Writing Materials in the Ancient World

Adam Bülow-Jacobsen

in The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199843695
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History

 Writing Materials in the Ancient World

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Classical Studies
  • Greek and Roman Papyrology
  • Historical Archaeology


Show Summary Details


Paper did not exist in the ancient Mediterranean world. Instead, people wrote on an enormous variety of other materials. While almost every substance imaginable has been used as writing material at one time or another, this article focuses on the common ones. First, it considers papyrus since the overwhelming majority of ancient texts are written on this material. It discusses parchment, ostraca, and wooden tablets which receive considerable attention. It also discusses linen (e.g., mummy bandages) and stone (mainly Coptic limestone ostraca inscribed with ink). Looking at Coptic documentary texts, which extend past the end of antiquity, ostraca are the most important medium (47.5%), while papyrus is second (40.5%). Limestone accounts for 10.5%, while skin (leather/parchment), paper, and wood represent less than 1% each.

Keywords: paper; ancient Mediterranean world; papyrus; parchment; ostraca; wooden tablet; Coptic documentary texts; limestone

Article.  8993 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Greek and Roman Papyrology ; Historical Archaeology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.