Writing in Graeco-Roman Egypt

Today, nearly everyone in our society learns to read and write, but this was not the case two thousand years ago. Clearly there was a large group of literate people in Graeco-Roman Egypt; why else would so many examples of written documents and literature have existed there? However, there were equally large groups of illiterate and semi-literate people living in the same region.

For the large group of people who were unable to write for themselves, professional scribes were available for hire. Below are some examples of the tools of a scribe: a writing table and a painting kit.

Writing Table

Painting Kit

One area where illiteracy is especially visible is in the numerous examples of subscriptions, or places where an individual signs his name to a document. A semi-literate person, known as a "slow writer", would have just been able to sign his name in crude letters. A person who was completely illiterate would need to have someone else sign his documents on his behalf. Below are examples of these two types of subscriptions.

Subscription of a Slow Writer

Subscription on Behalf of an Illiterate


Continue on to see what Media were Used for Writing