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Papyrological Institute


The 'Leids Papyrologisch Instituut' is one of the few institutes worldwide that studies both Greek (and Latin) and Demotic and Abnormal-Hieratic papyri.

Bernard van Groningen and Martin David [©LPI]

The members of our staff publish texts from collections all over the world, including our own collection. The Papyrologisch Instituut forms part of the Leiden Institute of Area Studies (LIAS), which also includes specialists in – in chronological order – Hieratic, Aramaic, Coptic and Arabic papyrology.

The 'Leids Papyrologisch Instituut' was founded in 1935 by B.A. van Groningen (Greek) and M. David en J.C. van Oven, both legal historians. This initiative was prompted by the donation of a papyrus collection by E.P. Warren [for Warren see also the PDF on the right of this page]. There was one condition: the papyri were to be published and should never become the property of a government organisation. That is how the foundation of the Stichting “Het Leids Papyrologisch Instituut” on 19 January 1935 came about, which soon flourished. The Warren papyri were published in the first part of the new series Papyrologica Lugduno-Batava, in which papyrologists from Leiden and abroad publish their research to this day.

Ernst Boswinkel [©LPI]

From the very beginning classes in Greek papyrology were interdisciplinary, which was a unique concept at the time. A special place was reserved for thematic classes, which still rank high on the Institute’s agenda today. To provide their students with the proper study material David and Van Groningen assembled the Papyrologisch Leerboek (1940), which appeared in English translation in 1946). The revised edition – P.W. Pestman, New Papyrological Primer, Second Edition Revised, 1994 – is still used in papyrology courses around the world.

The papyrus collection was soon enlarged, first with papyri bought by Van Groningen in Egypt, and later also through purchases from antiquities dealers, and donations. It is now a highly diverse study collection that is indispensible for palaeography classes. Starting from the seventies the collection is regularly presented to visitors with an interest in papyrology, including school classes.

Apart from their research and teaching duties, after the Second World War the staff of the Papyrologisch Instituut – E.P. Wegener and E. Boswinkel – took on the additional task of reviving the Berichtigungsliste, the official list of all corrections made on the publications of documentary Greek papyri, had been in decline for some time. This project is still based in Leiden, first collaborating with the University Marburg and from 2009 onwards with the University of Heidelberg. Its aim is straightforward: to benefit the entire papyrological community (Berichtigungsliste Band III, 1958 - Band XII, 2009).

Pieter Pestman [©LPI]

Van Groningen became a real innovator of papyrological research, introducing the study of papyrological texts in context, including their mutual coherence (archival studies). His successor, the legal historian and demotist Pieter Willem Pestman extended the interdisciplinary Greek-legal approach to the Demotic material, which in due time gave rise to the Demotic Berichtigungsliste. In 2002 the classicist K.A. Worp became professor of Papyrology by special appointment thanks to the support of the Leids Universiteits Fonds (LUF). He headed the Leiden Papyrological Institute until his retirement in 2008 and mainly worked on Greek and Latin papyri, ostraca and (wax) tablets. The Leiden Papyrological Institute still remains one of the few institutes worldwide where people can study both Greek and Demotic texts.

The staff continually works on the publication of texts from various collections around the world. Documents are never treated as separate sources, but always approached as objects within a context. Transcriptions and translations of texts always include an extensive commentary, addressing the various aspects of each text in detail within the greater context of Graeco-Roman Egypt.

Papyrological texts often come from archives, i.e. clusters of documents that were already collected in antiquity for personal reasons or business purposes. The study of archival material remains one of the specialties of the Institute.

The Papyrological Institute is now housed in two rooms on the second floor of the University Library in Leiden (entrance 6), directly adjacent to the phenomenal papyrological library containing (almost) all Greek and Demotic papyrus editions and a sizable share of the secondary literature. Teaching and presentations of our collection are all done in the University Library or in nearby facilities.

As of January 2000 the Institute of the Faculty of Humanities, falling under the research group Leiden Institute of Area Studies (LIAS), School of Middle Eastern Studies (SMES). Within the Faculty of Letters there are strong ties with the department of Classics, History and Ancient Cultures of the Mediterranean World, offering various courses in Greek and Demotic papyrology for beginning and advanced students. The Institute also provides an annual course in Ancient Egyptian Law on behalf of the Faculty of Law, which is becoming a long tradition. 

In the past years, the Faculty of Letters and the Netherlands Research Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) have contributed funds to guarantee the future of the Institute, and more specifically, the work on the famous Berichtigungsliste. Between 2004 and 2008 the Institute also received financial support from the Gratama Stichting and the Leiden University Fund (LUF). In 2008 temporary funds were also provided by the Arthur-und-Emil-Kiesslingstiftung in Marburg (Germany) to promote the work on the Berichtigungsliste. Thanks to the support of the LIAS, LUCAS and LUIH the positions in Greek papyrology (0.8) and Demotic papyrology (0.5) are now guaranteed for the near future. 

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