Make your own wax tablet - Ancient Rome
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Wax Tablet Project

wooden framed slab with blackened coating and letters scratched into it
A Roman wax tablet

February 2017 - People in ancient Greece, in the Roman Empire, and in medieval Europe often used wax tablets to write on, if the writing was temporary and not very important. (Papyrus was too expensive for everyday.) They used wax tablets to do schoolwork, or to write grocery lists, or to write instructions to their co-workers, or letters to their friends.

You can make your own wax tablet and try writing on it. First, find a piece of thin wood - the wood you get from breaking thin boards at taekwando classes is perfect, or use a piece of cardboard. If you're using cardboard, cut it to the size of a small paperback book, and cut another piece the same size to be the frame. Measure an inch in from the edges of the frame piece, and cut out the center, so you have a frame, and glue the frame to the back. You can paint the frame with black and brown paint to look like wood if you want to. To be even more authentic, make two or three of these tablets, and tie them together with twine like in the picture.


How to melt the wax

When the frame is all dry and ready, melt some wax in a double boiler, the way it shows to in the video. If you want to be really authentic, get some beeswax, but regular paraffin from the grocery store is also fine. Don't melt wax directly on the stove! Put the wax in a tin can or a glass jar, and put that inside a bigger pot full of water, and heat the whole thing together until the wax melts.


Start by ordering beeswax...

Then carefully take the can with the hot wax out of the hot water and use a paintbrush or a wooden spoon to smooth the wax all over the inside of your tablet (not on the frame).

Let your tablet dry, and you can try writing on it! Use a pencil with the tip broken off. Can you smooth out the wax with your pencil to erase your writing? That's what Roman and medieval kids did.

More about Roman schools
More about medieval schools
More about wax
* Mosaics Project
* Cement Project
* Gladiators Project

Bibliography and further reading about Roman arches:

A day in ancient Rome
The Arch of Titus
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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