Leuven Homepage of Papyrus Collections

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  • W. Clarysse
  • K. Vandorpe


From the original project website (via Archive.org, 2005-10-26):

The Leuven Homepage of Papyrus Collections consists of two sections, one giving information about the collections themselves, the other about the groups of papyri, which papyrologists call "archives"


This part finds its origin in a colloquium that took place in March 2000 Brussels (Royal Academy) and in Leuven. Some twenty papyrologists and keepers of papyri presented each one or more collections in Europe and the U.S., giving information on the number of papyri, published and unpublished, the inventarisation and publication policy, the prospectives of on-line consultation etc. The results were bundled in a small volume "Papyrus Collections World Wide", edited by W.Clarysse and H.Verreth in 2000. At the same time a first version of the Leuven Homepage was created, which incorporated data of other collections as well. At this moment, late 2004, we count 378 collections, some of which are no longer existent (former private collections, taken over by larger institutional collections remain interesting for their history).

The British part of this homepage is now kept up-to-date and taken further by the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents under the direction of A.Bowman in close collaboration with the Leuven team. The Leuven version is here less complete than the British version, which can be found on: http://www.csad.ox.ac.uk.

In the long term we aim at linking every single text to its institutional base. This is an enormous work, partly because the Heidelberger Gesamtverzeichnis does not contain inventory numbers. At this moment some 24,000 texts have been thus been linked, most of the literary texts and some of the documents. The links are often still imperfect, but are gradually expanded with new information.


Most papyri are not found as individual items, but in groups, which are called "archives" by the papyrologists. Ideally such an archive is discovered by an archaeologist, who then describes in detail the order in which the texts were put down in antiquity (often in a jar and bundled in cloth, as on the frontpage of our website). In fact, most papyri are found in clandestine excavations (though new finds such as those in Kellis, in the eastern oasis and in the Italian-French excavations at Tebtynis are better documented), and archives have to be reconstructed on the basis of the contents of the papyri and indications of a common purchase (museum archaeology). A common find is not enough to make an archive, and therefore a rubbish heap, a dump of papyri, papyri found in the same house or temple or reused for the same mummy cartonnage donot constitute by themselves archives. An archive is a group of texts which were collected in antiquity with a specific purpose (P.W.Pestman, The New Papyrological Primer, 1990, p.51; A.Martin, Archives privées et cachettes documentaires, Proceedings of the 20th International Congress of Papyrologists, Copenhagen, 1994, pp. 569-577). The purpose may even be to discard some items from a larger archive and then throw them away. Usually such archives will have been arranged in some kind of order, but for papyrus archives this order can only be painfully reconstructed.

On the basis of the archive keepers a distinction can be made between public and private archives. The former were collected by an official or an administrative body, the latter by a private person or a group of persons. Typical examples of public archives are the notarial archives found at Tebtynis, the tax lists of Karanis, the so-called archive of Menches (in fact the archive of the village scribes of Kerkeosiris) and the enteuxeis found at El-Lahun. Private archives may be owned by a single individual or by successive generations, in which case we can call them family archives (e.g. the Dryton archive). In several cases officials kept part of their administrative papers when retiring from office and even mixed them up with their private correspondence. Such mixed archives are preserved for the engineers Kleon and Theodoros and for Apollonios, the strategos of the Heptakomia.

A division by type of documents only partly coincides with that by archive keepers. Many private archives largely consists of title deeds, documents proving ownership rights over immovables, and receipts, showing that the archive keeper has paid his dues to other persons or to the state. This is particularly common with demotic texts. Archives linked with law-suits can be private (e.g. the so-called Siut archive or the Erbstreit archive) or official (e.g. the enteuxeis or the petitions addressed to the village epistates of Euhemereia), and the same is true for correspondence archives. Few archives consists of a single type of documents, but in most there is a dominant factor, which we have tried to recognize.

The archive keeper has kept the documents for a certain use, which we have reconstructed wherever possible. Documents can be either incoming or outgoing. Incoming documents were written by third persons for the archive keeper(s), e.g. letters, contracts or receipts for private persons, petitions or reports to officials. Outgoing documents are written by (or in the name of) the archive keepers; usually they are drafts or copies, the originals being sent or given to another party. Sometimes outgoing copies are returned to the sender, with an official subscription. They appear not only in private archives, but also in official archives (e.g. the contracts and abstracts of the Tebtynis notaries' office; the land survey reports by the village scribe Menches). Sometimes older title-deeds end up in the hands of an archive keeper together with immovable property; they are incoming in an indirect way. In a law-suit dossier legal texts may be incorporated as precedents. Only rarely is a document at the same time outgoing and incoming, e.g. memoranda written by the archive keeper for his own use. The balance between incoming and outgoing documents, and the possible presence of unexplained "intruders" determines the typology of an archive as much as the type of archive owner(s) and the type of documents.

The present homepage concentrates on archives of the Greco-Roman period, but does include demotic and Coptic as well as Greek and Latin. In the long run we hope to include also the earlier periods of Egyptian history. For the time being we concentrate on papyri, including only those ostraca which have been found during excavations (e.g. at Elkab) or were grouped into an archive in a scholarly publication.


Since the great majority of the papyri found in the nineteenth and early twentieth century were discovered either by clandestine digging or by excavations that did not keep full records of find places and groups of objects, the reconstruction of archives often depends on reconstructing the original find circumstances from indirect evidence; where this is not possible, it is often necessary to rely on data about their acquisition: common purchases may indicate common origin of the papyri. This third part of our database is still very much under construction. We hope that our English colleagues of CSAD will show the way here, with a detailed study of the British collections. A first step is set for the archives of Gebelen in a forthcoming volume on "Pathyris archives" by K. Vandorpe.

See also

Now incorporated in Trismegistos.

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