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Anonymous Female Calligraphers (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.23.1-2)

Role: Copyist; Calligrapher

Gender: Female

Date: Mid-third century CE

Place: Alexandria

Language: Greek

Literary Genre: History

Title of Work: Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 


Reference: Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.18.1–2; 6.23.1–2 cf. Jerome, Vir. ill. 56; 61.3

Original Text:

Ἐξ ἐκείνου, δὲ καὶ Ὠριγένει τῶν εἰς τὰς θείας γραφὰς ὑπομνημάτων ἐγίνετο ἀρχή, Ἀμβροσίου παρορμῶντος αὐτὸν μυρίαις οὐ προτροπαῖς ταῖς διὰ λόγων καὶ παρακλήσεσιν αὐτὸ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀφθονωτάταις τῶν ἐπιτηδείων χορηγίαις. 2 Ταχυγράφοι τε γὰρ αὐτῷ πλείους ἢ ἑπτὰ τὸν ἀριθμὸν παρῆσαν ὑπαγορεύοντι, χρόνοις τεταγμένοις ἀλλήλους ἀμείβοντες,  βιβλιογράφοι τε οὐχ ἥττους ἅμα καὶ κόραις ἐπὶ τὸ καλλιγραφεῖν ἠσκημέναις· ὧν ἁπάντων τὴν δέουσαν τῶν ἐπιτηδείων ἄφθονον περιουσίαν ὁ Ἀμβρόσιος παρεστήσατο·  (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.18.1–2)

English Translation:

From that time, Origen also began commentaries on the divine writings, with Ambrose urging him on, not only with the kind of encouragement and exhortation that comes in words, but also with a plentiful supply of what was required. For more than seven shorthand writers were with him when he dictated, relieving each other on a schedule, and just as many scribes, along with maidens trained in calligraphy. Ambrose generously supplied what was required for all of them. (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.18.1–2)

Text: Eduard Schwartz, Eusebius Kirchesngeschichte (Repr.; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2021) Translation: Modified from Jeremy Schott, The History of the Church: A New Translation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019)


Seven enslaved female calligraphers (κόραις ἐπὶ τὸ καλλιγραφεῖν ἠσκημέναις) assisted the mid-third-century Christian teacher, philosopher, and polymath Origen of Alexandria with his literary needs. They were “supplied” to Origen by his patron Ambrose, a detail that suggests that these anonymous workers were enslaved and were “gifted” in the same way as Roman elites gifted literate workers to one another. It is possible that these young women had been educated in Ambrose’s household in much the same way as the wealthy Roman Atticus trained all of the members of his household to read and write (Haines-Eitzen).

In scholarship on ancient literacy it is often assumed that the vast majority of women were illiterate. The reference here to professionally trained female calligraphers, thus, invites comment. The existence of Eusebius’s calligraphers suggests that women were also trained to be literary experts (Haines-Eitzen). Other examples of enslaved literate women include Sulpicia Petale (AE 1928, 73); the enslaved Christian teacher Grapte (Herm.Vis.2.4); and, potentially, the woman who holds tablets in a second century relief depicting a butcher’s shop originally from Trastevere in Rome (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden, inv. ZV 44).

Of equal interest is the young women’s ages. Eusebius presents the calligraphers as young women (κοραῖος). Many enslaved literate workers were young because their senses were known to be sharper than those of adults (Moss). Examples like Melior, a distinguished accountant whose funerary relief indicates that he died at the age of thirteen, indicate that enslaved copyists could reach positions of distinction at a young age (Eckhardt, 130).

 The same term “calligrapher” (καλλιγραφος) is used by the fourth-century monk Epiphanius of a well-educated Christian copyist named Hieracas (Pan. 67.1.1–4; 67.7.9).

Keywords:  Christian; Copyist; Eusebius; Literate Worker; Origen; Women

Related Entries: Anonymous Copyists (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.23.1-2); Anonymous Shorthand Writers (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.23); Grapte (Herm. Vis. 2)


Eckardt, Hella. Writing and Power in the Roman World: Literacies and Material Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Haines-Eitzen, Kim. “‘Girls Trained in Beautiful Writing’: Female Scribes in Roman Antiquity and Early Christianity.” JECS 6.4 (1998): 629-646.

———Guardians of Letters: Literacy, Power and the Transmitters of Early Christian Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Moss, Candida R. “Disability.” In Writing, Enslavement, and Power in the Roman Mediterranean. Edited by Jeremiah Coogan, Joseph Howley, and Candida Moss. Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming.

How to Cite:

Coogan, Jeremiah and Candida Moss. “Anonymous Female Calligraphers (Eusebius, HE 6.23.1)” Ancient Enslaved Christians. Accessed DAY MONTH YEAR. <>.



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