Ancient Egyptians Had Homework Too

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An intricate homework slab from nearly 2,000 years ago in ancient Egypt will be featured in an upcoming exhibit at the British Library. The ancient wax tablet was initially acquired by the British Library in 1892 and has been in storage for the past 40 years.

Detailed School Lessons

The tablet contains a school child’s homework in Greek. Among the lines are the sayings “You should accept advice from a wise man only” and “You cannot trust all your friends.” Children were taught these wise words as life lessons in addition to practicing their ABCs and penmanship. A ruler was used to create straight lines and to ensure that all letters were of similar size.
Wax tablets made from a thin layer of wax on a flat piece of wood were typically used as ancient writing materials because they were easily erasable and reusable. Although wax normally breaks down in moisture, its assumed that the dry climate of ancient Egypt helped preserve it, and keep it in the good condition that it is in today.

Historical Context

The tablet gives us a great glimpse into life during those times. The 2nd century C.E. was a time under Roman rule for Egypt. As can be seen in the tablet, Greek was the language of administration. The elementary-school-aged child, assumed to be around eight years old, was most probably male and came from a wealthy family, as that’s who was entitled to formal education.

The Exhibit

Set to be featured between April 26 and August 27, 2019, the exhibit is titled “Writing: Making Your Mark.” The display spans five millennia and five continents exploring advancements in writing. More than a hundred different objects from the British Library’s collection will be on display including a Chinese typewriter, James Joyce’s annotated copy of Ulysses, and extracts from Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks. If you’re in the area, be sure to check out the fascinating exhibit. This antique proves that homework is an age-old tradition — and one that isn’t going away any time soon!

What’s your oldest family heirloom find?

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