Let’s get to know the early history of pedagogues!

The use of the term pedagogics is now increasingly widespread in Indonesia. The discussion about pedagogics cannot be separated from the term pedagogue, namely, someone who is considered a pedagogic implementer or an educator.

The terms pedagogics and pedagogue must be distinct from their definitions in Ancient Greek. Indeed, Ancient Greek is believed to be the beginning of using the term pedagogue. So, who were the pedagogues at that time?

Who was the pedagogue / paidagōgós?

Pedagogue or Paidagōgós is derived from the Greek words pais (boy, girl, or child) and agein (to guide or carry) [1][2][3]. Paidagōgós (plural: paidagōgoi) were enslaved people assigned to accompany the children of their masters in Ancient Greece and Rome. They were typically foreign prisoners of war and physically incapable of performing heavy labor. As a result, a paidagōgós is frequently someone who is either old or young but has a severe and permanent wound [2][3].

Strange, isn’t it? Why wasn’t paidagōgós a young and robust slave? They were looking after their master’s children!

As it turned out, enslaved people who were young and in good physical condition were assigned more productive tasks, such as merchant labor, navigation, or other household chores. Ancient Greece said these chores required a more vital physical force than accompanying children.

Even though Greece and Romans have paidagōgós, there were distinctions between their cultures. A paidagōgós in Ancient Greece culture could be in charge of more than one child. In most cases, brothers would share the same paidagōgós. In contrast, there was more than one pedagogue in Ancient Roman Culture; some were girls-only [2].

The possible reason for this is that Ancient Roman society was more prosperous or concerned with the development of their children. Another possible reason is that Ancient Greece believed sharing paidagōgós was better for children. I have yet to find any literature explaining why this difference exists.

Paidagōgós were not in charge of teaching subjects at the time. A schoolmaster, also known as a didáskalos, is responsible for academic teaching tasks. So, unlike today, the pedagogue or paidagōgós was not a teacher in Ancient Greece and Rome [2], at least not a teacher who teaches academic matters.

How long were the pedagogue / paidagōgós in charge of looking after his employer's children?

Children were cared for by nurses or caregivers in Ancient Greece culture from birth until they reached the age of six or seven, when they began to speak and communicate well. This age was also regarded as the point at which the child was ready to begin school.

When the nurse or caregiver relinquishes responsibility for the child, the paidagōgós becomes the primary companion. It lasts until the child reaches puberty’s final stage or youth. Paidagōgós is said to have accompanied the child for about 12 years [2].

Indeed paidagōgós’ responsibility for children was limited. However, it lasted over a decade. As a result, many children formed strong bonds with their paidagōgós [3]. Even after the children had grown up, they would ‘liberate’ the paidagōgós. Liberated paidagōgós were no longer enslaved but free people [2].

In Ancient Roman Culture, parents used to care for their children until they reached school age, after which the schoolmaster took over. However, after learning about Ancient Greece civilization, Ancient Roman Culture also employed pedagogues to accompany their children, in addition to education from school teachers [1][2].

What were the duties of a pedagogue / paidagōgós?

Paidagōgós’ primary responsibility was to transport his employer’s child to school or other places where the child needed to go [1][2]3]. Paidagōgós has been described as someone who frequently walks behind the child, bringing the textbook or musical instrument the child requires while at school [1].

Paidagōgós also serves as a child discipliner [3]. Parents rely on paidagōgós to keep an eye on their child’s behavior. As a result, a paidagōgós’ is frequently referred to as a strict killjoy [2]. Paidagōgós set boundaries for children regarding ethics and norms of behavior, such as how to talk to parents and behave in public.

Even though paidagōgós were generally uneducated enslaved people [1][2], there are fortunate families with well-educated paidagōgós. It was not because the parents chose purposively. However, this could be a blessing for the child and his family because paidagōgós can advise their children on proper ethics and norms.

There are two types of paidagōgós as disciplinarians: gentle and harsh. A gentle paidagōgós was firm but did not use corporal punishment. Meanwhile, harsh paidagōgós frequently used physical punishment on children who made mistakes, such as pinching, yelling, or even hitting them. Twisting a child’s ear was a popular punishment then [2].

Why did the child’s parents ignore it? The reason was that paidagōgós was in charge of disciplining their children and that corporal punishment of was considered normal at the time. Not only by paidagōgós but also as punishment from parents to their children. As a result, paidagōgós administering corporal punishment is not considered harmful to parents or society.

Interestingly, paidagōgós was also known as a child protector [3]. Paidagōgós was defending children from dangers both inside and outside the home. Even paidagōgós were frequently willing to accept responsibility for the child’s misbehavior and to be punished by their employer. Even a paidagōgós would risk his life to protect his master’s child.

Overall . . .

In Ancient Greece and Rome, pedagogues were generally enslaved people whose primary responsibility was to accompany children rather than to teach academic subjects such as algebra and literacy. Even though most pedagogues had low education levels, some pedagogues possessed extraordinary abilities, such as a pedagogue assigned as Achilles’ tutor [1].

Achilles’ truth is impossible to ascertain because it is part of mythology. It could be fictitious, a legend, or a portrayal of a non-fictional person. The point is that the mention of pedagogues that played a role in Achilles’ success, whether real or imagined, shows that pedagogues can be more than surly war enslaved people who transport their master’s children to various locations.


[1] Compayré, Gabriel. (2020). The History of Pedagogy. Translated by W. H. Payne. The Project Gutenberg Ebook. Originally published in Boston by D. C. Heath & Company in 1889.

[2] Smith, M. K. (2012, 2021). ‘What is pedagogy?’, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education. Link: https://infed.org/mobi/what-is-pedagogy/

[3] Young, Norman.  (N.d.). Pedagogy: A lexical oddity. Link: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/234110639.pdf

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