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Papyrological Institute

The papyrus collection

On 19 January 1935, the foundation of ‘Het Leids Papyrologisch Instituut’ took place. Prior to the year 1935, the founders – J.C. van Oven (1881-1963, Roman Law), B.A. van Groningen (1894-1987, Greek) en M. David (1898-1986, Legal History) – had already been teaching Greek papyrology at Leiden University.

The foundation of the 'Papyrologisch Instituut' was the result of a donation of 21 Greek papyri from Egypt by the American collector E.P. Warren, who also gave his name to the famous Warren Cup. There was one condition: the papyri were never to become the property of a government organisation such as a university. In 1941 the Warren papyri were published in the first issue of the new series Papyrologica Lugduno-Batava. That was the beginning of the collection of the Papyrologisch Instituut.

Founders Van Groningen and David

Over the years the collection has been extended through purchase (most importantly by Van Groningen in Egypt in 1939/40, and from the Amsterdam publisher and antiquarian Hakkert in 1971) and donations. It is now a modest but highly varied study collection of over 600 texts from Graeco-Roman Egypt. As recently as 2016 the collection of the Foundation 'Het Leids Papyrologisch Instituut' has been enlarged with 20 Demotic ostraca, 1 Greek ostracon and the leaden tablet with Greek love charm, which already formed part of the collection as a long-term loan. During the Papyrologists' Day on the 9th of January the official transfer of property rights took place from the former owners Rob and Cocky Demaree to the Papyrological Institute. The 21 ostraca received the inventory numbers Leiden Pap. Inst. O 59-79 and they will be published in a future volume of the series Papyrologica Lugduno-Batava. See also the description of the collection on the Trismegistos website. 

The texts of this collection, not only written on papyrus but also on pottery shards, wax tablets, wooden boards, linen, parchment and even the leaden tablet are regularly shown to the public during exhibitions, open days and school class tours.

On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the Leiden Papyrological Institute an online exhibition was set up with digital images and descriptions of the highlights from our collection and links to their Greek texts and translations. Notwithstanding the fact that many of the texts are only mere fragments or much damaged, after a lot of jigsaw-puzzling work by papyrologists they can provide an intriguing view of life in ancient Egypt between 300 BCE to 800 AD.

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