Talking about ‘Scribes’ in the ancient Egypt, it was the most esteemed job and the people showed high respect to scribes because of their outstanding skills, carrying out various notable functions all at the same time.
The social status of the scribes was considered to be among the high caste and exclusive only to this group because they were well educated in script writing using different languages such as hieroglyphic, hieratic and demotic. It was mentioned that people who belonged to this special caste were provided with better quality clothing, having a hand that is likened to a shape of a candle and smooth in texture, and enjoyed many other privileges in the kingdom. They were not sent to war, they were not involved in farming and never allowed to stand too long under the heat of the sun. They were in the temples, palace, and other important places to do their duties. They were known to read exceptionally fast with deep comprehension and of course excellent in writing and serving their kings and gods extremely well.
About the image above: statue of a scribe from Alexandria
In ancient Egypt the scribe was called ‘Sesh’, meaning ‘to write and to read’ and we see in the temples all the drawings and writings, as well as in the papyrus text; the drawings of these writings were also considered as part of the art of writing itself.
‘(……………………………………… Be a scribe! Your body will be sleek; your hands will be soft. You call for one to assist you and a thousand answer. You walk freely on the roads, you are not like the hired ox that labors and is beaten for refusal. You are in front of the others.
…………………… Be a scribe and be spared from soldiering. You can be safe from torments.
…………… A letter from Nebmare-nakht to Wenemdiamum written about 12th century B.C)’
The scribes were special group of people that were entitled to such privileges above, that helped them maintain a slim, fit body, a good skin and smooth hands because they were never sent to do farming, to be exposed to the heat of the sun. Their hands were always clean because were only holding pens and papyrus to record every moment of important things happening in the kingdom. They also have maids, they can walk freely in the street without anybody disturbing them or no guards to stop them anywhere they go.
All of their needs were supplied by the kingdom regularly in weekly or daily basis and were always received on time. The lives of scribes were in favorable stage and they were loved by the kings and gods. ‘(…..But though I spend the day telling you to write, it seems to plague you. Writing is pleasant……Nebmare-nakht - 12th century BC.)’
The scribes were also trusted by the pharaohs and they always do something valuable during his lifetime. They had their own houses, their own horses, and special transportation, a boat kept for their exclusive use to travel along the river Nile. ‘(………. I instruct you to become one whom the pharaoh trusted; to make you gain the treasury and granary. You will be dressed in the fine clothes, you will own horses; your boat will be on the river. A mansion will be built for you……… Nebmare-nakht - 12th century BC.)’
HOW TO BECOME A SCRIBE
To become a scribe, one needs to attend hard long process of selections and schooling. The chief of scribes, together with his assistants, will select some of the most intelligent men from their caste or from recommendations of others. The place to study was in the temple. Every section of the temple has several segments to study how to write, and also to study mathematics, medicines, music and arts. First, the teacher will show how to write like how we study in our schools today.
Before students enter the first day of the class, there will be a special ceremony. The offering ceremony dedicated for the God of Wisdom and Learning, Thoth, as well as the primordial Gods. The purpose of this ceremony was to mark the beginning of the learning and ask for guidance during the learning process and protection of the knowledge to be beneficial for the country and for the Gods.
During the ten years of learning process, all of the students will be able to do the three times daily rituals to the Gods in the temples. The ritual would start early morning before the sunrise, so they should wake up earlier and make their preparation to do the ceremony together with other fellow students in the temple. The offering included some leaves, flowers, food, beverages and fragrances. After the ritual, they will have breakfast with bread or loaf with beans porridge, wheat porridge, milk and tea.
When the lesson ended just before mid-day, they will prepare to do the mid-day temple offerings, purify the temple with the chanting of holy prayers and holy fragrances, or burning of incense. The lesson will then continue in the afternoon and ends just before the twilight, where it will be time for the sunset prayers at the temple. At nighttime they will do some memorization of various subjects and autodidact learning. This will be continuously happening until the students graduate.
When they all passed the final stage of education, there were no sign of final exam on that time. All of the students were considered passed and ready to do the job to be a royal scribe. The graduation ceremony was with lots of magical scenes, from one to the other students by the headmasters, teachers and priests. The students will receive special prayers, amulets and awakening of the inside power of the students by chanting sacred scriptures. The awakening of the inner spirit during the graduation will start after the sunset ceremony and ends after midnight.
After the graduation, all of the new scribes will be ready to take their new post, where they will be distributed accordingly.
They learned how to write and to read. The scribes learned about language, reading and writing in the very beginning. They will practice and master these subjects. They learned hieroglyphics character where there were more than 700 characters in hieroglyphic including objects, ideas, sounds, numbers, special signs and symbols. They also learned hieratic and demotic characters and alphabets.
The learned how to produce papyrus. As media of writing, the scribes need papyrus. They learned how to prepare and produce high quality of media writing ancient paper style roll of papyrus.
They learned to understand mathematics. After they mastered writing and reading they will learn about other subjects like mathematics, to understand the detailed scope and accurate calculation when they become a scribe.
They learned religion and prayers. The most important thing to be a scribe is to understand the sacred concept of religion, mastering in prayers so when they become a scribe they will understand and adapt with the culture of the current religion.
They learned history. To know history was paramount for the improvement of the nation and this will be helpful to better understand their past while advancing further their civilization.
They learned geography. Geography was part of the study during the time of the schooling. The ancient Egyptian has travelled as far as Greece, Sumerian, and Syria. They have knowledge about Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt, about the Nile and the vast deserts.
They learned and understand astronomy. Most of the scribes need to understand and master astronomy to calculate the timings, the phenomenon and other objects in the sky through observations and predictions. This allowed the ancient Egyptian to mark the seasons of the year and schedule their journey, to select the best time for ceremonies, festivals, wedding ceremonies, farming, starting the sacred works, etc. They used lunar calendar system to make studying astronomy as one of the most important subjects.
They learned to play music. Music was an important part of the daily life in ancient Egypt. Most of the temple rituals, ceremonies and other scared rituals also included mystical and enchanting music.
They learned about medicine and health care. When they started learning about this subject, they moved to the temple of Kom Ombo. The venue for learning was at the back of the altar of this sacred temple, a small alley maybe enough for 30-50 students. They learned about natural medicine, the use of natural aphrodisiac, about surgery, childbirth and rearing, etc.
They learned about science and technology. There were speculations of many things in ancient Egypt and one was that they used a certain form of highly advanced technology to build the temple, with the use of electricity. They used red mercury for many purposes as well.
They learned about arts and cultures. Many forms of arts, dance, and sculptures were found artistically expressed in the temples, including the wall paintings in the tombs were amazing. This is the perfection of the art that they mastered for so many years through consistent learning and creativity of the people of Egypt.
They learned about anatomy of human beings and animals. The figures of the massive statues, sculptures are very precise and the proportion of the body anatomy is perfect for both human being and animal.
They learned about architecture. This is a must. Nobody can skip this subject. Many scribes also mastered architecture like Imhotep who created the steps of pyramid, and he was as well a scribe, medical expert, architect and a high priest during the reign of Pharaoh Djoser (reigned from 2709-2690 B.C.).
They learned about spiritual power, unseen power, magic and healing. The qualities of scribes were judged with these special talents of spiritual powers, unseen powers, magic powers (either black or white magic), and of course the healing power. This subject was given through vibration instruction and it depends on each individual student to develop this power later all by himself. This secret power will differentiate the individual student from the rest. This will include the power for anti weaponry, anti poison as well as elimination of self-knowledge.
They learned law. The scribes taught laws of the kingdom as later the scribe will also be the person who conducts the proceedings in court.
THE ROLES OF THE SCRIBES
The scribes were very important and had special placement in the kingdom. Their tasks included:
As a royal writer of holy scripts and texts. All of the holy writings, scripts and texts were written or copied by the scribes in individual or in group. They were also designated to write wills and legal contract, documentation for the people in the kingdom.
As a royal author of poem and literature. The stories and literatures were also important and written on the papyrus. Sometime they were asked to write poems for the royal family or important peoples in the kingdom.
As a writer and or designer of all of the writings, cartouches. The scribes designed the writings and the cartouches on the temple walls before the artist put those patterns with great thought, precision, focus and commitment on the temple walls.
As a tax collector. The scribe will oversee the collection of taxes. The collection of the taxes from the farmers will depend on the level of the water shown in the Nile meter available in every temple.
As an administrator of the kingdom. The scribe will do the job of documentation and archive the treasures of the kingdom, including smaller city, district and villages.
As a recorder of the kingdom. In this case, the scribes will record many things such as volume of rainfall, the water level of the Nile River, record the food stocks, distribution and supplies, record the medicine stocks, to carry out census of population, to record live stocks, record about the laborer, wine making, beer making, etc.
As a librarian. All of the scriptures, holy books, and papyrus are kept in library and maintained by scribes. Lots of papyrus rolls are survived until today because of the amazing work of the scribes.
As an architect. In-charge for the planning, surveying, supervising, inspecting of the construction of temples, houses, tombs, pyramids, etc.
As an advisor. One important job of the scribe was also to consult pharaohs and suggest some recommendations for the pharaohs to consider.
THOTH AND SESHAT
The God Dhwty (Djehuti) of Thoth (Greek) was the god of writing, learning, speaking, senses, wit, invention, and wisdom, one of the important deities in the ancient Egyptian pantheon. He appeared as a man-god wearing an ibis mask and carrying his writing pad and pen all the time, to record everything that was happening in this world and beyond.
He had also a very important rule in the underworld or afterlife because he was the only god who kept everybody’s record. He will record whatever you see, whatever you say, etc. He will be the key witness of the soul ‘Ba’ in the judgment of the dead in the ‘Hall of Two Truth’ with the result of the ‘weighing of the heart’ in judgment of Osiris; where he was the scribe who recorded every single act during the lifetime, recorded the confession of the dead who progressed into afterlife.
Seshat (also called the mistress of books) was more known to be the Goddess of writing, reading and science; she is either the daughter or the wife of Thoth. She recorded the life diary of each person on avocado tree leaves (persea tree).
DIFFERENT STYLE OF WRITINGS
There were three different way of writing in the ancient Egypt:
Hieroglyphic writing was used since 3500 B.C. The word hieroglyph came from the Greek word hieros (sacred) and glyphos (sign or word). The ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic was called ‘mdju netjer or mdju ntr’ (or words of the gods). There were more than 1000 hieroglyphic signs and symbols introduced during that era.
Hieratic writing was used alongside with the hieroglyphic just after the development of the hieroglyphs. The term of hieratic came from the Greek language ‘hieratika’ which means priestly writing or the way how the high priest writes during that time. This style of writing is a continuous writing or a cursive nature writing style with ligatures for number of characters. The oldest hieratic script was found dated circa 1600 B.C. and it was interesting to know that this style of writing was used since then. The way to read the hieratic is from right to left.
Demotic writing was later developed, perhaps during the Kushite or Nubian Empire of the 25th dynasty. During the reign of Psametik I, demotic writing became more popular and started to replace the hieratic style and became the official writing to be used for administrative, commercial texts, legal texts, etc.
SCRIBES AND THE PAPYRUS
The papyrus, used as the media for writing, surfaced in the ancient Egypt since about 3100 B.C. The development of the papyrus helped the scribes expressed their vision and talents faster as the papyrus was easier to carry and keep, but also easy to be destroyed. There are some manuscripts written on the papyrus that still remain in museums in many parts of the world. The ancient scribes were usually written on one side of the papyrus leaving the other side blank.
The discovery of papyrus writing allowed us to know better the past that immensely provide a deeper understanding of the incredible lifestyle of the ancient world, especially the Egyptian civilization.