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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a historical and philological discipline, a branch of paleography.

The term “papyrology” is somewhat broader than the actual subject studied. Papyrology comprises the reading, interpretation, and publication of only Greek, Latin, and late (Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine) demotic and Coptic papyri, as well as of inscriptions on ostraca (shards) and on wooden tablets affixed to mummies. Egyptology, Semitics, and other disciplines study hieratic, early demotic, Hebrew, Aramaic, and other papyri.

Papyrology studies and classifies papyri according to period, place, and content; it also studies the forms and variants of letters and symbols, and grammatical and stylistic features. Papyri are divided into literary and nonliterary. The former include the works of ancient writers and scholars, and the latter, decrees, legal proceedings, deeds of purchase, contracts, inventories, and official and personal correspondence.

The first Greek papyrus texts were found in 1752 in Her-culaneum and in 1778 in Egypt. During the next 100 years more papyri were found, but the real impetus for the study of papyri and for the emergence of papyrology as an independent discipline came from the immense finds in Al Fayyum in Egypt in 1877 and 1878. This event was followed by special searches for papyri, which were then studied and translated. Early in the 1890’s the Dublin scholar J. Mahaffy published the papyri discovered in Al Fayyum late in the 1880’s by W. M. Flinders Petrie. In 1891 the English scholar F. Kenyon published Aristotle’s Constitution of Athens, found in Egypt, and in the 1890’s he published the numerous papyri of the British Museum, both literary works, such as those of Herodas and Bacchylides, and commercial texts. In 1898 the English scholars B. Grenfell and A. Hunt began publishing the papyri they had unearthed in Oxyrhynchus. Among the Oxyrhynchus papyri were many fragments of works by such ancient authors as Hesiod, Alcaeus, Sappho, Pindar, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides that had not been preserved in medieval manuscripts.

Beginning in the late 19th century such French scholars as P. Jouguet, G. Lefebvre, and T. Reinach began publishing numerous Greek commercial and literary papyri; Lefebvre also published fragments of plays by Menander. In 1900 the German scholar U. Wilcken founded the journal Archiv für Papyrusfor-schung und verwandte Gebiete, which became the principal papyrological journal; the 21st volume appeared in 1971. In the early decades of the 20th century, simultaneously with the publication of the Oxyrhynchus papyri, publication was begun of the numerous papyri kept in major collections. Multivolume editions of the papyri in the museums of Berlin and in other German museums were prepared by Wilcken and other German scholars, among them W. Schubart and F. Preisigke. The series Papyri Greek and Latin has been published in Florence since 1912 by the Italian scholar G. Vitelli. Papyri in Russian and Georgian Collections (vols. 1–5, 1925–35) were published by the Soviet scholars G. F. Tsereteli, O. Kriuger, and P. Ernshtedt.

The vast quantity of available materials enabled scholars to make generalizations from papyri data as early as the beginning of the 20th century. In recent decades many scholarly institutions have published and studied papyri. The publication of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri by the British scholars E. Turner, C. Robert, and E. Handley continues; the 41st volume appeared on Jan. 1, 1973. The Swiss scholars V. Martin and R. Kasser have published, among other editions, papyri from J. Bodmer’s collection. Since 1946 the Journal of Juristic Papyrology, founded by the Polish scholar R. Taubenschlag, has been published in Warsaw, and the Zeitschriftfur Papyrologie und Epigraphik has been published in the Federal Republic of Germany since 1967 under the editorship of R. Merkelbach. These journals regularly publish new papyrus texts and scholarly articles on papyrology. The following specialized papyrological journals are published: The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology (London, 1914—), Aegyptus (Milan, 1920—), Chronique d’Egypte (Brussels, 1927—), and Etudes de papyrologie (Cairo, 1932—). The International Association of Papyrologists, founded in 1947 and based in Brussels, holds international papyrological congresses.

The principal centers in which papyri are kept and studied include the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the British Museum in London, the State Museum in East Berlin, the Louvre in Paris, the Austrian National Library in Vienna, the Institute of Papyrology in Marburg (Federal Republic of Germany), the Medici-Laurenziana Library in Florence, Columbia University in New York, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and the University of Warsaw in the Polish People’s Republic. In the USSR the main repositories include the State Hermitage Museum and the Saltykov-Shchedrin State Public Library in Leningrad, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, and the Institute of Manuscripts of the Georgian Academy of Sciences in Tbilisi.


Buzeskul, V. P. Otkrytiia XIX i nach. XX veka ν oblasti istorii drevnego mira, part 2: Grecheskii mir. Petrograd, 1924.
Tsereteli, G. F. “Papirologiia ν SSSR.” Trudy Tbilisskogo gos. un-ta, 1936, vol. 4.
Fikhman, I. F. “Sovetskaia papirologiia i izuchenie sotsial’no-ekonomicheskoi istorii greko-rimskogo Egipta ν 1917–1966.” Vestnik drevnei istorii, 1967, no. 3.
Mitteis, L., and U. Wilcken. Grundziige und Chrestomathie der Papyruskunde, vols. 1–2. Leipzig-Berlin, 1912. (Reprinted in 1963.) (Contains bibliography.)
Schubart, W. Einfúhrung in die Papyruskunde. Berlin, 1918.
Preisendanz, K. Papyruskunde und Papyrusforschung. Leipzig, 1933.
Turner, E. Greek Papyri: An Introduction. Oxford, 1968.
Montevecchi, O. La papirologia. Turin, 1973.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.