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Wax Tablets: A Follow-up

April 7, 2019

I’ve been surprised (pleasantly) at the number of comments and interested readers responding to my posting yesterday about the use of wax tablets by writers in the Roman era.  Here are a few further comments:

  • Wax tablets survive and can be viewed in some museums.  You can see a scale replica here.
  • If you want to own one, you can purchase replicas here.
  • As these sites show, the size approximated the modern e-tablet, ranging from ca. 15×20 cm to ca. 20×25.
  • The Mediterranean heat did not melt the wax!!

When I was a student (waaaay back before computers!), the essential research tool we were all taught to use was the file card, the lined 4×6 inch card.  As you read, you recorded full bibliographical data on a card for each item consulted.  You added quotes or other notes.  Then, when you came to compose your essay, thesis, whatever, you prepared an outline and then organized your file cards keyed to the outline.  As you wrote, you drew upon the file cards.  You didn’t have the many books, journal articles, etc., on the desk, and you didn’t need them.  The file cards recorded what you needed from each (assuming that you carefully recorded all important data on them).

Ancient authors used wax tablets the same way.  We don’t have to puzzle over how an author could work with multiple scrolls.  He didn’t.  He consulted them one-by-one, made notes & quotes on wax tablets or papyrus sheets, and then when he composed, he drew upon these.

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  1. Super helpful, thank you.

  2. Thank you for the links. The suppliers in Germany provide a fantastic resource for teachers both of children and indeed of adults!

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