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Scribe with various materials (representation from the Middle Ages)

The profession of the writer ( Latin actuarius ) as one of the mighty writing and reading arts has changed in its meaning and importance several times in the course of human history .


The art of expressing one's own or other people's thoughts, religious texts or even simply the (agricultural) accounting by means of symbols ( letters ) established by agreement in a visible and permanent way was an essential achievement of the early advanced civilizations . In Mesopotamian Sumer , archaeologists have the oldest, dating from the 4th millennium BC. Found clay tablets with characters dating from BC . The origins of these wedge-shaped characters can be found in a picture script that evolved into a phonetic script. People who mastered these skills belonged to the upper class or came from it, as the training was complex and clerks were mainly needed for government tasks, such as tax lists. Royal scribes held a position of trust, as they often reproduced confidential messages, and their work was not verifiable by everyone. Contracts between private individuals and financial debts were also recorded in writing.

In Mesopotamia, Nabu was the patron god of writers. Several texts extol the writing profession. “Be zealous in the art of writing, it will provide you with wealth and abundance”, demands a text handed down in several variations from the library of Assurbanipal in Niniveh and from Kiš . Such texts probably served mainly as school texts.

The office was often passed on from father to son, but there were also sons who opposed such a career.

In Mesopotamia, Assurbanipal was the only king who, according to his own statements, could read and write and could even master rare and unusual characters. As a Neo-Assyrian letter from Sin-naʿdi, in which he asks the king to instruct the governor of Arrapḫa or a certain Aššur-belu-taqqin to assign him a scribe, shows that more people could write than is generally assumed. Sin-naʿdi's letter is legible, but uses unusual syllables and VK characters instead of the preferred KVK characters.


The origins of the so-called "Scripture of God's Words" , the oldest finds from around 3500 BC. Chr. ( Naqada III ) in Abydos , lie in a picture script that developed into a phonetic script. As stated in the ancient Egyptian doctrine of Cheti , the profession of scribe was associated with great privileges. Imhotep , King Djoser's scribe , was elevated to divine rank.


A small depicted scribe hands Gero the pompous manuscript, which was written according to the order

The scribes were less the scribes than those who knew their way around the (holy) scriptures. They belonged to the courtly or clerical upper class , whereby from around 800 AD the monasteries, initially only within their walls, played a decisive role in the spread of the art of writing. Many monks (rarely nuns) were called to the courts to work as clerks for the sovereigns .

Respect of the scribe

The reputation and number of literate people rose steadily in the high and late Middle Ages , due to the heyday of chivalry , the onset of long-distance trade and thus also the money economy and the rise of the bourgeoisie . The scribe became a chronicler and recorder, the writer of documents and Bible copier, sometimes a writer and as a city ​​clerk even the highest official in the city. With the invention of printing by Johannes Gutenberg around 1450, i.e. in the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern era , the writing profession quickly lost its importance.

Clerk today

Clerks in Puducherry (India) wait for customers on a street

Since the beginning of the 16th century, in countries with a European culture, the ability to write has more and more been part of the common good, so that it is no longer seen as an art in the higher sense of the word, but only as a skill. The writer who wrote manuscripts disappears from linguistic usage, the literary writer becomes an editor , writer , author , also called an author. Works for others that are published under their names are written by ghostwriters , including speechwriters . Some writers specialize in calligraphy .

It is estimated that there are still 300 professional public writers in France, with few able to make a living from writing alone. Jobs are often applications and applications from foreign companies, occasionally letters of complaint from disgruntled customers, rarely personal letters that require special sensitivity. Job biographies are also a field of activity. Public writing can be completed with a diploma at the University of Paris III and the University of Toulon-Var . There are also many voluntary helpers who support foreigners and people with writing difficulties with visits to the authorities and hold office hours in town halls.

In countries with a high rate of illiteracy, however, the writing profession is still known. In particular, mobile phones with low tariffs are currently causing a decline in orders there. In contrast, when the landline phone came up, where several families usually shared one phone, some agreed to meet up by letter for a telephone rendezvous. Cell phones are also widely used today to communicate with the authorities.

Different writers

Even today, a distinction is made between letter writers, text writers and newspaper writers. Today's occupations in which writing plays a significant role, are about the stenographer , the secretary , the speechwriter and the ghostwriter .

State clerks

The scribes working on behalf of a state or sub-state can be responsible as secretary-general for the correspondence of a government or administrative authority, keep the minutes at the meetings of councils or be responsible for keeping a land register or cash book. You will u. a. referred to as state clerk , land clerk or council clerk .

Town clerk

In some cities (e.g. Mainz and Frankfurt am Main ) in modern times there is a town clerk who can pursue his literary inclinations for a certain period of time, with a fixed salary and apartment, free from financial distress.

Ship clerk

The cruise operator Hapag-Lloyd awarded the post of ship clerk for the first time in 2006. A selected writer (2006 the Hamburg author Matthias Politycki ) was given the opportunity on a six-month trip around the world on the five-star ship Europe to get to know countries and seas from the lookout point of a floating luxury hotel and to take a look behind the scenes of the official on-board program.

Court clerk

The actuary (Rudolf Wolf)

A court clerk, also known as an actuary or secretary , was an official in the court registry who recorded the proceedings of a court or judicial authority. The Clerk was initially only recording secretary , the decisions and acts of the court public faith bestowed. In Germany this task is today by the clerk of the office made the court. In the course of time, court clerks were also given independent judicial powers, especially in voluntary jurisdiction . From 1923 onwards, clerks who took on additional judicial tasks were referred to as legal clerks in Prussia , according to the “Prussian relief order” . In Switzerland , court clerks are trained lawyers who take part in court hearings and are involved in decision-making. You write the reasons for the judgment.

See also

Web links

Commons : Schreiber  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. z. B. Åke W. Sjöberg, In Praise of the Scribal Art, Journal of Cuneiform Studies 24/4, 1972, 26-131
  2. AO. 9073; TCL 16 96
  3. K 652 (ABL 151)
  4. Simon Parpola, The Man Without a Scribe and the Question of Literacy in the Assyrian Empire. In: Beate Pongratz- Leisten, Hartmut Kühne, Paolo Xella (eds.), Ana Šadi Labnānî lū allik. Contributions to ancient oriental and Mediterranean cultures. Festschrift for Wolfgang Röllig. AOAT 247, Verlag Butzon & Bercker Kevelaer / Neukirchener Verlag Neukirchen-Vluyn 1997, 315 ff.
  5. Brian E. Colless, Divine Education. Numbers 17/2, 1970, 120f.
  6. Uwe Gepp, AP: Public writers: Descendants of Cyrano de Bergerac ( Memento of the original from December 27, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. ,, August 16, 2004 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  7. Europe's writers are looking for niches ,, June 12, 2011
  8. ^ Thomas Schneider: Review: Morocco - The last public writers , ARD-Weltspiegel, December 5, 2010
  9. ↑ The triumphant advance of cell phones ,, June 12, 2011
  10. ^ Herder's Conversations Lexicon. Freiburg im Breisgau 1854, Volume 1, p. 34. here online at
  11. The court clerk - more court than clerk?  ( Page no longer available , search in web archives ) (PDF; 203 kB) of the Association of St. Gallen Court Clerks@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /