In ancient Greek poleis laws and customs varied and so it did the ‘path’ that young people had to make to become a citizen.

If we consider the two most representative models, i.e. the Athenians and the Spartans, we notice that the educational processes were already distinguished in their name: while the Athenian program was universally known as παιδεία (paideia), Spartans rather called it ἀγωγή (agōgē).

The παιδεία consisted of physical, cultural and psychological education aimed at achieving the individual’s harmonious participation to society through the assimilation of the Athenian ethos.

At the centre of παιδεία is the παῖς (pais), who concludes its education with a two-year period of ephebeia, preparing itself for the military tasks of the hoplite: the future citizen must share the ideology of the polis and take on his duties towards the community as a counterpart to those rights he would enjoy.

Until the ephebeia, however (so for eighteen years), families were totally free to choose the teachers and the educative paths for their children according to their own economic availability.

The Spartan άγωγή was a sort of ‘military march’ that children and youngsters must accomplish to get used to tighten up the ranks, as soldiers; significantly, the term also has this meaning.

At the centre is Sparta: young Spartans certainly had to find a great physical and moral strength to resist the tests, imitating the example of the best and the greatest, up until the real initiation constituted by trials of courage and resistance. The Spartan ἀγωγή probably reflected the oldest type of Greek education stiffened by the traditionalism of Sparta, for the polis literally controlled and ‘owned’ the children the time they turned seven until their death.

At any rate, in both cases the education was a matter of the state because the social identity was a fundamental pillar of the poleis and the individual was incorporated into a set of rules that constituted his identity. The πολίτης (politēs), that is the legal person, derived its very existence from the πόλις (polis).