The young lady with her stylus: instrumenta scriptoria as grave goods

Luginbühl, Josy Martina (13 April 2018). The young lady with her stylus: instrumenta scriptoria as grave goods (Unpublished). In: Roman Archaeological Conference XIII and Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference XXVIII, Session 4B: Studying instrumenta scriptoria: The social Value of Writing Equipment. Edinburgh. 13.04.2018.

The ability of mainly urban Roman upper class men to read and write has been well documented. It shows that the appropriate skills were relatively widespread and in frequent use. But what kind of statements is it possible to make about less privileged individuals, such as those in the lower classes or women? The socio-cultural practice of equipping the dead with instrumenta scriptoria shows the importance of literacy, either as a real ability or a symbolic skill. The discoveries of the instrumenta are distributed throughout the Roman Empire. The varied combinations of burial offerings and their concentrations show a complex picture of the dissemination of literacy and serve as evidence for literate individuals. The chronological and geographical differences permit us to generate statements about social status and gender distribution, as the objects are intimately connected to the deceased. Inkwells, stili and other writing instruments in graves are an indication of skills, which do not necessarily leave their mark in written sources. In particular, hardly any texts which can be identified as written by women have been handed down and women’s literary skills are only mentioned in exceptional circumstances, while the pieces of grave furniture with reference to literacy clearly indicate a relationship with writing. The rich sarcophagus of Antestia Marciana from Aquilea for instance provides two stili made of bronze, a jewel box and some amber objects and a woman’s grave from Durrachium contained among other objects a wax tablet. The combination of instrumenta scriptoria as burial objects in women's tombs and iconographic depictions of apparently literate women should encourage us to assess female literacy in more detail.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of Archaeological Sciences > Archaeology of the Mediterranean Region

UniBE Contributor:

Luginbühl, Josy Martina


900 History > 930 History of ancient world (to ca. 499)




Josy Martina Luginbühl

Date Deposited:

11 Jun 2019 10:54

Last Modified:

11 Jun 2019 10:54

Uncontrolled Keywords:

Roman archaeology, writing equipment, gender studies


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