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Andrew Taylor Still with his amanuensis Annie Morris, who is at a typewriter

An amanuensis (/əˌmænjuˈɛnsɪs/) is a person employed to write or type what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another. An amanuensis may also be a person who signs a document on behalf of another under the latter's authority.[1]

In some academic contexts, an amanuensis can assist an injured or disabled person in taking written examinations. Eric Fenby acted as an amanuensis in assisting the blind and paralysed composer Frederick Delius in writing down the notes that Delius dictated.[2]


Sarcophagus relief of Valerius Petronianus, with his slave holding writing tablets (4th century AD)

In ancient Rome, an amanuensis (Latin āmanuēnsis, “secretary”, from ab-, “from” + manus, “hand”[3]) was a slave or freedperson who provided literary and secretarial services such as taking dictation and perhaps assisting in composition. Amanuenses were typically Greek, might be either male or female,[4] and were among the higher-status slaves in ancient Rome who were considered to add value[5] to their masters' lives rather than serving as mere instruments of production.[6] Literary slaves had certain privileges under the law and could be manumitted at a younger age.[7]

Amanuenses played an extensive role in medieval writing and the dissemination of texts. Visionaries in particular relied on amanuenses to translate their experiences into written form.[8] One question in studies of the Christian mystic Margery Kempe, not known to have received a formal education, is the extent to which her amanuenses shaped her self-titled book, completed in 1438.[9] The work of the amanuensis when the author was minimally or not literate likely involved taking dictation, reading back, getting feedback from the author for revision, and possibly shaping the text further during transcription.[10] An amanuensis might bring literary polish to visionary experience, as Adam of Eynsham, for instance, is thought to have drawn on the underworld book of the Aeneid to shape the "rather rambling and confused" visions of his brother Edmund.[11] An amanuensis might act as a translator as well as transcriber. For example, Petrus of Alvastra (aka Peter Olafsson) wrote down the visions of Bridget of Sweden as she recounted them in Swedish, and then translated them into Latin.[12]

Other uses


In Finland, an amanuenssi is an administrative employee of a university, research institution or museum. In Finnish universities, amanuenses can be involved with student guidance counseling, organising course activities, etc.[13]

Job titles


A similar term, Handlanger, exists in German and Dutch (nowadays in both Dutch and German its negative connotation of an unscrupulous, low person acting as criminal assistant prevails whereas the original use of this term for an unskilled and possibly also illiterate person assisting, in the literal sense of lending a hand at construction works has become rather rare).[14]

In French, the term "Écrivain Public" (Public Writer) help people to write personal or professional things according to the client.[15]


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary 3rd ed. (2003)
  2. ^ Eric Fenby (1936) Delius as I Knew Him, G. Bell & Sons, Ltd., London
  3. ^ "amanuensis", Wiktionary, 2023-03-17, retrieved 2023-08-07
  4. ^ Susan Treggiari, "Jobs for Women," American Journal of Ancient History 1 (1976), p. 78.
  5. ^ Clarence A. Forbes,"The Education and Training of Slaves in Antiquity," Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 86 (1955), p. 341.
  6. ^ Jakob Fortunat Stagl, "Favor libertatis: Slaveholders as Freedom Fighters," in The Position of Roman Slaves: Social Realities and Legal Differences (De Gruyter, 2023), p. 229
  7. ^ W. Martin Bloomer, “Schooling in Persona: Imagination and Subordination in Roman Education,” Classical Antiquity 16:1 (1997), p. 76, n. 44, citing K. Bradley, Slaves and Masters in the Roman Empire (1984), p. 92, with reference to Gaius, Institutes 1.19; 39.
  8. ^ Eileen Gardiner, introduction to Medieval Visions of Heaven and Hell: A Sourcebook (Garland, 1993), p. xxvi.
  9. ^ Rory G. Critten, Author, Scribe, and Book in Late Medieval English Literature (D. S. Brewer, 2018), p. 77.
  10. ^ William Provost, "The English Religious Enthusiast," in Medieval Women Writers (University of Georgia Press, 1984), p. 297.
  11. ^ C. J. Holdsworth, "Visions and Visionaries in the Middle Ages," History 48:163 (1963), p. 150.
  12. ^ Diane Cady, "Issues of Sexuality, Gender and Ethnicity," in The Medieval British Literature Handbook (Continuum, 2009), p. 207.
  13. ^ "Amanuenssi". jyu.fi. Archived from the original on 2013-12-15. Retrieved 2013-12-15.
  14. ^ Handlanger, der at duden.de
  15. ^ https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/french-english/%C3%A9crivain-public

Further reading

  • Aland, Kurt (1961). "The Problem of Anonymity and Pseudonymity in Christian Literature of the First Two Centuries". Journal of Theological Studies. 12. Oxford University Press: 39–49.
  • Bahr, Gordon J. (1966). "Paul and Letter Writing in the First Century". Catholic Biblical Quarterly. 28. Catholic Biblical Association of America: 465–477.
  • Bahr, Gordon J. (1968). "The Subscriptions in the Pauline Letters". Journal of Biblical Literature. 2 (1): 27–41. doi:10.2307/3263419. JSTOR 3263419.
  • Bauckham, Richard J. (1988). "Pseudo-Apostolic Letters". Journal of Biblical Literature. 107 (3): 469–494. doi:10.2307/3267581. JSTOR 3267581.
  • Carson, D.A. (2000). "Pseudonymity and Pseudepigraphy". In Evans, Craig A.; Porter, Stanley E. (eds.). Dictionary of New Testament Background. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. pp. 857–864.
  • Cousar, Charles B. (1996). "The Letters of Paul". Interpreting Biblical Texts. Nashville: Abingdon.
  • Deissmann, G. Adolf. Bible Studies. Trans. Alexander Grieve. 1901. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1988.
  • Doty, William G. Letters in Primitive Christianity. Guides to Biblical Scholarship. New Testament. Ed. Dan O. Via Jr. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988.
  • Gamble, Harry Y. “Amanuensis.” Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 1. Ed. David Noel Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
  • Haines-Eitzen, Kim (1998). "'Girls Trained in Beautiful Writing': Female Scribes in Roman Antiquity and Early Christianity". Journal of Early Christian Studies. 6 (4): 629–646. doi:10.1353/earl.1998.0071. S2CID 171026920.
  • Longenecker, Richard N. “Ancient Amanuenses and the Pauline Epistles.” New Dimensions in New Testament Study. Eds. Richard N. Longenecker and Merrill C. Tenney. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974. 281–97. idem, “On the Form, Function, and Authority of the New Testament Letters.” Scripture and Truth. Eds. D.A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983. 101–14.
  • Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. Paul the Letter-Writer: His World, His Options, His Skills. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1995.
  • Richards, E. Randolph. The Secretary in the Letters of Paul. Tübingen: Mohr, 1991. idem, “The Codex and the Early Collection of Paul’s Letters.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 8 (1998): 151–66. idem, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition, and Collection. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004.
  • Robson, E. Iliff (1917). "Composition and Dictation in New Testament Books". Journal of Theological Studies. 18: 288–301.
  • Stowers, Stanley K. Letter Writing in Greco-Roman Antiquity. Library of Early Christianity. Vol. 8. Ed. Wayne A. Meeks. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1989.
  • Wall, Robert W. “Introduction to Epistolary Literature.” New Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. 10. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Nashville: Abingdon, 2002. 369–91.