PAPYROLOGY
University of Helsinki
The Department of Classical Philology



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Papyrology


Papyrology is a field of classical studies that publishes and interprets source material written on papyri or similar materials such as ostraca, parchment and wooden tablets. Other related fields are, for example, codicology and epigraphy.

The majority of the preserved papyri come from Egypt, where the dry climate has preserved papyri datable to as early as ca. 3000 BC. Most of the papyri have been excavated from the dumps of the ancient settlements. Scrolls and painted mummy covers and coffins manufactured from recycled papyrus (cartonnage) have been found in burial grounds. Very few papyrus discoveries have been made elsewhere than in Egypt, because the organic papyrus tends to decompose in a humid climate. The only way it may survive is if it has been charred by an ancient fire. The most famous among such carbonised papyri are the Herculaneum papyri from Southern Italy, where the eruption of Vesuvius covered an entire library with volcanic ash in AD 79.

Papyri were written in several languages, the oldest being ancient Egyptian. When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BC, Greek became the official language of the country. In addition to these two main languages, papyri were also written in Latin, Aramaic, Arabic and other languages used in the Mediterranean world. The contents of the texts cover all areas of people’s daily life, including literature, private letters, personal notes and receipts; a multitude of official administrative documents and correspondence has also been preserved.

The Papyrus Project of the Helsinki University within the Department of Classical Philology is specialised on studying and conserving Greek papyri from mummy cartonnages as well as carbonised papyri. Papyrology in Finland has a history of several decades.