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What is the history of physical education in ancient Rome?

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In ancient Rome, physical education was based on the notion of mind-body synergy as it was developed by the Greeks. Romans placed further emphasis on honing physical strength as a necessary element of a militaristic people.

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Like many elements of ancient Roman society and culture, physical education was heavily influenced by the Greeks. Romans eagerly adopted the Greek notion that mental health is closely tied to physical health. To them, a person could not fully achieve success if they neglected one aspect of this mind-body relationship.

As a militaristic people, ancient Romans also saw physical fitness as an important part of national strength. Therefore, boys of all ages were encouraged to hone their physical strength as a matter of military preparedness. This idea began during the earliest days of the Roman Republic. Early on, Rome was surrounded by antagonistic Italian tribes. It was not long before wars with peoples from outside of Italy began as well. Over the centuries, Rome expanded to conquer a great deal of land. In order to maintain its standing army, young boys began physical training to develop their martial prowess.

The lower classes did not have much in the way of formal physical education. Patrician and upper-class boys often received physical education as part of their studies at academies. This would include sports such as running, boxing, wrestling, horsemanship, jumping, and archery. This might occur in courtyards, palaestrae, bathhouses, or dedicated gymnasia. Physical education of this sort was limited to boys. Girls received little or no formal education, and physical education was not considered appropriate for girls by most ancient Romans.

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