What is papyrus for the ancient world

What is papyrus? Surely many will answer that this is writing material that was used in ancient Egypt - and they will be absolutely right. From the beginning of its existence, mankind had a need to record the most significant events. Cave paintings, runes carved in stone, clay tablets - everything went in the course. And for the Egyptians it was natural to use for this purpose a reed plant from the sedge family.

The history of papyrus, how it was made, for what purposes it was used except for writing and some of the most interesting facts will be covered in this article.

what is papyrus

Cyperus papyrus

Along the Nile, Cyperus papyrus has long been growing in huge numbers. This wetland plant often reaches a height of about 5 meters, having almost leafless shoots of a triangular shape, with a diameter of 7 cm. It has a woody rhizome. At the end of a young plant, an umbellate inflorescence is observed, more reminiscent of a panicle to brush away the dust.

It is believed that its use as a writing material began as early as the 3rd millennium BC.e., and now Cyperus papyrus almost disappeared from its natural range. Now it is more grown for decorative purposes. Based on the reports of ancient authors (Pliny the Elder, Theophrastus) it can be concluded that it also grew on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Not only the ancestors of the Syrians knew what papyrus is. The whole ancient world found him a worthy use. But from about the first millennium the Egyptian pharaohs had a complete monopoly on the production of this writing material. Egyptian papyrus was able to oust only Chinese paper in the 12th century.

papyrus history

Manufacturing technology

Pliny the Elder touched on the issue of papyrus production. And thanks to his works, mankind has not lost this mystery, and the guides in Egypt, telling the story of the ancient papyrus, always have a stable income. How was it made?

For these purposes, stalks of the required length were cut, which, in turn, were freed from the bark. Masters interested in the core. She was cut into thin strips, which were then beaten off with a hammer and rolled out with tools like a kitchen rolling pin. Now, after the initial necessary processing, such strips were laid out overlapped on a flat surface.At a right angle (across), another layer of strips was superimposed, and all the material obtained was subjected to a press. For this, large smooth stones could fit perfectly.

The scorching sun of Egypt prepared the sheets for further work. And again, beating with a hammer, ironing with a "rolling pin." After this treatment, it was necessary only to glue the sheets together.

This is how the famous Egyptian papyrus was made - one of the most important information carriers in the history of the Ancient world and the Middle Ages.

ancient papyrus

Where else was this plant used?

The ancient Egyptians, looking at the properties of Cyperus papyrus, put it at the service of themselves. What is papyrus for them? These are shoes, clothes, cloth and even boats. In the legends about the confrontation of the god Set (the personification of the forces of darkness, chaos) and Horus (bright forces) there is a story about their latest contest in the struggle for power - the throne of Osiris. The supreme God Ra sent Osiris and Isis to rule the earth, to help people, to teach and to preserve. Grateful people in every possible way honored their intercessors. Osiris' s brother Seth envied this and killed the Supreme Ruler of Egypt, taking his place on the throne.The son of a murdered Horus came to grips with an insidious uncle.

So many years their confrontation lasted until they agreed on the last boat competition. Seth made his boat of stone, Horus - of wood (in other versions of the legend - of papyrus). It was an idea-level victory. Mind, wisdom, practicality conquered vanity and pride because the stone boat sank.

Abstracting from a beautiful legend, it is necessary to remember how Thor Heyerdahl crossed the Atlantic on a papyrus shuttle, which was excellent proof of the reliability of this material and of how magnificent ancient Egyptians were navigators.

Egyptian papyrus

Alexandria Library

Speaking of papyrus, it is impossible not to mention the Alexandria Library. According to the creators, it was supposed to be a concentration of science and culture. The library was located near the Nile Delta, next to one of the seven wonders of the world - the Faroese Lighthouse.

It was made of stone, the theater was located next to it, but the main treasure here was the scrolls, containing at that time all the information that humankind had accumulated bit by bit. No one knows the exact number, various numbers are called.Unfortunately, the Alexandria Library was destroyed by fire. According to another version, which various conspiracy therapists like to voice, the disappeared ancient papyruses are kept in the Vatican.


Until the XII century AD, papyrus remained one of the main stationery. Although parchment was used in Europe, enlightened people knew what papyrus was. Today its importance has, of course, decreased. The plant itself is grown more for ornamental purposes. After all, the technology of information storage methods has stepped far forward. It remains only to thank the Egyptian papyrus for the help that he provided us in preserving the heritage of our ancestors.

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