially emphasized the usefulness of education more strongly. For Marcus Tullius Cicero , paideia was synonymous with humanitas . For his ideal of the perfect speaker, he called for the study of history, law and philosophy. Literary education came to the fore. In the 2nd century AD, the second sophistry brought a renewed upswing. Paideia became the epitome of a changed intellectual culture and an atticist attitude. The pepaideumenos , i.e. the educated, preferred to demonstrate his knowledge of the authors who were still considered authoritative even centuries later, in particular Homer , Thucydides , Herodotus , Plato and Aristotle . Quintilian, the first publicly appointed Roman lecturer, revered Cicero as the ideal rhetorician. Classical education remained an important sign of belonging to the upper class, at least in Ostrom up to around 600; this only changed with the end of Late Antiquity .

Christianity and Paideia

For the Greeks, paideia initially served as a demarcation from the “ barbarians ” and simple Christians . In late antiquity, however, educated Christian people such as Clemens of Alexandria , Origen or Gregory of Nyssa were able to reconcile classical education and Christianity . Christianity was linked to the concept of Paideia. It itself now appeared as the true paideia with Jesus Christ as divine educator. However, religious over literary or philosophical education always took precedence. Nevertheless, in late antiquity, both Christians and pagans shared cultural values; Alan Cameron recently emphasized that Christian belief and the appreciation of classical education were not inevitable contradictions.

Despite numerous lines of continuity between antiquity and the Middle Ages, some cultural breaks can still be recognized for the late antiquity. At the end of antiquity , in the course of the migration of peoples in the Latin West, the cultural bearers of the classic paideia were gradually lost; only a few classically educated people were still able to take on the mediating role necessary for this. In the Merovingian Gaul , among other things, the historical work of the Gallo novel Gregor von Tours (2nd half of the 6th century) already indicated the final phase of this and the beginning of a new cultural phase. In Italy, which had a cultural heyday under the Ostrogoths, the Gothic Wars and the Longobard invasion of 568 represented a clear turning point, while in Visigothic Hispania parts of the ancient culture were still preserved (see Isidore of Seville ). At the same time, new forms of culture emerged in the early Middle Ages . In the Greek East, the 7th century with the great Persian War (603 to 628/29) and the subsequent Islamic expansion represented a significant turning point, although the ancient lines of tradition had a stronger effect here than in the West. In the Carolingian Renaissance , Renaissance humanism and neo-humanism up to Third Humanism and the educational mandate of the humanistic grammar school , the basic ideas of paideia continue to have an effect .

Social importance

Throughout Greco-Roman antiquity , paideia was an essential indicator of belonging to an elite . Only those children who were wealthy enough not to have to contribute to the livelihood of their families through physical labor at an early age were available and could therefore spend their time on intensively educating themselves in body and mind. Because the traditional educational and written culture was considered an unproductive end in itself, it was a social distinction criterion alongside dignitas , the dignity acquired through services for the common good, and the classroom lifestyle until the end of antiquity in the 6th century AD. The influential philosophers and rhetors in the imperial era built their power as representatives of the classical paideia on their competence as experienced and clever advisors who knew how to convey the will of the emperor with the respective action situation.

See also


  • Barbara Borg (Ed.): Paideia: The World Of The Second Sophistic . Berlin-New York 2004.
  • Peter Brown: Power and Rhetoric in Late Antiquity . dtv, Munich 1995
  • D. Bremer: Art. Paideia , in: Joachim Ritter u. a. (Ed.): Historical dictionary of philosophy . Schwabe, Basel 1971 to 2007.
  • J. Christes: Art. Paideia , in: Der Neue Pauly 9 (2000), Sp. 151.
  • Will Durant : Classical Greece , Volume 3 of the Cultural History of Mankind . Ullstein, Frankfurt 1981. ISBN 3-548-36103-X
  • R. Elm: Art. Paideia , in: C. Horn and C. Rapp (Hrsg.): Dictionary of ancient philosophy . Beck, Munich 2002, pp. 325-327.
  • T. Hoyer : Virtue and Education. The foundation of moral education in antiquity . Klinckhadt, Bad Heilbrunn 2005. ISBN 3-7815-1418-8 .
  • Werner Jaeger : Paideia. The formation of the Greek man . De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1989. ISBN 978-3110038002
  • Ingo-Maria Langen: On the foundation of political Paideia - myth, politics and society becoming in the literature of classical antiquity , Lit Verlag, 2007. ISBN 3825899462
  • K. Robb: Literacy and Paideia in Ancient Greece . Oxford 1994.
  • Hans O. Seitschek: Art. Education / Upbringing (paideia) , in: Christian Schäfer (Hrsg.): Platon-Lexikon . WBG, Darmstadt 2007.

Web links


  1. See J. Christes, Art. Education , in: Der Neue Pauly, Vol. 2. Ark - Ci., 1997. P. 663
  2. Hans O. Seitschek, Art. Education / Upbringing (paideia) , in: Christian Schäfer, Platon-Lexikon, Darmstadt 2007, p. 62
  3. Aishin. in Timarch, 13
  4. See Durant, The Classical Greece , p. 59
  5. Plut. de edue. puer. 7, 4a
  6. Plat. symp. 183c
  7. Poll. X 59
  8. Lukian. cupid. 44
  9. Aishin. in Tim. 12
  10. Plutarch: An virtus doceri possit 2, 439f-440a ( large text ed. Bernardakis 1891 , English transl. Helmbold 1939 , English transl. Goodwin 1874 , large and Latin, ed. Wyttenbach 1796 ).
  11. Aristoph. Nub. 964
  12. Aristoph. Nub. 965
  13. Aristoph. Nub. 963
  14. Aristoph. Nub. 981f.
  15. Plat. Prot. 325c
  16. Plat. leg. VII 808e
  17. See Durant, The Classical Greece , p. 60
  18. Hom. Il. 9.442
  19. Hom Il. 9.186
  20. Cf. on this and on the following D. Bremer, Art. Paideia , in: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy , Vol. 7, columns 35 ff.
  21. Plato especially in his main work of the middle phase: Politeia
  22. Plato, Politeia 533c-d
  23. Plato, Politeia 521c
  24. Werner Beierwaltes, Lux intelligibilis , Munich 1957, pp. 61–79; in agreement with Hans O. Seitschek, Art. Education / Upbringing (paideia) , in: Christian Schäfer, Platon-Lexikon, Darmstadt 2007, p. 60
  25. Isocr. or. 15, 261-271; 12.26-29
  26. Christoph Eucken, Isokrates , de Gruyter, Berlin 1983, p. 168
  27. Isocrates, Antidosis Speech , 275-278
  28. Aulus Gellius , Noct. Att. 13, 16, 1
  29. Clement of Alexandria: "Paedagogus"
  30. ^ Alan Cameron: The Last Pagans of Rome . Oxford University Press, Oxford-New York 2011.
  31. General see Friedrich Prinz : Von Konstantin zu Charlemagne. Development and change of Europe . Düsseldorf-Zurich 2000.
  32. See especially John Haldon: Byzantium in the seventh century . 2nd edition Cambridge 1997.
  33. See Philipp von Rummel : Habitus barbarus. Clothing and Representation of Late Antique Elites in the 4th and 5th Centuries , 2007, p. 380; see. also Peter Brown's analysis of paideia as a cultural code that essentially served to distinguish the ancient elites from the masses and cemented the power relations, in: Peter Brown, Macht und Rhetorik in der Spätantike , Munich 1995.