Papyri & Ostraca

The Columbia collection includes ca. 2150 papyri and over 3600 ostraca in a variety of languages including Greek, Latin, Egyptian (Demotic, Coptic and Hieratic) and Arabic.  Among the papyri, there are also a few texts on parchment and paper.  The papyri range in date from the 3rd century BCE to the 7th century CE and come from different parts of Egypt.  About 300 have been published in the volumes of Columbia Papyri (P.Col., volumes I-XI) and a few more were published elsewhere.  The papyri preserve a variety of texts, from ancient fragments of important literary works (Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Euripides’ Orestes, Plato’s Phaedrus) written much earlier than the medieval manuscripts upon which modern editions are usually based, to mundane documents such as private letters, tax receipts, petitions and contracts, which illustrate the economic activities, personal relationships, legal conflicts and contractual arrangements of people in Greco-Roman Egypt over a period of about 1000 years.

Ostraca are pottery fragments and flakes of limestone with writing in ink.  Some contain Greek, but the majority is Coptic, and they range in date from the sixth to the seventh century CE.  They include about one hundred school exercises (especially abecedaries), private letters, religious texts, receipts, etc.  With few exceptions, the ostraca come from monasteries in Upper Egypt around Luxor.

Through APIS (Advanced Papyrological Information System) and it is possible to view descriptions of all items in the collection, as well as images of a very large number of objects.  Imaging is continuing and will in the end cover the entire collection.