5th seminar of the Transversal Research Group in Palaeography – GRTP

Friday, December 7, 2018, Collège de France

“Paleography and the Deliberately Illegible”


Whereas the purpose of writing is to circulate information and that of cryptography is to keep it secret, there are also intermediate forms which, neither clear nor coded, are consciously designed to be read with difficulty. Texts may thus be rendered in deliberately deformed, abnormal or exceedingly stylized writing, which makes them accessible only to a limited category of readers. What is the purpose of such intentionally illegible scripts? What are the methods and intentions of writers in thus expressing and concealing at the same time? Such are some of the questions that the speakers of the 5th GRTP seminar will address in their respective fields.




  • “Celebrating Signs: Practices of Enigmatic Writing in Ancient Egypt”, Andreas Stauder (EPHE)
  • “Some Cases of (Almost) Illegible Writing in Greek and Latin Papyri”, Jean-Luc Fournet (College of France, EPHE)
  • “Arabic Tax Receipts: Hermetic Scrawls?” Naim Vanthieghem (CNRS, IRHT)
  • “Tugra and Hanfusa: The Stylised, Illegible Signatures of Sultans and Rabbis in the Ottoman Empire”, Yael Barukh (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
  • “Is Readability That Necessary? Hebrew Writings with Complex Layouts and Scripts”, Judith Olszowy-Schlanger (EPHE)
  • “Hiding One’s Name but Writing It: Graphic Taboos, Twisted Scripts and Rhetorical Preterition in Ancient Vietnam”, Philippe Papin (EPHE)
  • “Extreme Scripts: Pushing Latin Writing to the Limits of Eye and Hand”, Marc Smith (ENC, EPHE)


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