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A Roman wax tablet with a wooden frame and black wax

A wax tablet from ancient Rome

What were wax tablets used for?

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, and paper hadn’t been invented yet.)

(More about papyrus)

People used wax tablets to do schoolwork, or to write grocery lists,  They wrote instructions to their co-workers, or letters to their friends.

(More about schools in ancient Greece)

How to make a wax tablet

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.

Making the frame

If you’re using cardboard, cut it to the size of a small paperback book. 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.

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. Tie them together with twine to make a little book like in the picture.

How to melt the wax

Melting 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.

(More about bees and beeswax)

But regular paraffin from the grocery store is also fine. (Paraffin is made from oil.) Don’t melt wax directly on the stove! Put the wax in a tin can or a glass jar. Put the glass jar inside a bigger pot full of water. Heat the whole thing together until the wax melts.

Pouring the wax on to the tablet

Then carefully take the can with the hot wax out of the hot water. 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
Or 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 home