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Numerous documents from the land of the Nile


Almost all the items in our collection come from Egypt, where papyrus has been preserved by the dry climate. The oldest items date from about the 15th century B.C., the most recent from about the 16th century A.D.

The documents record all the languages and scripts that were used over the turbulent history of the land of the Nile since the time of the New Kingdom of the pharaohs. The majority of them are in Arabic, Greek or Coptic, but the number of hieroglyphic, hieratic and demotic texts is also significant. The less numerous Hebrew, Aramaic, Syrian, Ethiopian and Latin texts and the documents in Pahlavi (Middle Persian) are of great importance historically, because they document the multilingual culture of the country or shed light on specific historic situations.

Papyrological millennium

A particularly richly documented period – in terms of general papyrological heritage – was the period from the 3rd century B.C. to the 7th century A.D. During this “papyrological millennium”, Egypt was first part of the Hellenic world and then, from 30 A.D, a province of the Roman Empire. This means that the texts that have been handed down to us on papyrus and similar writing surfaces document firstly the history of Graeco-Roman Egypt and then that of Byzantine-Christian Egypt. The enchorial traditions and Egyptian language (which survives as Coptic) remained alive even when, in 641 A.D., the country fell under Arab rule and the slow process of Arabisation and Islamisation began that was to continue for centuries.

3000 years of papyrus history under one roof

The written records preserved in the Department of Papyri reflect the historic, cultural, linguistic and religious changes over a period of about 3000 years. The main focus of the collection is on documentary texts from late antiquity (4th to 7th century A.D.).

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