rating: +1+x

Basic Information

An amanuensis is a scribe, servant, or ghost writer who takes dictation or writes letters on behalf of their employer. It is a profession with a very long history.

"I Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord" - from the end of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, in The Bible

This is an important part of the entourage of any successful author or politician from the ancient world until the creation of the typewriter at least, at which point it melds into the secretary1 or personal assistant. To be fair, I'm sure plenty of amaneunsis' jobs involved a lot more than just letter writing and dictation, so there's a decent chance they're also a factotum. The actual reason for employing an amanuensis - or indeed any other scribe could vary. The primary motivation would normally have been illiteracy - in medieval Europe, even kings were not guaranteed to be literate and thus needed to farm out reading and writing. A step up from there was simply proficiency - physical writing takes practice to get it done quickly and neatly. Compare, for example, the handwriting of someone that regularly writes large quantities of text to someone that typically uses a keyboard to write - and then factor in lower qualities of pens and papers (or, to reverse that, the skills required to use a typewriter). Even orthography was not standardised for a long time, which further hampered reading and writing.

Any Standard Royal Court ought to have an amanuensis. Some Kings of France even had an official who was a very specialized sub-type of amanuensis called the secrétaire de la main du roi, whose job was to forge2 the King's Imprimatur on any document that the King was too busy (or lazy) to sign himself. Note this is not the same thing as a deputy who can sign on behalf of the office holder under their own authority - as, for example, a "pp'd"3 signature or the work of a Lord Privy Seal4 - as the amanuensis (in theory at least) merely takes dictation and exercises no judgement or agency. This job would probably also be "a thing" where the king himself was illiterate or semi-literate for any reason (including infirmity), whether the fact is well known or not.



Game and Story Use

  • Toiling thanklessly in the background and rushing to keep up with their master's dictates, an amaneunsis would work as a nice little bit of local color or minor background character whose presence demonstrates the success, opulence, extravagance or arrogance of a more important major character.
  • An extremely competent amanuensis might actually be the secret to my success for a bumbling incompetent statesman or artist who gets all the credit.
    • The amanuensis may actually be the puppetmaster or power behind the throne.
    • The PCs may need to strike a deal with (or secure permission from) a tempermental nobleman who's stubborn and hard to sway. But if they figure out that his trusted servant either has his master's ear, or is willing to engage in a little illicit forgery, the PCs can get their contract another way. The difficulty of the charisma check to sway the amanuensis may be lower than a similar check on his arrogant master, especially if you treat him with the dignity and respect his superiors so often neglect.
  • It would be entirely credible - if somewhat rude - for a Roman patron to convey his desires to his clients by way of his amanuensis. Rude because, at least superficially, this could well mean a free (if poor) Roman citizen taking orders from a (quite possibly foreign) slave.
  • This could also be the job title of the guy that is always stopping you from being able to talk to the important NPC that you need to talk to - especially if you won't level with him and use terms like "talk to the organ grinder, not the monkey".
  • A skilled amanuensis could actually run his master's affairs for quite a long time without his master being present - or even alive. Getting him to stop might be a significant problem, even for the master's heir.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License