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Scribal Training in Ancient Egypt by Ronald J. Williams

Dedicated to the memory of Wm. F. Edgerton, revered teacher and friend
This paper was presented as one of four contributions to a panel discussion on the topic
“Aspects of Education in the Ancient Near East” during the meeting of the AOS held at
Baltimore in 1970. The requirements of a highly complex governmental administration in
Egypt led to the development in the mid-third millennium of methods of training youths as
scribes to enter the civil service. In addition to the much later Greek descriptions of the
educational system in ancient Egypt, there are scattered references to it in Egyptian biographical and literary texts. These are few in number in the early periods, but soon become more plentiful. The didactic treatises beginning in the Old Kingdom and the compositions specially designed for scribal use, together with the innumerable school texts written mostly on ostraca, afford valuable evidence for the content of the young scribe’s curriculum. The nature of the elementary instruction during the first four years may be deduced, as well as the advanced training which was of a more specialized nature. The “text books” employed in the instruction of students are also known to us. Finally, the attitude of the Egyptians themselves to the efficacy of educational methods finds expression in their literature.

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