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Anonymous Shorthand Writers (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.23.1-2)

Role: Literate Worker; Secretary

Gender: Male

Date:  Mid-third century CE

Place: Alexandria

Language:  Greek

Literary Genre: Bios, History; Narrative

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 shorthand writers or tachygraphers (Ταχυγράφοι) were furnished to the mid-third-century Christian teacher, philosopher, and polymath Origen of Alexandria by his patron Ambrose (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.18.1–2). That Ambrose “supplied” these anonymous workers suggests that they were enslaved and were “gifted” in the same way as Roman elites gifted literate workers to one another.  

As we can infer from Eusebius' statement, shorthand writing was a difficult and arduous form of writing that was particularly associated with enslaved and formerly enslaved writers (Moss). The mythology of shorthand writing connecting its origins to servile workers like Tiro (Jerome, Orig. 1.22) and a freedman of Maecenas (Dio Cassius, Hist. 55.7.6.) and a contract from Egypt suggests that the skill took enslaved children two years to learn (P. Oxy 4.724). 

As a system of writing, Greek shorthand was non-pictographic and was somewhat ambiguous (Milne). The system was adapted by individual workers and shorthand style varied from place to place and, perhaps, household to household. Thus, in order to translate a text written in shorthand into longhand, the same scribe who took dictation would need to expand it (Moss). This state of affairs means that tachygraphers were a fundamental non-fungible part of Origen’s literary output and played a substantial role in transmitting his ideas.

Keywords: Christian; Dictation; Eusebius; Literate Worker; Origen; Secretary; Shorthand

Related Entries: Anonymous Female Calligraphers (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.23.1-2); Anonymous Copyist (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.23)


Haines-Eitzen, Kim. Guardians of Letters: Literacy, Power and the Transmitters of Early Christian Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Coogan, Jeremiah. “Tabular Thinking in Late Ancient Palestine: Instrumentality, Work, and the Construction of Knowledge.” Pages 57–81 in Knowledge Construction in Late Antiquity. Edited by Monika Amsler. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2023.

Milne, H. J. Greek Shorthand Manuals. London: Egypt Exploration Society, 1934.

Moss, Candida R. “The Secretary: Enslaved Workers, Stenography, and the Production of Early Christian Literature.” JTS 74.1 (2023): 20–56.

How to Cite:

Coogan, Jeremiah and Candida Moss. “Anonymous Shorthand Writers (Eusebius, HE 6.23.1-2)” Ancient Enslaved Christians. Accessed DAY MONTH YEAR. <URL>.



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