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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 June 2023

Mills McArthur*
Southern Adventist University


Numerous apprenticeship contracts survive among the papyri of Graeco-Roman Egypt, but scholars have been left guessing whether this documentation offers a sound comparison to job training in Classical Greece. This paper points out that such apprenticeship contracts are firmly attested in a work of Xenophon, revealing that, by the mid fourth century b.c., Athens was already home to the practice of formal apprenticeship.

Shorter Notes
Copyright © The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association

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1 Rihill, T., ‘Skilled slaves and the economy: the silver mines of the Laurion’, in Heinen, H. (ed.), Antike Sklaverei: Rückblick und Ausblick. Neue Beiträge zur Forschungsgeschichte und zur Erschließung der archäologischen Zeugnisse (Stuttgart, 2010), 203–20Google Scholar, at 203 (‘We simply do not find this sort of relationship in the classical Greek world’), 206 (‘there does not appear to be such an institution in this time and place’).

2 D.R. Jordan, ‘A personal letter found in the Athenian agora’, Hesperia 69 (2000), 91–103. Some scholars have followed Jordan's interpretation, e.g. Golden, M., ‘Oedipal complexities’, in Hübner, S.R. and Ratzan, D.M. (edd.), Growing up Fatherless in Antiquity (Cambridge, 2009), 4160CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 48; Hasaki, E., ‘Craft apprenticeship in ancient Greece: reaching beyond the masters’, in Wendrich, W. (ed.), Archaeology and Apprenticeship: Body Knowledge, Identity, and Communities of Practice (Tucson, 2012), 171–202, at 185Google Scholar.

3 Jordan (n. 2), 98, pointing to the Attic manumission inscriptions as the only other example of apprenticeship in Athens. Whether the freed slaves in those documents did in fact learn their trades through formal apprenticeship or by some other means is a question for another time.

4 Harris, E.M., ‘Notes on a lead letter from the Athenian agora’, HSPh 102 (2004), 157–70Google Scholar convincingly demonstrates that Lesis was a slave, not a free apprentice. While it is entirely possible that Lesis was an enslaved apprentice whose master assigned him to the forge to learn a trade, Lesis just as well could have provided unskilled labour without receiving an intentional programme of instruction in any trade (cf. Harris [this note], 161).

5 Hasaki (n. 2); Hasaki, E., ‘Craft apprenticeship, social networks, and communities of practice in ancient Greece’, Center 38 (2018), 116–19Google Scholar. On apprenticeship in the Roman world, see especially Freu, C., ‘Disciplina, patrocinium, nomen: the benefits of apprenticeship in the Roman world’, in Wilson, A. and Flohr, M. (edd.), Urban Craftsmen and Traders in the Roman World (Oxford, 2016), 183–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Liu, J., ‘Group membership, trust networks, and social capital: a critical analysis’, in Verboven, K. and Laes, C. (edd.), Work, Labour, and Professions in the Roman World (Leiden and Boston, 2017), 203–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 217–24; Benton, J.T., The Bread Makers: The Social and Professional Lives of Bakers in the Western Roman Empire (Cham, 2020), 124–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Westermann, W.L., ‘Apprenticeship contracts and the apprentice system in Roman Egypt’, CPh 9 (1914), 295315Google Scholar; Bergamasco, M., ‘Le διδασκαλικαί nella ricerca attuale’, Aegyptus 75 (1995), 95167Google Scholar; Forselv, I.L., ‘Registration of an apprentice: P. Osl. inv. no. 1470’, SO 73 (1998), 116–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 Burford, A., Craftsmen in Greek and Roman Society (Ithaca, 1972), 89Google Scholar.

8 Xen. Eq. 2.2. Though scholars have occasionally noted that this passage attests to apprenticeship (e.g. M. Golden, ‘Pais, “child” and “slave”’, AC 54 [1985], 91–104, at 98 n. 24), to my knowledge no one has connected it to the papyrus contracts.

9 E.g. P.Oxy. 275, lines 6–7; P.Oxy. 725, line 5; P.Mich. 170, line 5; P.Osl. inv. 1470, line 7.

10 M. Golden, Children and Childhood in Classical Athens (Baltimore, 20152), 53; see also Morgan, T.J., ‘Literate education in Classical Athens’, CQ 49 (1999), 4661CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 50 n. 16.

11 Golden (n. 10); Xen. Mem. 3.13.6, 3.14.1; Xen. Oec. 11.15, 11.18.

12 Bugh, G.R., The Horsemen of Athens (Princeton, 1988), 75–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13 McArthur, M., ‘Athenian shipbuilders’, Hesperia 90 (2021), 479532CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 506, 524–5.

14 On onomastic grounds, however, there is reason to suspect that Lysistratus came from a prominent shipbuilding family (Burford [n. 7], 87; McArthur [n. 13], 507). He may have learned his trade within the family rather than by apprenticeship to an outside instructor.

15 Pl. Resp. 4.421e: τοὺς ὑεῖς ἢ ἄλλους οὓς ἂν διδάσκῃ.