Schools and Schooling



Chapter and section used

Literacy was not widespread in Mesopotamia. The scribes had to undergo training, and then became entitled to call themselves dubsar 'scribe'. They became members of a privileged group who could look down on their fellow citizens. Generally it was only boys who learnt to be scribes though a few female scribes are known.

The patron goddess of scribes was the goddess Nisiba. In later times her place was taken by the god Nabu of Borsippa. His symbol was the writing instrument or stylus.

Life in a Babylonian school is presented in a group of Sumerian literary tablets (composed around 1700 B.C.). These became part of scribal training and were copied and recopied down to around 650 B.C.

Schooling began around the ages of 5 or 6 in the e-dubba, 'tablet-house'. The headmaster was called ummia and he was helped by the adda e-dubba 'father of the tablet house'. The main teaching and discipline was in the hands of an older student. All these people had to be flattered or bribed with gifts to avoid a beating.

Archaeologists have not found any building which can be identified with certainty as a school. It is possible that students were taught in the courtyards of houses or perhaps temples.

The first thing a schoolboy had to learn was to make a tablet and handle a stylus. He had to learn to make a simple cuneiform wedge and then practise the horizontal, vertical and sloping wedges over and over again. The next stage was to learn the basic sign list and the different readings of each sign.

People's names were used to learn how to string signs together to build up words. Next the pupil would start to use a school tablet - a round, bun-shaped piece of clay. The teacher would write out three lines on one side of the tablet. The schoolboy would have to study these before turning the tablet over and trying to reproduce what the teacher had written. Finally the pupil would learn and write literature.

Other teachers would specialise in mathematics and the pupil would have to learn accounting, measurement and surveying.



© The British Museum

Cookie information