), writing tablets. Although
, seems to make a formal distinction
i.e. bronze tablets, and
yetin general the plural of tabula
is used to signify thin slips of wood or
other material, usually of an oblong shape, covered over with wax, whence
are used for the tablets themselves. The wax, which was written upon by the
stilus or γραφίς
], was coloured (red in Ov. Am. 1.12
, but generally
black), so that the letters marked by the stilus were white. The layer of
wax was sometimes so thin that the writing was marked on the wood itself
below, as may be seen in some tablets that have been preserved. As to
renewing the tablets by scraping off the old and pouring fresh melted wax
over them, “cera . . . rasis infusa tabellis” (Ov. Art. Am. 1.437
), see Hdt. 7.239
. Ordinary Greek writing tablets were
covered with μάλθη,
a composite and softer
wax, which in Dem. c. Steph.
ii. p. 1132.11, is contrasted
with the tablets covered with gypsum (γραμματεῖον
: cf. λεύκωμα,
intended for more permanent documents. This composite wax was, however,
termed indifferently μάλθη
(compare Aristoph. Wasps 108
206). The schoolboy's
writing tablet was sometimes a single tabula
which he carried suspended by a ring (Hor. Sat.
1.6, 74, Orelli ad loc.;
3.3, 37): tablets thus hung on the wall of the
school-room are shown in the cut from the Duris vase under LUDUS LITTERARIUS
More expensive tablets were made of citronwood or ivory (Mart. 14.3
), but the commoner
woods were generally used, such as beech, fir, and box (whence the name
). The outer sides consisted of
wood; the inner sides only were covered with wax. They were fastened
together at the back by means of wires, which answered the purpose of
hinges, so that they opened and shut like our books; and to prevent the wax
of one tablet rubbing against the wax of the other, there was a raised
margin around each, as is clearly seen in the woodcut under STILUS
There were sometimes two,
three, four, five, or even more tablets fastened together in the
above-mentioned manner. Tablets so folded and bound together were called codex
(compare Catull. 42, 5 and 11); where a very large number were combined,
they had a handle, by which to carry or to hang them up, and were called
(C. I. L.
] Two such
tablets were called diptycha
), which merely means
“twice-folded” (cf. δίπτυχον δελτίον,
]. The Latin word pugillares,
which is the name frequently given to tablets
covered with wax (Mart. 14.3
; Gel. 17.9
; Plin. Ep.
), is derived from pugnus, pugillus,
because they were small enough to be held in the hand. Such tablets are
mentioned as early as the Homeric poems, which speak: of a πίναξ πτυκτός
; Munro ad loc.
p. 112). Three tablets fastened together were called
which Martial (14.6
) translates by triplices
the same way we also read of pentaptycha
), called by Martial (14.4
), and of polyptycha
). The above are called also γραμματεῖον
δίθυρον, τρίπτυχον ἢ πλειόνων πτυχῶν
(Poll. 10.51). [See
woodcuts under LIBER
p. 58.] The
pages of these tablets were frequently called by the name of cerae
alone; thus we read of prima cera, altera cera,
“second page” (Suet. Nero 17
2.5, 53; Mart.
). In tablets containing important legal documents,
especially wills, the outer edges were pierced through with holes (foramina
), through which a triple thread (linum
) was passed, and upon which a seal was then
placed. This was intended to guard against forgery, and if it was not done
such documents were null and void (Suet. Nero
; Paulus, Sent.
Waxen tablets were used among the Romans for almost every species of writing,
where great length was not required. Thus letters were frequently written
upon them, which were secured by being fastened together with packthread and
sealed. Accordingly we read in [p. 2.754]
4.4, 64) when a letter is to be written:
Effer cite stilum, ceram, et tabellas, et linum.
The sealing is mentioned afterwards (1. 96). The impression of the seal was
made either upon wax (as in Plaut. l.c.;
Ov. Am. 2.15
; Plin. Nat. 2.137
), or upon a
specially prepared clay, called cretula
(Cic. Ver. 4.26, 58
), creta Asiatica
(Cic. pro Place.
16, 3, where cera
also is mentioned as the alternative), γῆ σημαντρίς
(Herod. ii 38), σφραγὶς
(Aret. de Carat.
see also Cic. Cat. 3.5
For the seals themselves, see SCALPTURA
p. 604. (Compare Cic.
in Catil. 3.5
) Tabulae and tabellae are
therefore used in the sense of letters (Ovid, Ov.
). Love-letters were written on very small tablets,
), of which word, however, we
do not know the origin. Tablets of this kind are presented by Amor to
Polyphemus on an ancient painting (Mus. Borbon.
vol. i. tav.
Legal documents, and especially wills, were almost always written on waxen
tablets, as mentioned above; but even when written on parchment or papyrus
they were still technically called tabulae
37, 11, 1; cf. δέλτοι,
22). Such tablets were also
used for accounts, in which a person entered what he received and expended
accepti et expensi,
Cic. pro Rose.
2), whence novae tabulae
abolition of debts either wholly or in part (Suet.
; Cic. de Off.
). The above are merely some instances of the extensive use
of waxen tablets; others are given in Marquardt, Privatleben,
pp. 804, 805.
Two ancient waxen tablets have been discovered in a perfect state of
preservation, one in a gold mine four or five miles from the village of
Abrudbànyá in Transylvania, and the other in a gold
mine in the village itself. Of this interesting discovery an account has
been published by Massmann in a work entitled “Libellus Aurarius, sive
Tabulae Ceratae, et antiquissimae et unice Romanae in Fodina Auraria
apud Abrudbanyam, oppidulum Transsylvanum, nuper repertae,”
Lipsiae (1841). An account of these tablets, taken from Massmann's
description, will serve as a commentary on what has been said above. Both
the tabulae are triptycha;
that is, consisting of
three tablets each. One is made of fir-wood, the other of beech-wood, and
each is about the size of what we call a small octavo. The outer part of the
two outside tablets of each exhibits the plain surface of the wood; the
inner part is covered with wax, which is of a black colour, and is
surrounded with a raised margin. The middle tablet has wax on both sides
with a margin around each; so that each of the two tabulae contains four
sides or four pages covered with wax. The edges are pierced through, that
they might be fastened together by means of a thread passed through them.
The wax is not thick in either; it is thinner on the beechen tabulae, in
which the stilus of the writer has sometimes cut through the wax into the
wood. There are letters on both of them, but on the beechen tabulae they are
few and indistinct; the beginning of the first tablet contains some Greek
letters, but they are suceeeded by a long set of letters in unknown
characters. The writing on the tabulae made of fir-wood is both greater in
quantity and in a much better state of preservation. It is written in Latin,
and is a copy of a document relating to some business connected with a
collegium. The name of the consuls is given, which determines its date to be
A.D. 169. For the great collection of 127 diptychs and triptychs found at
Pompeii in 1875, see Hermes,
4 489. Wooden tablets written
upon with ink, which have been found in Egypt, are noticed by Marquardt
Waxen tablets continued to be used in Europe for the purposes of writing in
the Middle Ages; but the oldest of these with which we are acquainted
belongs to the year 1301 A.D., and is preserved in
the Florentine Museum.
The tablets used in voting in the comitia and the courts of justice were also
called tabulae as well as tabellae. [TABELLA