Relief of Scribes at work

A fragment of a wall relief showing scribes intent on writing, probably under dictation, holding their tablets in their left hand and their pens in their right. The relief was part of a more elaborate composition from the memphite tomb of Horemheb at Saqqara.

This limestone relief with traces of painting from the Saqqara tomb of Horemheb dates to the reign of Tutankhamun. Horemheb was the commander-in-chief of the army under the reign of Tutankhamun and Ay.

Relief of Scribes at work
Relief of Scribes at work

Horemheb as a King

After Horemheb acceded to the throne, as a king, official action was taken against the preceding Amarna rulers. He reformed the Egyptian state and restabilized his country after the divisive Amarna Period.

Horemheb demolished monuments of Akhenaten, reusing their remains in his building projects, and usurped monuments of Tutankhamun and Ay. He is considered to have established traditional religion after the Amarna Period. He ruled for 14 years and was not related to the preceding royal family.

Becoming a Scribe

The Egyptian’s hieroglyphic language is very complex, comprising of over seven hundred unique signs which could be combined to give layers of meaning. As a result, scribal training could take up to a decade to complete. Most students started their studies in a temple school at the age of five, but their formal scribal education would begin when they were around nine years old. Students would study hieroglyphics, hieratic, demotic (from around 400 BC), and mathematics (“dena”), as well as writing, as this was required for many high level jobs such as architect, tax collector, and treasurer.

Gods associated with writing

Writing was a highly regarded skill and closely associated with the divine. Hieroglyphs were known as “medju netjer” (“words of the gods”) and so it is not surprising that a number of the gods were depicted as scribes or associated with writing.

Thoth was the patron of scribes and was generally credited with the development of hieroglyphs. He was often depicted as a scribe and was responsible for recording the result of the “weighing of the heart” in the halls of judgment. Seshat was the goddess of writing (and either the wife or daughter of Thoth). She recorded the life of each person on the leaves of the sacred persea tree and was the official biographer of the pharaoh.

New Kingdom, late 18th Dynasty, ca. 1336-1292 BC. Limestone, height: 24 cm, width: 31.5 cm. Now in the National Archaeological Museum of Florence. 2566