2016 Schoolroom

The Reading Ancient Schoolroom welcomed just over 100 participants on 27th and 28th January 2016. (And few days later, BBC South TV asked us to resurrect the 2016 schoolroom so they could film it! The made-for-TV version was not quite the same as the original, but you can watch a clip from their coverage at https://www.facebook.com/BBCSouthToday/videos/982075311883059/.)

Reciting Homer 1 *

Above, girls from Farnborough Hill school (who have posted their own account of the day at http://www.farnborough-hill.org.uk/Students-experience-Roman-Life) recite Homer from papyrus rolls with Emma Aston. Below, participants prepare to do those recitations by reading the papyri.


The participants above commented afterwards “Thank you so much, we all had a great time in the ancient school room. It really brought to life everything that we had previously read about Roman schooling and helped us to appreciate just how tough those memorisation exercises were and how difficult it actually is to write well on a wax tablet. All the teachers were very knowledgeable and added extra interest as they chatted readily about the tasks which we completed. It was a unique and enjoyable, educational experience for all.”

The teacher who brought the ones below said “As well as being so much fun to dress up as if they were in Roman Egypt, the girls were amazed at how the classroom worked. The social side of greeting everyone when you arrived, and how patient you had to be to wait to see the teacher! Some were natural with the quill, others not so! And many were distressed by the lack of punctuation! It has brought all of our studies to life, and only increased their passion for the Ancient World.”


Participants also practised writing on wax-covered wooden tablets.

Writing on tablets 1 *.jpg

Below, a teacher hands a tablet to a pupil. This teacher (Emma Aston) commented afterwards “In addition to providing fascinating insight into ancient education, the event was a really nice chance to work with colleagues outside the normal academic situations.  And I have to say, the classroom slave (a.k.a. Professor Eleanor Dickey) was a really accomplished water-carrier.”


Participants also learned to write with reed pens on ostraca (pieces of broken pottery). This was a big hit with the smaller children, one of whom (aged 8) commented “It was fun to dress up and pretend to go back in time, I most enjoyed writing the Greek alphabet with the stylus and the ink.”


Ostraca were favourites with teachers as well. One commented “Thank you to you and all the people involved in the Ancient Schoolroom. We really enjoyed it, and will certainly be doing some of those things in class. A particular favourite was the writing on broken pottery task: we’re going to do the same with bits of ‘The Odyssey’ and will put them on the wall. A very successful two hours for us.”

The ostracon below contains the Greek alphabet, and the papyri contain the Iliad (in Dryden’s English translation).

Writing 20 *.jpg

With both these media participants wrote in the ancient fashion, without desks.


One teacher commented afterwards “The ancient schoolroom was a really wonderful and unique experience for the students and for the teachers as well. Even as someone who has been studying the ancient world for years, I thought it was an excellent reminder of how different — and difficult — even the relatively simple processes of reading and writing must have been.”

New this year were an abacus and counting boards for the maths teacher, who made Roman numerals far more fun than anyone had thought they could be.


The maths teacher (Philomen Probert) commented afterwards “I was very impressed by how pupils did at Roman maths. They kept me on my toes and kept wanting more challenging exercises. I didn’t really expect people to get as far as calculating compound interest in Roman numerals, but they did — and some of these were youngsters for whom the whole concept of interest rates was completely new. Very well done everybody.”

Maths 9 *

An 11-year-old pupil commented “I really liked the maths lesson with the abacus and the counting board, it made sense and was fun to do maths in that way.”


Students waiting to enter the schoolroom learned how to write Roman graffiti with quill pens.


After leaving the schoolroom, participants were treated to an object-handling session in the Ure museum. The Ure staff commented afterwards “The event was brilliant, thanks for letting us be a part of it!”


The schoolroom is staffed entirely by volunteers, and we would like to express profound gratitude to all the 2016 volunteers: Reading Classics staff Eleanor Dickey, Emma Aston, Christa Gray, Amy Smith, Peter Kruschwitz, Barbara Goff, and Bill Beck; Reading graduate student Kate Cook; Reading undergraduates Katie Taylor, Charles Stewart, Charlotte Edwards, Alexandra Turner, Simone Knol, Freya Hendy, Clare Lehovsky, Tania Spicer, Lydia Walmsley, Tamsyn Rowe-Hellewell, and Anna Godsell; Ure museum staff Jayne Holly-Waite and Charlotte Williams; Ure volunteers Peng Li, Emily Thomas, and Ellie House; and Oxford Classicists Philomen Probert, Daniela Colomo, and Dawn LaValle.

Katie and Christa:

Katie and Christa



Charles (with participants):



Charlotte 1




Daniela 1


Dawn 1