Wax tablets in the Middle Ages

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Carolus Raeticus
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Wax tablets in the Middle Ages

Post by Carolus Raeticus » Fri Jul 12, 2019 8:29 pm

Salvete!

I have just stumbled upon a passage in the second volume of Frater Felix Fabri's "Evagatorium". He and his companions are currently in a ravine and enjoy a badly needed break. Frater Felix uses this opportunity to record the voyage from Gaza to that place.
Frater Felix wrote: Ego in hac valle rescripsi paene totum iter a Gaza usque huc;
scripseram enim sedens in asino dispositiones et habitudines regionum
et viarum in tabula de cera, quam cingulo portavi et ibi totum in
libello rescripsi et de cera delevi, ut consequenter alia scriberem.
I was surprised that wax tablets were still in use in the late Middle Ages. I had always thought that these went the same way as the Romans.

Valete,

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jeidsath
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Re: Wax tablets in the Middle Ages

Post by jeidsath » Fri Jul 12, 2019 9:02 pm

Here's Chaucer:

His felawe hadde a staf tipped with horn, A peyre of tables al of yvory, And a poyntel polysshed fetisly, And wroot the names alwey, as he stood, Of alle folk that yaf hem any good,.... And whan that he was out atte dore, anon He planed awey the names everichon That he biforn had writen in his tables.... (Lines 1740-1759: Pratt 297f)

And Wattenbach says that they were still in use in his time at the Rouen fishmarket (c. 1875).
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Carolus Raeticus
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Re: Wax tablets in the Middle Ages

Post by Carolus Raeticus » Sat Jul 13, 2019 12:43 pm

Salve Jeidsath and thank you for the insight. I never would have dreamed that this archaic writing material was in use for such a long time. Although, in hindsight, it should not have surprised me. After all, paper was probably not that cheap for quite some time. And in the absence of note pads, post-it notes and pieces of pottery for use as ostracon...

Vale,

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Scribo
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Re: Wax tablets in the Middle Ages

Post by Scribo » Mon Jul 15, 2019 7:31 am

Wood seems to be a fairly common material too. I know in the Roman period thin sheets of wood with bee's wax served for letters in Britain. I think this could have continued. I attended a lecture, years ago, on the formation and development of Norse runes, which argued for wood there as well at some point.

Cheap. Easy to make. Unlikely to leave a lasting material record.
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