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Papyrus , actually the name of a plant, the fiber derived from it is the now common term for the most important of these prepared for writing the literary culture of antiquity . First, in ancient Egypt and later in the entire ancient Mediterranean Papyrus fulfilled a similar function for the written form as the paper first for literary culture of China , the Islamic culture and finally the Western world due. On the other hand, in the ancient Orient , apart from Egypt, unbaked clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform were the most important basis for writing.


To the sour grasses scoring Papyrus - perennial or the papyrus were in the language of ancient Egypt with "djit" ( d (j) t ) or "tjufi" ( ṯwfj called). The single stem with a whorl of leaves was called “wadj” ( w3ḏ ) and is derived from the meaning “green, fresh, flourish”. The papyrus processed for writing was called "djema" ( ḏmˁ ), a single page "qahet" ( q3ḥt ), Greek σελίς, pl. σελίδες (selis, pl. selides), Latin plagula, and a role “aret” ( ˁrt ), Greek βίβλος (bíblos), βιβλίον (biblíon), τεῦχος (teuchos) or χάusρτης (chártēs), or libelline, Latin charter.

The Greek word πάπυρος pápyros possibly goes back to a reconstructed Egyptian word "pa-en-per-aa" ( p3-n-pr-ˁ3 ), which means something like "that of the pharaoh". This could be an indication that papyrus manufacture was under royal monopoly during the Ptolemaic period . From Greek. Papyrus stems on lat. Papyrus (Nebenform papyrum ) the German word paper from ( mhd. Paper ).

Manufacturing and formats

Real papyrus ( Cyperus papyrus )
Cross section through a papyrus perennial stem
Different ways of cutting a papyrus bush and producing
papyrus sheets or rolls. Above, cross section through papyrus perennial stems. The papyrus roll was always rolled in such a way that the horizontal stripes of the pulp of the papyrus tree were on top of the inside, so that writing was carried out with the stripes and not against them.

In ancient Egypt , probably as early as the 3rd millennium BC. The first papyri were made as writing material. The raw material was provided by the real papyrus ( Cyperus papyrus ), a species from the genus Zypergräser ( Cyperus ) that can grow up to 3 meters high.

The production of writing material papyrus is described in the 1st century AD. Pliny the Elder in the 13th book of his natural history . The pith of the plant stem is cut into strips up to 4 centimeters wide, which are placed next to each other with a slight overlap. Two layers of these strips overlapping each other in a criss-cross pattern are pressed and tapped to form a firm sheet, which is held together by the adhesive force of the starchy plant sap . Then the "plate" is dried and polished. Then you can paint or write on the papyrus.

With a special glue, the recipe of which Pliny handed down, the sheets are satined and glued in the same fiber direction to form strips of different formats, which were stored wound up in rolls . In later times, stapled papyrus sheets were also processed into codices . The lengths of the rolls, which were used for Greek and Latin literary texts , have an average height of about 30 centimeters, but they varied from about 12 to about 48 centimeters. For practical purposes, the track length is usually 5 to 6 meters, for literary texts it can be up to 16 meters, in exceptional cases even up to 40 meters (P. Harris I). The width of the stuck leaves gradually decreases from up to 66 centimeters in the Old Kingdom to around 40 centimeters in the Middle Kingdom to around 20 centimeters in the New Kingdom. Pliny distinguishes six levels of papyrus quality: from the fine hieratica ("saint") or Augusta ("imperial") to the coarse emporitica (wrapping paper). Single sheets were used for letters, documents and archival records. In the course of archiving, such individual documents were sometimes subsequently glued together to form strips so that they could be stored as rolls.

In the 6th century Cassiodorus added an enkomion of the papyrus to the official letter to a tax officer (canonicarius) in the office of the Praetorian prefect .

Later the name was transferred to the writing material invented in China - paper  - which, mediated through cultural contacts with the Byzantine Empire and the Arab world in Palestine , Sicily and southern Italy as well as on the Iberian Peninsula , has also been in Europe since the 14th century began its triumphal march.

Writing materials

Written on papyrus was black and red. The black color consisted of soot and a solution of gum arabic , the red color was made on the basis of ocher . A brush made of rushes served as a writing instrument , and in Greco-Roman times a writing tube, Greek κάλαμος (kálamos), Latin calamus.

Use of papyrus

Papyrus can be used as writing material in Egypt for the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC. Prove. In Greece , the use of papyrus has been proven by finds since the second half of the 5th century BC at the latest. From there, the papyrus was widely used in the Roman Empire . The oldest Greek papyri that can be dated date from the 4th century BC. The oldest piece found in Egypt is the Timotheus papyrus discovered in 1902 at Abusir from the papyrus collection of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin (P. Berlin P 9875) with significant parts (approx. 250 verses) of the poem "The Persians" by Timotheus von Miletus (* around 450 BC in Milet, † around 360 BC in Macedonia). From the second half of the 5th century BC. The Derveni papyrus is said to come from Christ , which was found outside Egypt in the Derveni tombs in Macedonia in 1962 and has been part of the UNESCO World Document Heritage since October 2015 as the oldest surviving “book” in Europe . The oldest not as archaeological finds recovered, but as a library collection continuously surviving papyri are the Ravenna documents on papyrus dating from 455 to the 10th century, which in the archive of the office of the Archdiocese received Ravenna. Early medieval documents on papyrus, mostly papal documents and documents from the Germanic empires of the Migration Period , have also come down to us elsewhere, most of them in the St. Denis Abbey .

Papyrus was preferably written on parallel to the grain ( recto ), i.e. parallel to the long side of the papyrus web. In the scroll , this is the inside. The text is arranged line by line in columns that are separated from each other by a gap (intercolumn). A lettering on the back ( verso ) running across the grain is in most cases the result of a later reuse of the material. The rule of thumb that the lettering on the outside is younger than that on the inside is helpful for the chronological classification of fonts and texts. However, it is only valid for the period from around 250 BC. Chr. To 400 AD

P. Oxy. XXII 2331 (3rd century) with verses and pen drawings about the work of Heracles
The plant is grown in its native Egypt on the banks of the Nile

After the books were lost in late antiquity , the papyrus roll was gradually being superseded by the papyrus code and, above all, by the parchment code, which became established over the long term, as the bearer of the few literary texts that have survived. Parchment was more expensive, but it was also smoother, more resilient and more durable.

Papyrus remained a common writing material for documents and letters until the early Middle Ages . In Italy papyrus was used in the papal chancellery and in southern Italy until the end of the 11th century.

Meaning for the text transmission

Papyrus is sensitive to mechanical stress, moisture and worm damage, but basically has an astonishingly long shelf life. Pliny mentions his studies in a 300 year old papyrus scroll. Up to the present day papyri have been preserved almost exclusively in the dry desert sands of North Africa (especially Egypt ) and the Middle East . In Egypt from the 3rd century BC Up until the Roman Empire , papyri were also glued to cardboard boxes in secondary use , which were used to wrap mummies . By dissolving the cardboard boxes, the texts on the papyri can be made legible again.

The finds from the Egyptian Oxyrhynchus are famous . Over 400,000 fragments of Oxyrhynchus papyri have been excavated since the late 19th century. In 1898, Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt published the first volume in the series The Oxyrhynchus Papyri . To date (2016) a further 82 volumes have been published, with which a not inconsiderable part of the Oxyrhynchus papyri, but by far not the entire collection, has been edited.

Papyri are important for the text transmission of the Greek and Latin literature of antiquity. Most of the texts have only come down to us in medieval codices . If text passages on papyrus have been preserved, the texts of the codices can be traced back to antiquity and corrected if necessary. Almost 130 New Testament passages and fragments had been discovered on papyrus by 2014.

Occasionally a papyrus find closes a gap in the surviving oeuvre of an ancient author. For example, in 1958 Menander's comedy Dyskolos became known from a papyrus code. Aristotle's Athenaion politeia , on the theory of the state , has also come down to us exclusively in a papyrus (London, British Museum, Pap. 131). A large number of official, everyday, legal and business documents from antiquity have also been preserved on papyrus.

An important complex of finds outside Egypt of mainly literary papyri are the Herculanensian papyri . These are around 1800 charred rolls from the private library of a villa at the gates of Herculaneum ( Villa dei Papiri ), which were preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 and have now been made legible using technical processes, including radiological examinations can be edited.

See also


  • Rodney Ast, Andrea Jördens , Joachim Friedrich Quack , Antonia Sarri: Papyrus . In: Michael Ott, Thomas Meier , Rebecca Sauer (Eds.): Materiale Textkulturen. Concepts - materials - practices (=  material text cultures ). tape 1 . De Gruyter, Berlin / Boston / Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-11-037128-4 , pp. 307-321 ( [PDF]).
  • Theodor Birt : The scroll in art. Archaeological and antiquarian studies on ancient books. Olms, Hildesheim 1976. (reprint of the Leipzig edition 1907) online  - Internet Archive
  • Theodor Birt: On the history of the ancient book industry. In: Centralblatt für Bibliothekswesen. No. 17, 1900, pp. 545-565. ( PDF file )
  • Theodor Birt: Critique and Hermeneutics together with an outline of the ancient book system. (= Handbook of Classical Classical Studies. Volume 1, No. 3). 3rd, completely revised edition. Beck, Munich 1913. online  - Internet Archive
  • Horst Blanck : The book in antiquity. Beck, Munich 1992, ISBN 3-406-36686-4 .
  • Hubert Cancik , Helmuth Schneider (ed.): The new Pauly. Encyclopedia of Antiquity. Volume 9, Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2000, ISBN 3-476-01479-7 .
  • Jaroslav Černý : Paper & Books in Ancient Egypt. Lewis & Co, London 1947.
  • Severin Corsten , Stephan Füssel, Günther Pflug (ed.): Lexicon of the entire book system. Volume 5, 2nd edition. Hiersemann, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-7772-9904-9 .
  • Rosemarie Drenkhahn : papyrus, production. In: Wolfgang Helck (Hrsg.): Lexikon der Ägyptologie (LÄ). Volume IV, Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1982, ISBN 3-447-02262-0 , Sp. 667-670.
  • Helmut Hiller, Stephan Füssel: Dictionary of the book. 6th edition. Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-465-03220-9 .
  • Otto Mazal : History of Book Culture. Volume 1: Greco-Roman Antiquity. Academic Printing and Publishing Company, Graz 1999, ISBN 3-201-01716-7 .
  • John D. Ray : Papyrus. In: Kathryn A. Bard (Ed.): Encyclopedia of the Archeology of Ancient Egypt. Routledge, London 1999, ISBN 0-415-18589-0 , pp. 610-11.
  • Eric G. Turner : The terms recto and verso: the anatomy of the papyrus roll (= Actes du XVe Congrès International de Papyrologie. / Papyrologica Bruxellensia. Volume 16). Fondation Égytologique Reine Élisabeth, Brussels 1978.
  • Eric G. Turner: The typology of the early codex (= Haney Foundation series. Volume 18). University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia 1977.

Web links

Commons : Papyrus  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Papyrus  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Wikitionary entry on writing material
  2. ^ R. Drenkhahn: Papyrus. In: Lexicon of Egyptology. Volume IV, p. 669.
  3. Ulrich Viktor, Carsten Peter Thiede, Urs Stingelin: Ancient culture and New Testament. Brunnen-Verlag, Basel / Gießen 2003, ISBN 3-7655-1324-5 , p. 42
  4. Pliny , Naturalis historia 13, 11f .; Pliny natural history. translated by Johann Daniel Denso. Volume 1, Rostock / Greifswald 1764 ( on Google books ).
  5. ^ Karl Sudhoff: Medical information from Greek papyrus documents. Building blocks for a medical cultural history of Hellenism. (= Studies on the History of Medicine. Volume 5). Barth, Leipzig 1909. ( full text online ).
  6. Rodney Ast and others: Papyrus. In: M. Ott et al: Materiale Textkulturen. 2015, p. 308.
  7. Cassiodorus: Variae XI 38,2-6. In: Theodor Mommsen (Ed.): Auctores antiquissimi 12: Cassiodori Senatoris Variae. Berlin 1898, pp. 351–352 ( Monumenta Germaniae Historica , digitized version )
  8. ^ Athena A. Alexopoulou, Ioanna Karamanou: The Papyrus from the 'Musician's Tomb' in Daphne: MΠ 7449, 8517-8523 (Archaeological Museum of Piraeus). In: Greek and Roman Musical Studies. Volume 2, No. 1, 2014, pp. 23-49.
  9. Timothy of Miletus : The Persians. ( online]) In: James H. Hordern (Ed.): The Fragments of Timotheus of Miletus (= Oxford classical monographs. ). Oxford University Press, Oxford 2002, ISBN 0-19-924694-7 .
  10. For the time being, see the article "Ravenna Papyri" in the English Wikipedia.
  11. Hartmut Günther: Writing and writing. In: Writing and its Use. Volume 1, Berlin a. a. 1994, p. 124, p. 540.
  12. ^ Carlrichard Brühl: Studies on the Lombard royal documents. de Gruyter, Berlin a. a. 1970, note 55, p. 11; Note 69, p. 13; Note 792, p. 149.
  13. Jan Olof Tjäder: The non-literary Latin papyri of Italy from the time 445-700. Volume 1-3. Gleerup et al. Åström, Lund / Stockholm, 1954-1955 (Vol. 1 and 3); 1982 (Volume 2).
  14. Galen : Peri alypias. 18 f. In: Kai Brodersen (Ed.): Galenos. The burned library. Peri Alypias / On the indefatigability. 1st edition. marix Verlag, Wiesbaden 2015, ISBN 978-3-7374-0962-9 , p. 71 f.
  15. ^ Tiziano Dorandi : Handing down the texts in antiquity; Book industry. In: Heinz-Günther Nesselrath (Ed.): Introduction to Greek Philology. Teubner, Stuttgart 1997, ISBN 3-519-07435-4 , pp. 3-16.
  16. Martin Steinmann: Roman writing. In: Fritz Graf (ed.): Introduction to Latin Philology. Teubner, Stuttgart 1997, ISBN 3-519-07434-6 , pp. 84-91.
  17. ^ Herbert Hunger: History of the text transmission of ancient and medieval literature. Ancient and medieval books and writing, the history of transmission of ancient literature. Atlantis, Zurich 1961. (repr. Under the title The text tradition of ancient literature and the Bible. DTV, Munich 1988, ISBN 3-423-04485-3 )
  18. ^ Karl Sudhoff : Medical information from Greek papyrus documents. Building blocks for a medical cultural history of Hellenism. (= Studies on the history of medicine. 5). Leipzig 1909. online  - Internet Archive
  19. information and transcriptions of literary and subliterary papyri, ostraka, wooden panels and other portable materials
  20. LDAB: Leuven Database of ancient books. Database of literary papyri .
  21. CEDOPAL: homepage of the Center de Documentation de Papyrology littéraire .
  22. Victor Martin (Ed.): Ménandre. Le Dyscolos. Bibliotheca Bodmeriana, Cologny Genève 1958.
  23. British Library Digitized Manucripts: British Museum, Papyrus 131 .