Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 35 (1998) 145-151
A School Tablet:
A List of Names and Numbers
This wooden tablet at the University of Michigan-T.Mich. inv.
764-was published in 1921 by A. E. R. Boak, who thought that
what he called the recto of the tablet contained an exercise
practicing letters of the alphabet in random order, while the verso
presented cardinal numbers from 1 to 9,000.1 Both sides of the
tablet need to be reexamined.
The tablet has two binding holes bored into one of the long
borders. It was either part of a notebook of tablets or a single tablet:
holes and strings might serve to hang it on the wall or to suspend it
from the hand. About the content of the recto Boak wrote, "the
writing consists of twenty lines... each line contains a number of
isolated letters, not grouped in syllables or words... the work of a
beginner practicing the forms of the letters." But an exercise of the
kind Boak describes does not appear anywhere else. Exercises
involving the letters of the alphabet usually consist of a few letters
repeated or a few letters practiced randomly on the writing
surface,2 without following regular and even lines. When the letters
are in continuous horizontal lines, they always follow an alphabetical order and consist of a series of alphabets written one after
the other.3 An examination of the photo, and especially an autoptic
inspection of the Michigan tablet itself, confirmed that the exercise
consisted of a list of names. It should be taken into account that the
ink of the text on this side of the tablet is quite faded, and a direct
examination of the tablet is necessary for solving dubious cases.
1 See A. E. R. Boak, "Greek and Coptic Tablets at Michigan," CP 16 (1921)
191-92. R. Cribiore, Writing, Teachers and Students in Graeco-Roman Egypt
(Atlanta 1996, henceforth cited as Cribiore 1996) no. 118.
2 See Cribiore 1996, nos. 23 and 36.
3 See, e.g., the back of tablet 160 in Cribiore 1996.