A scroll is a length of paper, parchment or papyrus that is used to record information. Scrolls are kept rolled up when not in use. Scrolls were a widespread means of recording textual and visual information before the development of printing and books. The library of Alexandria in Ancient Egypt would have contained scrolls, for example. Scrolls are still used today in some contexts for ceremonial purposes.
Ancient Egyptian Papyrus Scrolls
In Ancient Egypt, scrolls were made from dry woven reeds called "papyrus." Examples of this style of scroll include the Egyptian "Book of the Dead," contained in the Papyrus of Ani. This scroll is 78 feet in length and 17 inches in height, and was written in around 1250 BCE.
Ancient Israelite scrolls were made out of the skin of kosher animals. According to Hebrew texts, the Torah was transcribed by Moses onto such a scroll in around 1200 BCE. This style of animal skin scroll lasts for a very long time. Torah scrolls are written using quill pens and are subject to extremely high standards of quality control to ensure each new Torah is an exact copy of the previous one.
The Romans were the first people to use scrolls longitudinally, rather than horizontally, so that the scrolls were read with the rolls of paper at the top and the bottom rather than at the sides. The Romans were also the first to develop the modern book format for the written word, which they referred to as "codex."
European Medieval Scrolls
Scrolls were used in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire by monks to preserve sacred texts and copies of the Bible. During the Medieval period, scrolls were largely replaced by modern books. The style of scrolls used during the early Medieval period used vellum, or animal skin, for paper.
The Imperial Chinese used scrolls after about 900 BCE. The Chinese used a style of scroll called a "sutra" that folded in the manner of a concertina. This means they did not have to unroll the whole scroll to read something in the middle.
Scrolls have been used in the modern era for ceremonial purposes, such as in the rewarding of academic qualifications and diplomas. Traditional East Asian paintings are displayed on scrolls designed to hang on walls.