What Was the Study of Rhetoric in Ancient Roman Times?

Rhetoric is the art of persuasive communication, and it was a crucial tool in ancient Roman times for politicians and other public figures to sway public opinion. The study of rhetoric was highly valued by the ancient Romans, and it was considered an essential part of education.

Origins of Rhetoric

The study of rhetoric dates back to ancient Greece, where philosophers like Aristotle and Plato first explored the concept of persuasive communication. The Romans were heavily influenced by Greek culture, and so they also adopted the study of rhetoric as a fundamental part of their education system.

Importance in Ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, the ability to speak well was highly valued. Politicians who could deliver powerful speeches were more likely to gain support from the public, which often translated into political power. The famous Roman orator Cicero is a testament to this; his speeches were so influential that they are still studied today.

The Five Canons of Rhetoric

The study of rhetoric in ancient Rome was divided into five canons: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.

  • Invention – This refers to the process of developing arguments and ideas that will persuade an audience.
  • Arrangement – This is the organization or structure of the speech or argument.
  • Style – This refers to how language is used to convey meaning and create an emotional response from the audience.
  • Memory – This involves memorizing key points or even entire speeches so they can be delivered effectively without notes.
  • Delivery – This refers to how the speech is physically delivered; for example, through gestures or tone of voice.

Rhetorical Devices

In addition to these five canons, ancient Roman rhetoricians also employed various rhetorical devices to enhance the effectiveness of their arguments. Some of these devices include:

  • Metaphors – Comparing one thing to another to create a vivid image in the audience’s mind.
  • Anaphora – Repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of successive sentences or clauses for emphasis.
  • Rhetorical questions – Asking questions that do not require an answer, but instead prompt the audience to think about the topic in a certain way.
  • Antithesis – Contrasting two opposing ideas or concepts for emphasis.

The Role of Education

Education was highly valued in ancient Rome, and rhetoric was considered an important part of a well-rounded education. Students were taught how to deliver effective speeches and arguments, and they were also trained in critical thinking skills.


The study of rhetoric in ancient Rome played a significant role in shaping politics and public opinion. It was a tool used by politicians and other public figures to persuade their audiences, and it was considered an essential part of education. The five canons of rhetoric and various rhetorical devices helped ancient Roman orators craft powerful speeches that still influence us today.