Observing the Scribe at Work


Rodney Ast (University of Heidelberg)

Lectional Signs in Greek Documents as Indicators of Scribal Practice and Training

Aside from a couple well-attested diacritical marks (the trema and apostrophe), lectional signs and punctuation are not common in Greek documentary papyri. Where they do occur, however, they can be as instructive about scribal practice and training as the better-known benchmarks of, e.g., palaeography, orthography, and grammar. They can, in short, tell us something about the habits and education of scribes.

My aim in this paper is to investigate scribal behaviour by examining the types of lectional signs and punctuation marks (accents, middots, etc.) employed in a variety of types of documents, from private letters to petitions to receipts. I will consider factors that might have dictated their use in specific cases, such as the perceived need for formality on the writer’s part or the desire to avoid ambiguity. Furthermore, I will evaluate, to the extent allowed by the evidence, the broader historical and cultural contexts of the documents, including the archives to which they belong, the archaeological sites that produced them, and the periods in which they were composed.

Marie-Pierre Chaufray (University of Bordeaux 3)

Scribal Practice in Dime

The village of Dime in the Fayyum has yielded a great number of literary and documentary papyri dating from Roman times, both in Egyptian and Greek. The texts written in Egyptian come mostly from the temple of Soknopaios, the main temple of the village. Thus, scribal practice can be studied at different levels: in the comparison and the relationship between literary and administrative texts written by the same scribes; in the question of professionalism through the redaction of contracts, for which one can witness a certain continuity with the Late Ptolemaic period; in the persistence of scribal practice in Demotic for the internal administration of the main temple of the village (receipts, agreements and accounts). My paper will focus mainly on this last point by studying the way internal administrative papers and records were written and kept in the temple of Soknopaios. It will deal with the material aspect of writing (use and reuse of papyrus, handwritings, marks of control, costs of writing) to observe priestly scribes at work within the temple from the 1st to the 3rd century AD.

Malcolm Choat (Macquarie University, Sydney) and Korshi Dosoo (Macquarie University, Sydney)

The Use of Abbreviations in Duplicate Documents from Roman Egypt

The use of abbreviations is a common phenomenon in administrative and official documents (either those written by the administration, or destined for official eyes). This is too easily dismissed as the unremarkable result of random variation: a closer look at the evidence suggests that both the use and the form of abbreviation may be highly revealing, varying between classes of words (common administrative formulae or more informationally dense personal details), the physical environment in which the word occurs (line initial, medial or final) and in the type of abbreviation used (e.g. raised final letter, supralinear stroke).  The case of duplicate documents is particularly revealing, providing not only a corpus within which the abbreviational tendencies of individual scribes can be observed, but sources within which the scribe’s consistent or inconsistent treatment of identical words in identical texts is clearly visible, highlighting professional or individual scribal preferences, and the ways in which abbreviations contrary to these preferences may originate in earlier iterations of the document. The latter tendency may help us to discern the priority of duplicates. As test cases for this approach, we will examine a range of document types which cover a wide temporal and geographic range, and which contain both highly standardised formulae and extremely open-ended information specific to each declarant.

Jennifer Cromwell (Macquarie University, Sydney)

Tax, Palaeography, and Coptic Scribes in the Early Islamic Administration

In the first century after the Islamic conquest of Egypt in 641 AD, the country underwent major administrative changes. For the first time, administrative texts were written in Coptic and many of these involve taxes, especially the religious poll tax introduced by the new rulers. One striking aspect of this change is seen in the similarities witnessed in Coptic scribal practice in the corpus of bilingual Coptic-Greek tax documents written between the 690s and 720s in the area from Hermopolis to Hermonthis. This paper will examine the formulaic and palaeographic similarities found in one particular group of texts—tax demands issued from the office of Arabic officials—in order to examine the role of Coptic scribes in the administration during this period.

Hans Förster + Ulrike Swoboda (University of Vienna)

Copying Translated Texts: The Example of the Sahidic Version of the Gospel of John

A current research project (Austrian Science Fund/FWF project P24649-G15) is dedicated to the question of translational tendencies and mistakes in two early translations of the Gospel of John: The Latin and the Coptic version. The paper will focus on selected Sahidic manuscripts in order to address the following questions: Is it possible to deduct from the evidence of the manuscripts which training the scribes had? Is it further possible to come to a conclusion as to the actual act of copying? The question would be whether this was the task of one scribe comparing his work to the manuscript that was copied or whether it was the task of two people: In this case one would read the manuscript to be copied aloud and the other would write his copy from this dictation. These two questions will be addressed, focussing mainly on statistical factors of allographs of carefully chosen words from selected manuscripts. It is obvious that the ability to act as a scribe for a dictated text presupposes a different training from the act of copying a text visually.

Laura Hawkins (Wolfson College, University of Oxford)

The Adaptation of Cuneiform to Write Semitic

Writing system change can best be explained by two distinct phenomena. The first is characterized by gradual and often unconscious changes in the physical form of graphs or in the values they represent, which invariably occurs within a particular script’s usage for representing a particular language. The second type of change that occurs often appears more sudden or drastic in the textual record and is dictated by motivated external forces, often through the adaptation of that script to represent a different, sometimes unrelated, language.  My research examines the earliest evidence of a writing system developed for a particular language being adapted to write a different language; in this case, it was Sumerian cuneiform that was adapted to write Semitic dialects in the mid- to late third millennium BC.  By examining the orthographic and linguistic changes observable in the cuneiform record, we can begin to understand how the spread of cuneiform into predominantly Semitic-speaking areas, including Syria and northern Iraq, occurred and how the script was adapted by scribes to meet the needs of non-Sumerian and, possibly, non-Akkadian speakers.

In this talk I will discuss how an examination of the third millennium cuneiform syllabary and orthography can help illuminate how scribes adapted cuneiform to write Semitic languages and dialects in Syria and Mesopotamia. I will present the preliminary findings of my doctoral research and address the following main research questions: Did the scribes of each third millennium site in Mesopotamia and Syria develop their own unique syllabary and orthography when adapting cuneiform to write the local Semitic vernacular or was there a uniform, prescriptive transmission of scribal practice across Syria and Mesopotamia?


Didier Lafleur (CNRS, Paris)

Scribal Habits and Ancient Textual Tradition: The Case of Family 13 Greek New Testament Manuscripts

During the Middle Ages, through all parts of the Mediterranean area, numerous monasteries were renown for their scribal activity. In these monasteries, scribes transmitted in Greek language numerous corpus of all works – literary, scientific, religious – especially the texts of the New Testament. Monasteries of Southern Italy remain today the place where were copied a special group of Greek New Testament manuscripts, known as “Family 13”. All these manuscripts – about a dozen – were copied in the same area, mostly Calabria, between the 10th and the 13th centuries AD. On one hand, they present a similar scribal practice, especially on palaeographical grounds. On the other hand, they are considered by biblical scholars as a first order witness of the Greek New Testament: that means that this group is always quoted in all critical editions. According to textual critics, the readings of these manuscripts are highly valuable because they agree with a text used by Origen in the middle of the 3rd century AD, in Caesarea Palaestina, a thousand kilometers away from Southern Italy.

On the basis of observable phenomena, this paper will emphasize the two sides of scribal knowledge transfer: the physical practice of writing and the evidence of the text tradition. After a short presentation of the documents, we will first consider the daily scribal activity, including the process of writing and the daily use of these manuscripts. We will then focus on the preservation process of a singular textual tradition: How very ancient readings used during the third century by the first Christian communities were still in use in Southern Italy centuries after?

Considered as Christian artefacts, manuscripts reveal quantitative data about knowledge transfer across centuries. The case of the Family 13 manuscripts is an interesting example of the role of scribes in pre-modern societies.

Jacob Lauinger (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore)

Observing Neo-Assyrian Scribes at Work: The Production of the Manuscripts of the So-Called “Esarhaddon’s Succession Treaty”

Over the course of about a week in 672 BC, Esarhaddon, king of the Neo-Assyrian empire, assembled the governors and client kings of his entire land and imposed upon them an oath to uphold the future succession of the crown prince Aššurbanipal (“Esarhaddon’s Succession Treaty”).

As part of the oath procedure, large (40 × 28 cm) clay tablets (hereafter “manuscripts”) were inscribed in Akkadian cuneiform with the fundamentally identical text of the oath (approximately 670 lines). We may conservatively state that at least 80 and perhaps many more manuscripts were written at this time. To our great fortune, archaeologists have recovered at least ten of these manuscripts: Eight (or nine?) from the Assyrian city of Nimrud; a few fragments from the Assyrian city of Assur; and, in 2009, a well-preserved manuscript from a provincial capital on the other side of the Assyrian empire, Tell Tayinat.

Taken together, this group of manuscripts offers a remarkable laboratory in which to “observe the scribe at work” – or in this instance, many scribes engaged in textual mass production. There are hundreds of minor textual variants (orthographic, phonetic, semantic, etc.) among the manuscripts, and theoretically, these variants reflect the process of textual production. In my contribution, I discuss some of the challenges to and prospects for reconstructing this process through an analysis of variation among manuscripts. A particular challenge is posed by the demonstrated existence of phenomena such as interior dictation in copying or visual errors in oral dictation, which renders many visual or phonetic variants non-diagnostic. However, alternative approaches to textual variation that focus on, for example, line breaks, section rulings, or script density all possess great potential for reconstructing the process of scribal production. I conclude the paper by examining variation in the script density of the different manuscripts of “Esarhaddon’s Succession Treaty”.

Marc Malevez (Free University of Brussels)

Scribal Peculiarities in Ethiopia

After an introduction to the evolution of writing in Ethiopia, from the pre-axoumitic identity marks in south Arabian to the Amharic signs, this paper will discuss Ethiopic paleography and the four different periods of its writing that allows us to distinguish (albeit with difficulty) the manuscripts of different times. In particular, I will discuss the very important peculiarities of the handwriting and focus on the different problems of readings (inclination of the letters, variations, maybe dialectical, in the length of the vowel “a”, variations between the gutturals, etc.).  Finally, I will discuss the contractions and the origin of these readings, which are essentially a matter of pronunciation.

Elena Martin Gonzalez (National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens)

Scribes at Work in Archaic Greece

The aim of this paper is to describe the work of the professional scribes in the archaic Greek world in the light of the epigraphic testimonies prior to 500 BC. By professional scribes we are not referring to individuals like Spensithios from Crete or the Samian Maeandrius, powerful public officers who were in charge of the city archives and official records, but to the letter-cutters themselves, that is, the professionals who actually performed the act of inscribing the texts on metal or stone surfaces which have survived until our days.

The high level of professionalism achieved both in public and monumental epigraphy of the archaic period – especially in legal, votive and funerary inscriptions ­– provides an irrefutable proof of the existence of craftsmen specialized in lettering already from the 7th century BC. Although the scarcity and dispersion of the testimonies do not allow identification of individual scribal hands, they present general tendencies relating to the engraving techniques and the layout of the text on its support.

This presentation will focus on the physical characteristics of the archaic inscriptions which reflect the work of a professional letterer, such as the use of special tools for circular letters and punctuation, the careful distribution of the text on the writing surface, the different techniques to emphasize particular elements visually or examples of ancient corrections and erasures. With the support of first hand photographic material from our field study in Greece, I aim to offer an accurate description of professional scribal practice during the archaic period and to obtain a better knowledge of the inscriptions as a result.

Natalie Naomi May (Free University of Berlin)

Babylonian Scribes: Paleographers and Forgers

Cuneiform writing was in use for more than three millennia: from the end of the 4th millennium BC until the end of 1st century BC. The Mesopotamian scribal system as the primary vehicle for transmitting knowledge was also an instrument of preserving and inventing tradition and history in the same breath. Cuneiform evolved through millennia of its employment. Archaization raised the prestige of the inscriptions. The archaizing Neo-Sumerian form of signs was used already in the Old Babylonian royal inscriptions. The most famous example is the stele of Hammurabi. The common system of learning scribal art involved copying compositions of the school curriculum. But this system of copying of earlier texts also permitted training scribes in palaeography. Knowledge of palaeography was a subject of scribal pride and an indicator of high professionalism. The literate Assyrian king Assurbanipal boasted that he knew how to read the inscriptions from “before the flood”.

Though the restoration of temples was a royal obligation since the dawn of Mesopotamian civilization, in the first millennium it was carried out in accordance with the exact original foundations. “Archaeological excavations” were conducted in search of the temples’ ancient fundaments. Archival copies of genuine foundation inscriptions unearthed in these digs were prepared to reassert the authenticity of the discovery. The language and ductus of “archaeological finds” were studied; they were copied and stored in archives and “museums”. The most skilful of Assyrian and Babylonian scribes learned epigraphy and palaeography in order to understand the ancient inscriptions more than thousand years before their time, to copy them, sometimes also to forge them.

The purpose of archaization or forgery was to promote innovation by creating an ancient precedent. Some Babylonian cultic and scribal centres were centres of forgery manufacture for political and cultic purposes. Sippar can be named with certainty. Uruk is probably the next in line. The cases of Ur and Borsippa should be also examined.

This paper addresses the use of palaeography in the first millennium Mesopotamia, and investigates the methodologies and objectives of Babylonian scribal forgeries.

Delphine Nachtergaele (Ghent University)

Scribes in the Greek Private Papyrus Letters

In this paper I investigate the role of scribes in Greek private papyrus letters. When an individual decided to write a letter, he had two options: writing the letter himself or paying a scribe and having the letter written. Many papyrus letters were the result of the work of a scribe. Outsourcing the task of writing was the only possibility when one was illiterate. But when the sender could write and read, he could pen the letter himself. The first research question in this study is whether the choice to use a scribe or not can be considered a conscious decision. In P.Mich. VIII 469, preserved in the archive of Claudius Tiberianus, the decision not to hire a scribe seems to be taken deliberately: the fact that the letter was written by the sender himself, bears in itself a message to the addressee.

The second and main query is whether the intervention of a scribe has an effect on the language used in the letters. At first sight, the influence of the scribe seems rather limited. However, the investigation of letters preserved in archives can shed more light on this matter: in different case studies, I compare the language of one single sender in autographical letters and in letters written by a scribe. The archive of Asklepiades shows the effect scribes can have on the epistolary language: in the letters from Isidora to her brother Asklepiades there is a marked linguistic difference between the autographs and the letters she dictated to a scribe. In other collections of texts, such as the letters from Eudaimonis in the archive of Apollonios strategos, there is no such difference: the personality of the sender is apparent in all letters, autograph or dictated.

This paper has a double conclusion: firstly, we observe that letter writers make deliberate choices when writing letters: these choices are situated at the level of using a scribe or not, and at a linguistic level. Of course, these findings cannot be generalized, but this paper provides nevertheless an important insight: although the authors of documentary letters cannot be compared to authors of literary works, we should not underestimate the creative capacities of the senders of papyrus letters. Secondly, the influence of scribes on the language of the papyrus letters is rather limited. Mostly, the scribes just penned down what the sender dictated. The language of the papyrus letters can thus safely be assumed to be the language of the letter writer.

Pamela O’Neill (University of Sydney)

The Scribe and Medieval Irish Law

This paper will examine evidence for scribal activity in early Irish legal manuscripts. Early Irish law, or Brehon law, was in use in Ireland and much of Scotland from probably 500 AD or earlier down through the medieval period and in some instances into the early modern period. There is a remarkably large corpus of extant texts, which far surpasses in quantity that of any other vernacular medieval legal system. The core parts of the surviving texts are dated linguistically to the seventh to eighth centuries but are, on the whole, preserved in glossed compilations of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, which were probably used as teaching resources. With some exceptions, what survive to us today are manuscripts in which a word, phrase or sentence of an early legal text is reproduced and glossed with several lines of commentary which may date as early as the eighth century or as late as the sixteenth. In many cases, the glosses and commentaries themselves have been glossed. This layering of text provides a valuable opportunity to comprehend the activity of scribes.

I will examine in detail a small selection of legal manuscripts, discussing the evidence for scribal activity contained therein. Such evidence ranges from the obvious marginalia in the scribe’s own voice, including a number of attractive short poems, through the visual layering of core text, gloss and commentary, to the more subtle signs of scribal activity, such as distinctive orthography and other textual interventions. The paper will draw on this and other evidence to offer tentative suggestions concerning the nature and professional background of the scribes of the Irish legal manuscripts.

Ken Parry (Macquarie University, Sydney)

Monastic Scribal Practice in Early Ninth-Century Byzantium: The Example of Theodore the Stoudite

Theodore the Stoudite (759-828 AD), the hegumenos of the Stoudios Monastery in Constantinople, wrote not only an important defence of icons during the second period of Byzantine iconoclasm (815-843 AD), but he was also a monastic and liturgical reformer, political activist, poet and hymnographer, as well as a prolific correspondent. Over 550 of his letters are extant (from a total of over 1,100 known to have been preserved after his death) which have now been edited in two volumes. The recipients of his letters range from Oriental patriarchs to Roman pontiffs, from abbots to ordinary monks, from emperors to empresses, from aristocratic nuns to high dignitaries. Under his supervision, the Stoudios Monastery increased to around seven hundred monks, with many settled in various dependencies (metochia) such as on Mount Olympus in Bithynia. The Stoudite scriptorium was among the first in Constantinople to adopt the Greek minuscule script, which may have been devised in the monasteries of Palestine before being brought to the capital by émigré monks in the second half of the eighth century. However, this is far from certain and there is at present no concensus. This paper will give an overview of the nature and extent of Theodore’s oeuvre and the Stoudite scriptorium and what they tell us about Byzantine scribal practice in the Queen of Cities in the early ninth century.

Andrew Pleffer (Macquarie University, Sydney)

Signs, Signatories and Scribes: The Function of Scribal Markings in the Fourth Century Aramaic ostraca

The ongoing publication of the fourth century Aramaic ostraca that have surfaced from the region of southern Levant is incredibly important for understanding socio-economic processes and conditions in the western provincial regions of the Persian empire. The study presented here will be subject to the final publication of the remaining ostraca, but hopes to probe and test methodologies that could be applied to the corpus in understanding the function of its individual pieces.

Since the initial publication of the Aramaic ostraca, their function has remained an important and contended issue. For the most part, the Aramaic ostraca are inscribed sherds of pottery that appear to detail, in short-formulaic phrases, the movement and quantities of commodities. Some of the ostraca bear markings that appear in enlarged script and easily distinguishable forms usually positioned at the end of the body of the text and occasionally alongside a signatory.

It is a widely held view that ostraca found in Greece, Egypt, and the Levant functioned as drafts or scrap paper of a scribal bureaucracy. However, the scribal markings in these ostraca have been used to support the suggestion that the ostraca had a wider circulation beyond that of being drafts for papyri record lists. This paper presents a detailed analysis of the scribal markings published thus far. It tracks the physical characteristics of the markings, aspects of scribal identity and the syntactic features of the ostraca, probing possible explanations for their function.

Lucian Reinfandt (University of Vienna)

Scribal Traditions, Social Change, and the Emergence of a Caliphal Administration (642-800 AD)

The activities of scribes in original documents highlight their own cultural and ethnic backgrounds. By this, an identification is possible of members of this important group of social actors, in my case: the personnel of early Islamic chanceries, that are otherwise elusive in the literary sources. Their traces in the documents serve as a basis for a prosopography of these largely anonymous scribes. The following phenomena are useful for my analysis: (a) palaeography and layout; (b) phraseology and style; (c) grammar and orthography. Of peculiar importance for the analysis is the multilingual character of early Islamic chanceries with their parallel production of official documents in Arabic, Coptic, and Greek in the western parts of the caliphal empire and Iranian languages in the East. In my paper, I will present a ‘mapping’ of chancery scribes in Egypt after the Muslim conquest. This will be held against two major developments: the successive Arabisation of the chanceries in the wake of reforms initiated by the caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwān in the course of the first half of the 8th century AD; and the ‘takeover’ of the offices by scribes with Iranian background during the late 8th and early 9th centuries AD. Such an approach of ‘observing the scribe at work’ is significant for the historian of Islamicate societies. Processes of Arabisation and Islamisation, i.e. the migration of social groups, the exchange of administrative personnel in the chanceries, and the phenomenon of religious conversion, become visible that seem otherwise undetectable. These had deep impact on the development of Muslim rule and administration and contributed to the dissemination of a common imperial culture in peripheries of disparate conditions.


Francesca Schironi (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)

Saving the Ivory Tower from Oblivion: The Role of Scribes in Preserving Alexandrian Scholarship

In this paper I will analyse the crucial role that scribes from the Ptolemaic to the Byzantine periods played in disseminating the philological work of the Alexandrian scholars on Homer in Egypt and beyond. I will review the scribal evidence from the Ptolemaic period to the Byzantine era and show that the format of the Homeric editions changed in the centuries after the work of the Alexandrians: scribes were embracing the innovations introduced by the Alexandrians both in the book layout (divisions into books, end-titles) and in the most technical aspects of Alexandrian philology (variant readings,exegetical comments, critical signs added in the margins). Manuscript evidence thus shows that scribes from the 2nd century BC to the 10th century AD had two distinct and fundamental roles in the Homeric tradition: they preserved the most technical aspects of Alexandrian scholarship and they also disseminated its more popular innovations (like the book division). The activity of the scribes therefore ensured that Alexandrian scholarship did not remain a dry intellectual product locked into the Library with no future, but on the contrary permeated book production and literary discourse in the following centuries, and ultimately informed our own reception of the Homeric texts.

Anthony Spalinger (University of Auckland)

The Story of Wenamun: Scribal Arrangements and Oddities

This paper will present a discussion of the vagaries of script on the famous Moscow hieratic papyrus of ‘The Story of Wenamun.’ Problems associated with the arrangement (writing) of the text – its faces and sheet orientations – will be explored further. The dating of the text to Dynasty XXI allows us to separate Wenamun’s narrative from all other so-called ‘Late Egyptian Stories,’ and thus to see its presumed anomalous position within that hitherto accepted literary corpus as irrelevant.

Valeria Tezzon (Humboldt University, Berlin)

How many scribes in P.Berol.13270? New considerations about the handwriting

One of the problematic aspects of P.Berol. 13270 is the identification of two supposed scribes involved in the text redaction: in 1924 Ulrich Wilcken observed that the text must have been written by two writers and recognized two different kinds of handwriting: one “strong and plain” and the other “slighter and more delicate”; moreover he added that each scribe might have used his own calamos, which also influenced the ductus. This proposal has been largely accepted. Recently, Bendetto Bravo has carefully described the alternation of the supposed two writers, suggesting also a possible change of calamos between the writers. The differences recognized in the handwriting will be examined in order to verify a possible different explanation for the highly problematic presence of two writers.

Norman Underwood (University of California, Berkeley)

Mirroring Byzantium: Scribes, Dukes, and Literature on Leadership in 10th and 11th Century Southern Italy

Early medieval rulers were expected to study the received wisdom of the ancients and model themselves on Greek and Roman exemplars. In early Byzantium, this fascination with ancient statecraft engendered the widespread production of didactic literature in the form of histories, biographies, and moralizing military manuals—all of which we might categorize as mirrors for princes. Scholars have investigated how the patronage and dissemination of these texts shaped Byzantine leadership and how they affected the larger political culture; however, they have privileged the role of emperors, such as Constantine Porphyrogenitus who wrote treatises on governance, in propagating these texts. My paper will examine two roughly contemporaneous manuscripts from the Byzantine frontier zone of southern Italy, which allow us to see the personalized production of leadership literature by local magnates. One of these texts is Archpriest Leo’s mid-tenth-century Latin translation of Pseudo-Callisthenes’ biography of Alexander the Great.  The translator’s preface, which survives in a single copy (Bamberg Staat.Bib. E.III.14), explains how Leo copied the Greek original in Constantinople, translated it into Latin at the request of Duke John III of Naples, and how it fit into his patron’s private library. Leo’s translation and the other texts enumerated in its preface reveal the duke’s interest in contemporary Byzantine discourses on leadership. The other text is the slightly later Historia Romana of Landulf Sagax, which chronicles the lives of Roman emperors and empresses to the present day. The earliest copy (PatLat 909), produced for an unnamed prince probably at Naples or Capua, bears Landulf’s own handwritten notes for the prince on what to learn from each biography. In laying these two manuscripts besides each other, we not only see how scribal practices undergirded these texts’ production, but how the scribe-author himself was central to raising the mirror of good leadership to the prince.

Marja Vierros (University of Helsinki)

Scribes and Other Writers in the Petra Papyri

The carbonized papyrus dossier from Petra, metropolis of the Roman province Palaestina Salutaris/Tertia, presents a group of documentary texts all written in Greek in the sixth century AD, and all found from the same small side room in the Church of Virgin Mary. Most of the texts were written in Petra, and some in nearby villages. The documents are mainly contracts, tax receipts, donations, settlements of disputes, etc., all somehow relating to the possessions of an ecclesiastical family belonging to the uppermost stratum of society. They also seem to represent high standard Byzantine Greek language and notarial practices. In this paper, I will collect together all the information on the writers appearing in these documents. These were the notaries (symbolaiografoi), who drew up the lengthy legal texts. Some of them we know by name, some only by their handwriting, spelling and perhaps other linguistic features. The people whose matters the documents dealt with usually signed the contracts themselves or used signatories; the signatures were long because it was necessary to repeat the contents of the contract. The signatures present various levels of literacy. The documents also included short signatures of witnesses. Some less important documents were not written by notaries, but by the people themselves. Now that almost all the texts from the dossier are published or very near to being published, it will be possible to draw conclusions about the writing skills and scribal practices in Petra.


Gareth Wearne (Macquarie University, Sydney)

The Role of the Scribe in the Composition of Personal Letters in Ancient Israel and Judah

Because the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) is understood to be a work of scribal output par excellence, scholars have often been at pains to elucidate the background of the scribes that produced it. Such attempts have typically emphasised comparisons with the better documented scribal cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia and synchronic analysis of references to scribal activity within the biblical text. However, this orientation has meant that other classes of evidence have tended to be overlooked. One such source is personal correspondence.

More than sixty first-millennium BC Hebrew and Canaanite letters and letter fragments are now known. These documents contain a variety of evidence ranging from explicit references to the assistance of scribes in reading and interpreting letters, to evidence for systematic education in epistolary formulae and conventions. On the other hand, there is evidence to suggest that some personal correspondence may have been composed without the aid of a professional scribe.

In light of the evidence of personal correspondence, this paper will explore a number of questions, including: who had access to scribes? What services did scribes provide? And what traces did they leave in the texts they produced? It will then argue for a more nuanced understanding of scribal culture in ancient Israel and Judah that complements the biblical and comparative data, in which even the poorest might have access to scribes to aid in the composition of personal correspondence.


Nick Wyatt (University of Edinburgh)

Ilimilku the Elusive

Ilimilku the scribe has been credited with some compositional input and shaping of the mythological and epic texts from Ugarit.  Recent studies however have tended to emphasise his carelessness and even his inexperience. This paper will offer an evaluation of the scribe in his cultural and biographical context. It will analyse the colophons on tablets attributable to his hand, and examine the formulaic sequences in Baal, Kirta and Aqhat in order to assess the degree of his compositional skill over against the expectations of stereotypical language in traditional literature, and consequently the reality of scribal errors. One of the problems in this particular example (Ilimilku, or if not he, his teacher Attenu) is the possibility of seeing adaptations of the tradition in its extant forms to specific historical circumstances. We have to remember that though most literature of the era was essentially anonymous, and the product of scribal schools and court or temple communities, texts are not actually written by committees, and the input of individual editorial or authorial minds is at least a legitimate object of enquiry.

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