There is very little reliable evidence bearing upon formal education in the early period. Education was then certainly centred on the family and was probably based upon apprenticeship supervised by the father—in poorer homes an apprenticeship to agriculture or trade, in more aristocratic circles to military service and public life (what later became known as the tirocinium militiae and the tirocinium fori). The authority of the father, legalized as *patria potestas, was absolute and could only in theory be questioned by the censors. The Roman mother had a more restricted, domestic role but she too was traditionally expected to take a personal, central responsibility and to set a strong moral example (see motherhood, Roman). It is not certain when reading and writing became a serious part of Roman education: the 7th-cent. bce ivory writing-tablet with inscribed alphabet found at Marsiliana d'Albegna and 6th-cent. bucchero (pottery) models of wooden writing-tablets (tabulae ansatae) from Etruria may imply that *literacy was then already making some headway.
In comparison with Greek papyri, Latin papyri are uncommon, even when “papyri” is understood in a wide sense so as to include *ostraca and parchment scraps. This is so because the vast majority of papyri come from the eastern Mediterranean, where the language of administration was Greek even under the Roman empire. Latin was in regular use in this area until c. 300ce only in the military sphere; and although *Diocletian made an effort to encourage the use of Latin in the eastern provinces, this did not have any great effect.Since the turn of the 20th century, some 600 Latin papyri have been published, less than a quarter of which are literary. Most come from Egypt, but finds have also been made at Dura-*Europus, Nessana, and *Masada, as well as in the west. Two literary papyri dating from the reign of *Augustus are known: the much discussed elegiac verses from Qasr Ibrim attributed to *Cornelius Gallus1 and a fragment of *Cicero, In Verrem (CPL 20).