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I know how they wrote the information down:

Documents, like legal contracts, were usually written in pen and ink on papyrus. Books were also written in pen and ink on papyrus or sometimes on parchment. -- emory.edu

But I'm interested how it was stored. Ruling for 600+ years means they must have had to keep track for a lot of information (censuses, jail records etc).

How was this stored?

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There were three common methods. The first and most common was to use a diploma which is two boards sandwiched together with leather thongs. Papyrus is very fragile, so if you had something valuable written down you needed a binder like this to protect it. Also, writing can be done right on the boards themselves, not even using paper. Many diplomas had wax on them, so you could erase them, but obviously you would not do this for a legal contract.

The second method is to use a cubby. The paper was rolled up and placed in a square compartment. So, you would have a matrix of boards making lots of small 3-4 inch cubbies. Normally this would only be done by somebody who was pretty rich. Essentially it is a bookshelf for scrolls. Note that one scroll can be pasted onto another one. So, if a business man had a lot of accounts he can just keep pasting onto a scroll and it gets longer and longer. So, a businessman might have one cubby for each thing, store, property, ship, whatever. The scroll having the records for that entity is kept in its own cubby. In other cases scrolls would just be stacked up on each other on a plain shelf, as in this rendering of a relief dated to the time of Constantine (4th century):

enter image description here

Finally, the third basic method was to use a jar. If the jar was glazed and sealed it was a good way to keep the scroll dry, which was a big factor because Roman houses were pretty wet and papyrus tends to degrade rapidly in moist climates. Jars were also a lot cheaper than bookshelves, so for a middle class person, they were the obvious choice.


In addition to these permanent types of storage, I might also mention two traveling or semi-permanent methods. One is called the scrinium, which is a leather (usually) case, like a modern map case, which is a cylinder with a cap on it. The other is a librarium, which is leather (usually) portfolio with ties.

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    If possible, could you add some references? This answers it but I have no way of knowing where the information is from. – Tim Oct 19 '15 at 19:22
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    @Tim The information is from my brain. I have been reading Latin history and archaeology for 40 years. – Tyler Durden Oct 19 '15 at 19:27
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    @TylerDurden What about the picture? I appreciate your experience enough to take the words without source, but surely you didn't hand-draw the picture yourself? – called2voyage Oct 20 '15 at 13:40
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    @called2voyage No, I just pulled that off the web. The web site in question does not even identify the relief it is based on, other than it is from the time of Constantine. I am sure you could probably find which relief it is by doing a search in the relevant Byzantine archaeological reference sources. – Tyler Durden Oct 20 '15 at 15:37
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    @TylerDurden The source appears to be Bookbinding, and the Care of Books (1901) by Douglas Bennett Cockerell. Since it is public domain, you don't legally have to attribute it, but it would probably be helpful. – called2voyage Oct 20 '15 at 15:44

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