Marginalized Voices and Nontraditional Pathways in Higher Education in the Late Roman Empire

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This study analyzes marginalized voices and nontraditional pathways of higher education in the late Roman Empire and diversifies our notion of who was part of “the” educated elite in ancient higher education. I focus on upper-class learners who did not have access to the family’s wealth or faced difficulty with pursuing the discussed traditional paths of schooling designed for young men from wealthy families. The discussed marginalized voices include fatherless students, women, late learners, autodidacts, and disabled students. Since most sources on Roman education were authored by elite men who mention marginalized voices in passing, I piece together the experiences of nontraditional learners and marginalized members of Roman education from an array of literary and epigraphic sources, including letters from teachers to students and families, church historians and Christians commenting on women, orations, tomb stones and legal documents. Most sources discussed are dated to the fourth century C.E., highlighting a period in which girls and women from the upper-class gained a voice in ascetic communities, as educational leaders and philanthropes and in which educational mobility across the Roman Empire flourished. Using Bourdieu’s theory of capital, I analyze how diverse family and educational backgrounds impacted the educational paths of students, discuss the student voices often overlooked in scholarship and bring attention to the challenges that nontraditional and marginalized students have experienced in higher education.





Küppers, Sinja (2023). Marginalized Voices and Nontraditional Pathways in Higher Education in the Late Roman Empire. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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