Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Ancient Importance of Letter Writing

The Late Egyptian Miscellanies are a group of seventeen documents which were used for scribal education in New Kingdom Egypt. The texts in the first five scrolls include:
  • 35 model letters
  • 8 hymns
  • 5 prayers  
  • 2 lists of people
  • 1 praise of the scribal profession
  • 1 building description
  • 1 list of titles
  • 1 list of good wishes
  • 1 account entry
  • 1 journal entry
  • 1 didactic text
  • 1 practice dating protocol
  • 3 unclear texts
This list reflects the scope of Egyptian scribal activities. As is clear from the list, letter writing played a large role in ancient scribal practice. Much of what they will have had to do was keeping journals and account, writing tax lists, writing dates on documents, writing hymns and prayers, and writing letters. Letter writing was hugely important in scribal education.

The variety of model letters is also striking. The model letters include letters of complaint, letters of report, letters of praise, letters to kings, letters to underlings. I simple glance at the historical documentation of the ancient world shows that a significant proportion of it was letters. There are thousands of letters from the ancient Near East and they provide an important window on life in ancient times. A look at scribal copy books shows that the ancients realized this too.