How was Euclid's Elements written? I mean, what type of paper, ink and pen did Euclid likely use?

As I guess there is no definite answer on this, you can also answer:

How did people in 300 BC write in ancient Greece?

Was writing at that time comparable to writing on a modern paper with a modern pen (especially regarding speed / accuracy)?


2 Answers 2


The ancient Greeks wrote the same way as the Egyptians: on papyrus scrolls. The oldest European manuscript I know of is the Derveni papyrus which is a Greek scroll dated to 362 B.C.. The writing was made with a narrow brush rather than a pen. The Greeks also wrote on clay, such as the fragments of broken pots (ostraka). Students would write on the ground or on wax tablets which were a layer of beeswax recessed into two boards which had a thonged hinge, so they could be closed together:

Ancient Mycenaean writing on wax tablet

The wax was engraved with a pointed wooden stick called a stylus. The reverse end of the stick had a spatula which could be used to erase, as can be seen in the image above.

The writing on papyrus was relatively slow compared to using a pen, because it was brushed on. This was unimportant though, because when something was written to papyrus (very expensive) it was usually an important work, so the amount of time taken to write it was not important. If they wanted to write notes or something fast, wax would be used, which was reasonably fast. In some cases charcoal was used to take notes on a convenient surface like clay or stone.

  • What does "very expensive" mean? (Could you compare that to something?) Aug 11, 2014 at 20:26
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    @moose Well, to buy a sheet of real vellum right now (in 2014) it costs about $35. Imagine paying $35 for every sheet of paper you use. Does that seem expensive? Aug 11, 2014 at 21:20
  • @moose Another comparison: in 400 B.C. it cost about 5 grams of silver to buy one sheet of papyrus. This would be worth about $3 today, however, silver was much more valuable at that time. 5 grams was a days wage for a professional worker. In 2014 a professional worker makes about $300 a day. So, we can estimate a sheet of papyrus as having that relative value. For this reason, often vellum was used which was cheaper, although its relative value might be more like $100 for a sheet at the time. Aug 11, 2014 at 21:32
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    That vase is an obvious fake. The guy's clearly using a laptop. ;-) Dec 16, 2014 at 0:27
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    @DavidRicherby lol
    – Cicero
    Aug 13, 2015 at 14:44

Euclid, like other ancient authors, would probably have dictated his books to a literate slave, who wrote them down on wax tables, with a stylus, as Tyler has described. The tablets would then have been passed on to a professional scribe (also a slave), who copied them on to scrolls made of papyrus.

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