Interpreting the Duke papyri

by Peter van Minnen
In accordance with the goals of the project, the papyrologist hired for the purpose has tried to gain "intellectual control" over the Duke papyrus collection. The papyrus collection at Duke mainly consists of fragmentary documents from Graeco-Roman Egypt, dating from the third century B.C. to the seventh century A.D., but pieces as old as the twelfth century B.C. and as "recent" as the tenth century A.D. are also represented. In addition to documentary texts the collection holds some important literary and subliterary texts. ("Subliterary" is a category used by papyrologists for difficult-to-classify texts such as horoscopes and magical spells.)

Papyri can be quite fragmentary, and most texts are written in cursive and highly idiosyncratic scripts. The papyrologist has spent much time on deciphering and transcribing the texts, which are written in a variety of languages. Most of them are in Greek, but many are in Coptic and some are in Demotic Egyptian or Arabic. A few are in Latin or Hieratic Egyptian. (One piece is in Abnormal Hieratic, but this by no means implies that the other Hieratic pieces are in any meaningful sense "normal.") He has had some help with the Demotic and Hieratic Egyptian texts from visiting scholars, and he has availed himself of scattered notes on the Coptic texts.

When the papyrologist arrived at Duke he started his work by assembling information on the acquisition of the Duke papyri from 1942 until the present. Sometimes the information provided by dealers is important to establish links between papyri, e.g. when several papyri were extracted from the same piece of mummy cartonnage. (The ancient Egyptians recycled their old paper in such cartonnage, with which they covered the mummified bodies of the dead.) Sometimes information about the provenience of a papyrus is of some help, but it is not always reliable.

The information about the content and acquisition of the Duke papyri has been entered in a database, a FilemakerPro document. Its design by and large follows other electronic databases for papyri: the one at Yale for the Yale papyri and the one at Leuven for the Prosopographia Ptolemaica, a database of people from Hellenistic Egypt attested in papyri, ostraca (potsherds) and inscriptions, which also plans to include records for each text in which a given person occurs. The terminology used to describe the content and character of the documentary texts in the Duke papyrus collection after consultation of printed sources on papyrus texts in English and after corresponding with several people in the field.

An important part of the work has been the assigning of inventory numbers to the papyri. All items in the collection are assigned a discreet P.Duk.inv. number. Different series of inventory numbers had been used in the past, but it seemed better to replace them with a single system, in which there will be only one inventory number 1. Because several items from the original series of Greek papyri had already been referred to in print by several scholars, its numbering (1-230) has been retained and the numbering of the new series of papyri in any language starts with 231. Presently the numbering goes up to 1,373.

In determining the content of the papyri the papyrologist has used the Duke Data Bank of Documentary Papyri for Greek and Latin documentary texts as well as other research tools in papyrology. (See below.) He has carefully distinguished "intellectual items": if a papyrus contains two different texts on the front and the back, these texts have been individually described (as R(ecto) and V(erso)); if two different texts were written on one side, the two "intellectual items" have been distinguished with "a" and "b" (this happens more often than one would think, because the ancient Egyptians were very conscious in their recycling practices.) It seemed worthwhile to go to so much length in describing the papyri, because so few texts from antiquity survive. The scarcity of the material is matched by the density of the coverage.

Bibliography of most frequently used research tools:

General: P.W. Pestman, The New Papyrological Primer (revised edition; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994); the electronic Bibliographie papyrologique (Alpharetta, GA: Scholars Press, 1992)

On the geography of Egypt: A. Calderini & S. Daris, Dizionario dei nomi geografici dell'Egitto greco-romano 1-5 with Supplemento (various publishers, 1935-1988); S. Timm, Das christlich-koptische Ägypten in arabischer Zeit 1-6 (Wiesbaden: Reichert, 1984-1992)

Demotic dictionary: W. Erichsen, Demotisches Glossar (Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1954)

Demotic names: Demotisches Namenbuch 1- (Wiesbaden: Reichert, 1980-)

On Coptic literary papyri: the electronic Sahidic New Testament and Nag Hammadi texts (on the same CD-ROM as the DDBDP)

On Coptic documentary papyri: A. Biedenkopf-Ziehner, Untersuchungen zum koptischen Briefformular (Würzburg: Zauzich, 1983)

Coptic dictionaries: W.E. Crum, Coptic Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1939); W. Westendorf, Koptisches Handwörterbuch (Heidelberg: Winter, 1965-1977); M.-O. Strasbach & B. Barc, Dictionnaire inversé du copte (Leuven: Peeters, 1984)

On Coptic names: G. Heuser, Die Personennamen der Kopten (Leipzig: Dieterich, 1929)

On dating Coptic papyri by their script: dated examples in W.E. Crum, Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the British Museum (London: British Museum, 1905) and W.E. Crum, Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the Collection of the John Rylands Library, Manchester (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1909)

On Greek literary papyri: R.A. Pack, The Greek and Latin Literary Texts from Greco-Roman Egypt (2nd ed., Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1965); J. Van Haelst, Catalogue des papyrus littéraires juifs et chrétiens (Paris: La Sorbonne, 1976); the electronic Thesaurus Linguae Graecae and its Canon of Greek Authors and their Works (3rd ed.; New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990)

On Greek documentary papyri: U. Wilcken, Grundzüge und Chrestomathie der Papyruskunde I 1 (Leipzig & Berlin: Teubner, 1912)

Greek dictionaries: F. Preisigke, Fachwörter des öffentlichen Verwaltungsdiestes Ägyptens (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1915); F. Preisigke a.o., Wörterbuch der griechischen Papyrusurkunden I-IV 5 (various publishers, 1925-1993); O. Gradenwitz, Heidelberger Konträrindex der griechischen Papyrusurkunden (Berlin: Weidmann, 1931); H.G. Liddell, R. Scott & H.S. Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon (9th edition; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940; new supplement forthcoming); P. Kretschmer & E. Locker, Rückläufiges Wörterbuch der griechischen Sprache (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1963; NB: words accentuated on the last syllable are listed separately from the rest)

On Greek names etc.: F. Preisigke, Namenbuch (Heidelberg: im Selbstverlag, 1922); D. Foraboschi, Onomasticum alterum (Milano: Cisalpino, 1971); F. Dornseiff & B. Hansen, Rückläufiges Wörterbuch der griechischen Eigennamen (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1957; L. Robert called it a "festival de monstres"); Prosopographia Ptolemaica 1- (Leuven: various publishers, 1950-)

On dating Greek papyri by their script: W. Schubart, Papyri Graecae Berolinenses (Bonn: Weber, 1911); W. Schubart, Griechische Paläeographie (München: Beck, 1925); M. Norsa, La scrittura letteraria greca (1939); C.H. Roberts, Greek Literary Hands (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955); G. Cavallo, Ricerche sulla maiuscola biblica (Firenze: Le Monnier, 1967); E.G. Turner, Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World (2nd ed.; London: Institute of Classical Studies, 1987); G. Cavallo and H. Maehler, Greek Bookhands of the Early Byzantine Period (London: Institute of Classical Studies, 1987); R. Seider, Paläographie der griechischen Papyri I- III 1 (Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 1967-1990)

On dating Greek papyri otherwise: P.W. Pestman, Chronologie égyptienne d'après les documents démotiques (Leiden: Brill, 1967); T.C. Skeat, The Reigns of the Ptolemies (2nd. ed.; München: Beck, 1969); W. Clarysse & G. Van der Veken, The Eponymous Priests of Ptolemaic Egypt (Leiden: Brill, 1983); P. Bureth, Les titulatures impériales (Bruxelles: Fondation Égyptologique Reine Élisabeth, 1964); G. Bastianini & J. Whitehorne, Strategi and Royal Scribes of Roman Egypt (Firenze: Gonnelli, 1983); G. Bastianini, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 17 (1975) 263-328 (on the prefects of Roman Egypt); R.S. Bagnall & K.A. Worp, The Chronological Systems of Byzantine Egypt (Zutphen: Terra, 1978); R.S. Bagnall & K.A. Worp, Regnal Formulas in Byzantine Egypt (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1979); J.M. Diethart & K.A. Worp, Notarsunterschriften im byzantinischen Ägypten (Wien: Hollinek, 1986)

On Arabic literary papyri: N. Abbot, Studies in Arabic Literary Papyri 1-3 (Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1957-1972); G. Flügel, Concordantiae Corani Arabicae (often reprinted; originally published in 1842)

On Arabic documentary papyri: R.G. Khoury, Chrestomathie de papyrologie arabe (Leiden: Brill, 1993)

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Last updated by Peter van Minnen on 12/12/95