Papyrus Scroll





The papyrus scroll, an Egyptian invention, was used as a means of recording important information.  Scrolls were often used for official documents such as edicts of kings, emperors and governors, administrative documents like tax receipts, private documents like sales agreements as well as personal documents such as letters and memos (Minnen, 1995). 


Many early scrolls were made from the papyrus reeds that grew in Egypt.  The reed was cut, peeled and split into thin strips.  These strips were laid flat, vertically and horizontally similar to a piece of plywood and then pressed together.  The pressed sheets were left to dry in the sun and polished with shells or ivory to create a smooth writing surface.  Although care was taken in polishing the sheets, the texture of the scroll often made it difficult for the scribe to create smooth letters. 


The finished sheets of papyrus were overlapped and pasted together to form long rolls or tomos (Daumas, 1969).  In book form, the length of a scroll could reach as much as 35 feet.  Regular scrolls however, were rarely longer than 15 feet (Grout, 2008). The longest surviving scroll measures 65 feet in length; having 116 columns (Bono, 1974)  The inner portion of the scroll was used for writing, with the outer part of the scroll left blank.  The writing side of the scroll was decided based on the direction the papyrus strips ran as the horizontal strips accommodated writing better than the opposite side vertical strips.


Scribes would use reeds cut and chewed to form a brush like end to write and often had several different pens of varying size and color.  The type of pen a scribe used depended on the occasion for the writing.  Scribes would often work together during dictation as a means of ensuring accuracy in the copy.


The scroll itself was divided into columns of information to allow for easier reading. Once completed, the scrolls would often be "tagged" with a titulus noting the author and content (Grout, 2008).  The scrolls would then be stored in book – boxes.  If a piece of writing was longer than one scroll, the scrolls would be housed together to ensure the reader had access to all the information.


At the time, papyrus scrolls served written communication very well.  The scrolls were durable and easy to read.  The column format allowed the reader to unroll only those parts of the scroll being read.  


With the advent of the codex, the disadvantages of the scroll became obvious.  Papyrus was expensive.  Often, everyday correspondence had to be recorded via other means because it was just not economical.  The scrolls were also difficult to store.  If a text should be longer than one scroll, than it became hard to ensure the text stayed together.  The book boxes helped to some extent, but still took up a lot of space.  Although papyrus was durable, the continuous rolling and unrolling of the scroll resulted in lost titulus and wear to the document itself.  Lastly, because of its nature, citing information in a scroll was difficult as there were no reference points within the document.  The codex appeared to be a superior form of documentation.






Effects on Society








De Bono, E. (1974).  Eureka! An illustrated history of inventions from the wheel to the computer.  London, England. Thames and Hudson, Ltd.   


Daumas, M. (1969).  A history of technology and invention progress through the ages (volume 1). New York, New York. Crown Publishers.


Grout, J. (Ed.) (2002). Scroll and codex. In Encyclopaedia Romana [Web]. Retrieved June 6, 2008.

Minnen, P. (1995).  Writing in Egypt under Greek and roman rule.  Duke University.  Retrieved June 9, 2008.