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A scroll is usually divided up into pages, which are sometimes separate sheets of papyrus or parchment glued together at the edges, or may be marked divisions of a continuous roll of writing material. The scroll is usually unrolled so that one page is exposed at a time, for writing or reading, with the remaining pages rolled up to the left and right of the visible page. It is unrolled from side to side, and the text is written in lines from the top to the bottom of the page. Depending on the language, the letters may be written left to right, right to left, or alternating in direction (boustrophedon).
Some scrolls are simply rolled up pages; others may have wooden rollers on each end: Torah scrolls have rather elaborate rollers befitting their ceremonial function.
History of scroll use
Scrolls were the first form of editable record keeping texts, used in Eastern Mediterranean ancient Egyptian civilizations.
Parchment scroll used by Israelites after Sinai was the first use of scrolls in the recording of literature before the codex or bound book with pages was invented by the Latins in the 1st century AD to differentiate their usage from that of the Judeans who were recently conquered. Nevertheless, scrolls were more highly regarded than codices until well into Roman times where they were usually written in single latitudinal column.
The ink used in writing scrolls had to adhere to a surface that was rolled and unrolled, so special inks were developed. Even so, ink would slowly flake off of scrolls. If the ink from too many letters is lost, a Torah scroll is no longer used.
Shorter pieces of parchment or paper are called rolls or rotuli, although usage of the term by modern historians varies with periods. Historians of the classical period tend to use "roll" instead of "scroll". Rolls may still be many meters or feet long, and were used in the medieval and Early Modern period in Europe and various West Asian cultures for manuscript administrative documents intended for various uses, including accounting, rent-rolls, legal agreements, and inventories. A distinction that sometimes applies is that the lines of writing in rotuli run across the width of the roll (that is to say, are parallel with any unrolled portion) rather than along the length, divided into page-like sections. Rolls may be wider than most scrolls, up to perhaps 60 cm or two feet wide. Rolls were often stored together in a special cupboard on shelves.
A special Chinese form of short book, called the "whirlwind book," consists of several pieces of paper bound at the top with bamboo and then rolled up.
In Scotland the term scrow was used from about the thirteenth to the seventeenth century for scroll, writing, or documents in list or schedule form. There existed an office of Clerk of the Scrow (Rotulorum Clericus) meaning the Clerk of the Rolls or Clerk of the Register.
Replacement by the Codex
The scroll has now largely been replaced by the codex, a process which started almost as soon as the codex was invented. For example, in Egypt by the fifth century, the codex outnumbered the scroll or roll by ten to one based on surviving examples, and by the sixth century the scroll had almost vanished from use as a vehicle for literature.
- Hanging scroll
- Herculaneum papyri
- Sefer Torah
- Woodblock printing
- Beal, Peter. (2008) "scroll" in A Dictionary of English Manuscript Terminology 1450–2000 Online edition. Oxford University Press, 2008. http://www.oxfordreference.com Retrieved 21 November 2013.
- International Dunhuang Project - Chinese scroll and "whirlwind" forms from the 10th century
- Beal, 2008, "scrow".
- Roberts, Colin H., and Skeat, T.C. (1987), The Birth of the Codex. London: Oxford University Press for the British Academy, p. 75.
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