Education in the Middle Ages

At the end of the Roman Empire Era, most of the educational institutes of Romans ceased to offer their services. Gradually, Education was not the main concern anymore and fighting skills became more important. Most of the rulers and politicians of this historical time gained power either through wars or inheritance while education played a little or no role in their success.

The social and judicial society of medieval period was influenced by ancient Roman and Germanic culture, however, the increasing influence of Church became the guiding force to develop educational system in The Middle Ages.

The Church became more and more suspicious of Greek, Roman and Germanic culture and decided to close down all pagan schools under the decree of Justinian by the year 529. Influence of Church gave rise to monasticism. Monks, priests and bishops took the responsibility of teaching and the whole educational pattern became purely religious.

Reach of education in The Middle Ages

Bishops and monks started to educate pupils of upper class while education for serfs and their kids was a rare chance. This was because of the basic feudalistic structure which required the peasants and serfs to work hard to earn a living and a right to protection under the fiefdom of their Lords. Peasants used to engage their little kids in work as soon as possible. At that time, a child of 10-12 years was already considered an adult.

In addition, it was advantageous for the ruler class and the clergy to keep the serfs away from education institutes so that they may successfully rule over them. The fees for education which was required by the Church, monasteries and cathedral schools were often too high for a common serf to pay for.

The whole education system was designed to keep serfs and peasants uneducated; indeed, education during that time was very elitist. Study books were very rare and they were highly expensive and hence, the only way to get education was to seek a teacher.

Boys of upper class used to learn how to read and write Latin which was the official language of the medieval ages. Schools were run by monks. Bishops were also engaged in education system as they used to run and manage cathedral schools. Some of the cathedrals attained great fame and became centers of higher education and established themselves as universities.

Schooling System and Curriculum of education in The Middle Ages

The education system of Middle Ages was highly influenced by the Church. Basic course of study used to contain Latin language, grammar, logic, rhetoric, philosophy, astrology, music and mathematics. Scholars, monks and bishops used ancient writings from Roman and Greek resources to teach their students while most of the educational courses were mostly based on superstitions and beliefs. Students often learned more when they directly came in contact with trappers, hunters, poachers and serfs as they could offer practical knowledge. 

While medieval students often belonged to upper class, they were used to sit together on the floor. They used bones or ivory stylus. They used to scrawl notes on wax coated wooden blocks. By its influence, the Church made it important for knights and members of nobility to learn and those knights who couldn’t read or write were looked down upon. This was very important for them to know how to read because all knights were supposed to understand and follow the code of chivalry as proposed by the clergy and Church.

Education in The Middle Ages was a difficult task because of the tumultuous times. Frequent wars and battles often disturbed monasteries and cathedral schools and halted studies. However, most of the times, the monasteries and cathedral schools succeeded in reemerging themselves.
Children were taught in schools of monks and at the age of 14-15, they were announced as scholars.

Some of them could opt for higher studies in cathedral schools and universities under the management of prestigious bishops. Any student who could prove that he knew arts well was announced as Master of Arts. Students had the choice to learn theology, medicine or philosophy and after mastering any of these subjects they were declared doctors.

Before attaining mastership, a student was required to attain baccalaureate which was considered as the first step towards becoming a master of a subject. A student could attain baccalaureate by following the course which was known as quadrivium. It included preliminary understanding of geometry, geography, arithmetic, natural history, astronomy and music.

However, very few used to opt for education to get a degree. This was due to the fact that the basic means of living were either fighting or working as a peasant. Members of nobility often preferred to learn fighting skills over arts and mathematics while peasants and serfs had no use of higher education.

Those who studied in monasteries often became monks and they worked for preserving Roman and Greek texts and they wrote new books. Mastership was necessary for a person to be able to teach at a university in The Middle Ages.

Education in The Middle Ages for women

Under the feudal system of The Middle Ages, women had little or no chance of attaining education. Education was rare for serfs and peasants and it was impossible for a girl or woman from a peasant background to learn reading and writing.

However, girls of upper class were given benefits of education in a few cases. There were certain obligations for women of nobility which required them to be literate. However, the course of education for women was very limited and it was controlled by the Church.

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The general feeling was that women were secondary and they needed to serve and remain under protection of men. Whatever education a woman could attain was designed to help her in becoming a good wife and mother in future.

Some scholars of medieval world advocated that women “be raised on sacred teachings.” In order to become a nun, education was necessary for a girl; however, married life and children were the primary goals of most of the girls during the medieval times.

9 thoughts on “Education in the Middle Ages”

  1. It makes me so sad that women were so oppressed in this time I can’t imagine what it must’ve felt like. Men as well imagine being told to shut up and be “a man” it seems so awful I think we forget how blessed we are to live in this time. Thank you this website was extremely helpful keep it up!!


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