Writing was used for a wide range of purposes in ancient
times, just as it is today. Think of how writing can be used
today; handwritten notes, newspapers, name tags, graffiti,
letters, e-mail, etc. The uses are too many to count. However,
papyrologists try to divide the types of writing into three
broad categories: Literary, Subliterary, and Documentary.
Literary papyri include works of literature
such as the epic poems of Homer or the plays of Aristophanes, as
well as religious texts such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead or
the Christian Bible. These types of works were generally copied
by professional scribes, just as modern books are made by professional
printers. The handwriting is usually very neat and the text is written
on a freshly manufactured piece of papyrus. The typical format was
the papyrus roll, but in later times the codex,
which is much like a modern book, became more popular.
Documentary papyri include all manner
of personal, government, and business writings. The administration
of the government required huge amounts of paper to keep track of
tax records, send official letters, record court proceedings, etc.
Private citizens also wrote to send letters to friends and family,
and businessmen used papyrus to record sales and inventories.
Some types of texts were written which
did not use words at all. In ancient Greek, numbers were represented
using the letters of the Greek alphabet. Numbers were important
for recording monetary values, as in the tax roll above, and also
for scientific work, as in the astronomical table below. The musical
papyrus also below uses a unique set of symbols that is especially
difficult for scholars to decipher.