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Papyrological Institute

Online exhibition

TEXTS FROM ANCIENT EGYPT. Highlights from the Collection of the Leiden Papyrological Institute. Online exhibition on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the foundation ‘Het Leids Papyrologisch Instituut’ in 2015.

Most texts in the collection of the Leids Papyrologisch Instituut are in Greek, apart from texts in ancient Egyptian (Hieratic, Demotic and Coptic) and Latin. After the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great in 332/331 BCE Egypt was ruled by a Greek administration. The indigenous population continued to use Demotic in daily life, even though Greek was increasingly used to write official and legal documents. Egypt became a Roman province in 30 BCE, but Greek remained the most popular language for writing. This explains why most papyri found in Egypt are in Greek. 

Papyrology covers a number of languages: Greek (including Latin), Demotic, Coptic and Arabic. In ancient Egypt these languages were often used side by side. Under the Ptolemies people spoke and wrote both Greek and Egyptian (Demotic), during the Roman period Greek, Latin and Egyptian (Demotic, later evolving into Coptic) were used, and Greek continued to be popular for some time under Arab rule, apart from Arabic and Coptic. For this reason papyrologists study papyri in these languages in context. 

Ancient Egyptian comprises various types of writing. It is generally written from right to left (except Coptic). The oldest script – Hieroglyphs – is a pictorial script, which is beautiful to the eye of the beholder, but somewhat unpractical in daily life. That is why early in history the Egyptian scribes devised a more cursive script, Hieratic (literally ‘sacred writing’). From c. 650 onwards Hieratic developed into an even more cursive script for office use, namely Demotic.

Hieratic. 3rd-2nd cent. BCE

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 1000

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Fragments with Hieratic writing. This text comes from the same mummy cartonnage as, a.o., inv. 1002, meaning that it may be dated to the 2nd century BCE. [unpublished; publication rights reserved]


Demotic. 2nd cent. BCE

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 1002

Fragment of a broad Demotic notary contract. This contract – cut on the left and right – is about the sale of a house. The Demotic text is on top. Below is a Greek docket, written with an Egyptian brush. [unpublished; publication rights reserved]

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Latin. 48 AD

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 551 = P.L.Bat. 25.22

After the victory of Octavianus Augustus over Cleopatra, turning Egypt into part of the Roman empire, Greek remained the language used by the official administration, which explains why only few Latin papyri have been found in Egypt. This fragmentary text probably deals with the use of a warehouse by the military. Lines 6-7 provide us with a clue to the dating. They mention Lucius Vipstanus Poplicola, who became consul in 48 AD, and Gnaius Vergilius Capito, who was prefect in Egypt between 48-52 AD.

7.           ]CN・VERGILIVM・CẠ[

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Coptic. 7th-8th cent.

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 702 + 707

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Coptic refers to both the language and the script of the Egyptians from the 4th century AD onwards, also containing many Greek loan words. The script is a variant of Greek, supplemented by several special signs from Demotic. In this tax receipt the following Demotic signs can be recognised: 


            Ϩ          hori      ‘h’      

            Ϣ         shai      ‘sj’      

            Ϥ          fai        ‘f’       

            Ϫ         djandja            ‘dj’      


Ostraca (mostly pottery, but also limestone shards) formed a cheap alternative for papyrus. Pots were found in every household. Pots also break easily. The shards were then recycled as writing material. Tax receipts are generally written on ostraca.

Receipts for dike and bath tax. Thebes, 1st cent. AD

O 5 = O. Leiden 383

These three receipts prove that one Pesouris has paid both his dike tax (χωματικόν) and bath tax (βαλανεῖον). Every citizen of Egypt was obliged to work for some days on the irrigation canals and dikes of the Nile that had been damaged by the annual inundation. People could evade this by paying a special tax. The bath tax was only introduced in Egypt after the arrival of the Greeks. The Egyptians did not have a bath house culture of their own.

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O 46 = O. Leiden 384

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O 47 = P. L. Bat. XXV 24

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Tax receipt with a stamp in red. Ptolemais Euergetis, 8 July 78 BCE

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 70=P.L.Bat. 25.21

Receipt for the tax on the purchase of a wine orchard paid by Helena daughter of Aphrodisios. The very cursive handwriting is very difficult to decipher.

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An original red stamp and the dating are on the verso of the papyrus.

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Tax receipts. Theadelphia, 336/337 AD

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. Warren 7 = P. Sakaon 92

These receipts were written by three officials on the same papyrus. The payments may be contributions for the equipment of recruits.

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Receipt for dike corvée. Arsinoite nome, 6 September 139 AD

The annual maintenance of irrigation canals and dikes was a mandatory corvée (the katasporeus is a manager of irrigation and sowing).

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Written proof of a loan has always been important. Take a look at examples of loans of grain, wine, and money, and a loan on mortgage.

Loan of grain by a priest. Thebes, 3rd-1st cent. BCE

Kalksteenfragment Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. O 58 =P.L.Bat. 23.dem.2

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Demotic account of a loan of grain by a lesonis priest, who was the head of the temple administration. The deben is a weight of approximately 91 grams that was used to express the value of commodities. The artaba is a content measure (a large sack) for grain. The wab priest (wab is Egyptian for ‘pure’) is the generic term for priest.

‘The account of the mr šn. The mr šn: 14 (deben); the scribe of the wʿb-priests: 4 deben; the rest of the (?) …, to (the value of) 5 deben: … 23. Classification: Hrj=w:  (commodities?) to (the value of) 4 deben; P3-šr-p3-hrt (?), son of Ns-…-iw: … grain (?): making 7 deben; the rest: 16 (deben). 
(art. of) barley: 2 ½; (art. of) barley: 4 ½ … (?) 
(art. of) barley: 1 ½; (art. of) barley: 1 ¼ (?) 
(art.of) wheat(?): 10 + (?) 
2; (art. of) barley: 1 (?)’

Loan of wine. 27 May 114 BCE (?)

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 64 =P.L.Bat. 17.4

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Notary contract. Hermias son of Hermias borrows three metrete s (30 litre vessel) of wine. He will pay them back after two months, the interest being 50%. 

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Loan of money. Oxyrhynchos, 14 June 314 AD

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 125A = P.L.Bat. 13.7

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This contract was validated by the notary scribe. Roman law allowed women who had three children or more to take any legal action without the otherwise mandatory legal guardian (ius (trium) liberorum). This law was devised by emperor Augustus in order to stimulate population growth. When emperor Caracalla granted Roman citizenship to almost all the inhabitants of the Roman empire in 212 AD, Roman law became applicable to all citizens. The  influence of Roman law in Egypt was mostly limited to family law and the law of inheritance, leaving the overall local legal system intact. One other influence of Roman law is the formulaic expression found in most contracts written after 220 AD: “I have given a positive answer to the (formal) question”, which reflects the ancient Roman stipulatio, in which an oral agreement is legally valid. The default interest has not been specified, which suggests that the parties had agreed on a higher amount than the official rate of 1%.

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Loan of money secured by mortgage. Oxyrhynchos, 591-592 AD

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. Warren 10

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In this late period in Egyptian history legal documents often contain Christian elements such as the cross and the hailing of Jesus Christ at the beginning of the contract. In this case the loan is provided by a priest “of the Holy Church”. Although the content of this contract is similar to earlier loans (albeit that it also mentions a mortgage), the Greek language used and the script are much more exuberant. The right side of the papyrus has broken away. Most emendations (not indicated in the translation) are fairly certain, which is due to the fact that loan contracts contain many standard clauses. 

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Many papyrus documents are official. Examples of a registration of birth, an arrangement for overdue instalments and a receipt for payment in money and kind.

Registration of birth of three-year old boy. Arsinoite nome, 11 July 72 AD

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. Warren 2

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The Romans introduced the civil registration for fiscal purposes. Each fifteen years the entire population would be counted. Registration of birth, however, was not mandatory. The ages of the children mentioned in the extant records vary between 0 and 8 years.

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Payment of overdue rent in instalments. Philadelphia, 21 December 86 AD

P. Leid. inv. 15 =P.L.Bat. 25.78

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Two Egyptian brothers, Aunes and Papontos, state that they will pay the overdue rent in five annual instalments for the land that they lease from the 23-year old Roman Marcus Antonius Aper (apermeans ‘wild boar’). The two farmers are unable to write in Greek (nor in Demotic probably). Their signature was therefore written by the Greek Dioskoros son of Kephalion. Marcus Antonius Aper, a Roman from the elite class, also wrote his own signature in Greek.

This papyrus is in mint condition. The text was written twice, using more or less the same clauses, meaning that we can reconstruct the damaged passages with certainty.

P. Leid. inv. 15 =P.L.Bat. 25.78

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Receipt acknowledging a payment in money and commodities, signed by the scribe and two witnesses. The upper part of the papyrus is missing.

The meaning of many letters escapes us, when the context is lacking, as is the case in these two private letters on papyrus, from the third and sixth centuries AD.

Letter. C. 300 AD

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. Warren 20

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Second column of a private letter. Due to the lack of context its purpose is unclear. The handwriting is very meticulous.

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Letter. 6th cent. AD

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 78= P.L.Bat. 19.21

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Notice the exuberant Byzantine handwriting. This letter consists only of greetings to a number of people. Egypt had no postal service. People would generally give them to people travelling to the destination of the letter. Many letters from antiquity had the sole purpose of informing relatives and friends that all was well.

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Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 78 verso = P.L.Bat. 19.21 verso

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On the back of the papyrus was written, transversely, the lady's address.

Egypt largely consisted of desert. Wood was a relatively rare and expensive commodity. Wooden mummy labels were often shaped like tomb stones and hung around the neck of a mummy with rope. They mostly mention the name and age of the mummy. The Demotic example below (V 3) contains an additional order to bury the mummy. The name of the deceased and additional information were sometimes also written on the mummy linen itself, thus allowing identification in the embalmer’s workshop, during transport and at the burial site.

Mummy label of Tnaphersais. Hermonthite nome, 1 April 15 BCE

Houten plankje Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. V 3 =P.L.Bat. 19.43

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Translation of the Demotic text: 'Petosiris, son of Oteyris, says to Totoê s, son of Imuthê s, the Overseer of the Mystery of Osorbuchis: "perform burial for Tnaphersaïs, daughter of Hôros, her mother is Nb.t-wḏ3". Written in year 15, fourth month of the pr.t-season, day 6.'





Mummy label of Senplenis. Provenance unknown, 2nd-3rd cent. AD

Houten plankjeLeid.Pap.Inst. inv. V 2 =P.L.Bat. 13.25 II

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Σενπλῆνις               ‘Senplenis,   
γυνὴ Πατα[             wife of Pata[ 
. . . (ἔτους) μη [       48 years old.’ 

Mummy linen of Theognostos. Panopolite nome, 2nd cent. AD

Linnen Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. V 27=P.L.Bat. 19.38

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Θεόγνωστος Ὡρείωνος ἐβίω(σεν) (ἔτη) κγ. 
‘Theognostos son of Horeion, he has lived 23 years.’

Bilingual mummy linen of Tatriphis. Panopolite nome, 2nd cent. AD.

Linnen Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. V 23 =P.L.Bat. 19.31

[ . . ]τρῖφις Κολάνθου 
[τ]οῦ Λύκου 
(ἔτους) ἕκτου Ἐπεὶφ ιε 

Demotic (written from right to left): 
Ta<-t3>-rpj t3 šr.t Kldc3 t3 šr L[ . . . ] 
                              p3 šr Trtrj [ . . . ]

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[ . . ]triphis daughter of Kolanthos, son of Lykos. The 6th year, Epeiph 15. 

Tatriphis, daughter of Kolanthos son of L[ykos], the daughter (?) of Tertery[ . . . ].

In antiquity people loved to read the authors we now call classic. Texts were copied on demand. The handwriting of literary papyri is neater and more regular than documentary writing. These literary papyri bridge the gap between the text as we know it and the first edition by the author. Apart from well-known texts papyrology also provides us with texts that are not known from mediaeval manuscripts. The study of literary papyri is a separate specialism.

Homer, Iliad. Provenance unknown, 2nd cent. AD

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 82 = P.L.Bat. 25.6

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Homer’s Iliad was the most popular book in antiquity. It took some time before we saw that these are fragments from Iliad book A 384 and 415-420. Since we have parts of two columns we can actually calculate the length of a column, namely c. 33 lines.

Column I (A 384)

Column II (A 415-420)



πάντῃ ἀνὰ στρατὸν εὐρὺν Ἀχαιῶν· ἄμμι δὲ μά]ντις

α[ἴθ’ ὄφελες παρὰ νηυσὶν ἀδάκρυτος καὶ ἀπήμων]

[σθαι ἐπεί νύ τοι αἶσα μίνυνθά περ, οὔ τι μάλα δήν·]

ν[ῦν δ’ὠκύμορος καὶ ὀϊζυρὸς περὶ πάντων]

[πλεο: τώ σε κακῇ αἴσῃ τέκον ἐν μεγάροισι.]

τ[οῦτο δέ τοι ἐρέουσα ἔπος Διῒ τερπικεραύνῳ]

ε[ἶμ' αὐτὴ πρὸς Ὄλυμπον ἀγάννιφον αἴ κε πίθηται.] 

Hesiod, Catalogue of Women. 2nd cent. AD

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 502-509 I = P. Turner 1

These fragments of Hediod’s Catalogue of Women are unknown from mediaeval manuscripts. The book describes the women in Greek mythology who managed to become a divine consort.

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Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 502-509 II = P. Turner 1

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The papyrus is divided over two glass plates; this is the second part:








Plato, Phaedo. 2nd cent. AD

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 22

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Fragment of a papyrus roll containing Phaedo65A8-C5 and 65E3-66B3. It is dated six centuries after Plato as well as six centuries before the first mediaeval manuscripts. Between the columns traces are visible of an older text (near lines 3 and 5), meaning that this is a palimpsest. Col. II line 2 shows a colon indicating a change of speaker.

Euripides with musical notation. 3rd cent. BCE

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 510

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This is probably the oldest papyrus showing ancient Greek music. Above the text – fragments of Iphigeneia in Aulis 1500-1509 and 784-794 – hooked lines and twisted letters indicating the notes.

Fable. Provenance unknown, 2nd cent. AD

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 17 =P.L.Bat. 25.5

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This is the fable of the lion and the wild donkey, which was already known as a poem. This, however, is prose. The text starts with ἀγαθῇ τύχῃ, a good luck wish.

Wax tablets are little planks hollowed out on two sides, and then filled with wax. A pointed stilus was used to write letters in the wax surface. The flat back end of the stilus was then applied to erase the text, rendering wax tablets the ideal notebook for children at school.

School exercise of mythological nature. 4th cent. AD

This page shows the story of the creation of man by Prometheus. It is an acrostichon, each new sentence starting with the next letter of the Greek alphabet.

Modelling, Prometheus made mortals from the divine image (?). According to the wish of the gods - - - (he made?) mortals by hand (?). So, having mixed earth and water, he made _- - -. Hard to tear away and dark, he - - - finished the hair. - - - putting eyebrows in front. As a bridge in the middle of the eyes he stretched out and made the nose. - - - twice - - - and to the temples he fastened. He made within the mouth the treasury of the tongue for the speech. Adequately he formed cheeks, he combined - - - with cheeks (?).

For the Greek text, see pdf at the foot of this page. 
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Wastablet Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. V 11 = P.L.Bat. 25.16

This was the first page of the notebook, the other side formed the cover. The cover was decorated with a set of three concentric circles, drawn with the help of a compass. 

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Wastablet Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. V 11 hout = P.L.Bat. 25.16

Complete schoolbook. C. 350 AD

The following five wax tablets together form a complete schoolbook. It was carved out of one single block of beech wood (most likely imported from Italy).

Het complete wastafelboekje

Front cover. The outer sides of the notebook were not hollowed out for the wax. 

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Wastablet Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. V 16A = P.L. Bat. 25. 15

Of the eight pages containing writing, seven show the same writing exercise. At the top of each page the name of the student was written in cursive handwriting. Below that the writing exercise is found,  in separate, meticulously formed uncial capital letters. The exercise itself is a quote from Isocrates (Ad Demonicum 1):

Αὐρήλιος Ἀντώνιος Νεμεσίωνος 
οἱ μὲν γὰρ τοὺς φί- 
λους παρόντας μ- 
όνον τιμῶσιν, οἱ δ- 
ὲ  καὶ  μακρὰν ἀπ- 
όντας ἀγαπῶσιν. 

Aurelius Antonius, son of Nemesion. For some honour their friends only when they are near, others love them even when they are far away. 

The first page, below, was probably written by the teacher. Below the writing exercise the names of three pupils were written (Antoinius son of Nemesion, Makarios son of Paulos and Paulos son of Elias), who supposedly had to do this exercise on a Wednesday ('day of Hermes').

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Wastablet Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. V 16B = P.L. Bat. 25. 15

Page with the same writing exercise. 
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Wastablet Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. V 17A = P.L. Bat. 25. 15

Page with the same writing exercise, now with an error in the third line of the quote. 
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Wastablet Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. V 17B = P.L. Bat. 25. 15

This next page has the same writing error in the (here) fourth line of the quote. 
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Wastablet Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. V 20A = P.L. Bat. 25. 15

On the back of the former page the exercise was written faultless again. 
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Wastablet Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. V 20B = P.L. Bat. 25. 15

The page below is different. To the left an exercise in dividing syllables (three-syllable words starting with N) and to the right the table of 40, looking like this: 
1 x 40 = 40 
40 x 1 = 40 
2 x 40 = 80 
40 x 2 = 80 etc. 
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Wastablet Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. V 19A = P.L. Bat. 25. 15

Again a page with the known writing exercise. 
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Wastablet Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. V 19B = P.L. Bat. 25. 15

On the last tablet on one side the same writing exercise again (restarting the quote at the end). 
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Wastablet Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. V 18A = P.L. Bat. 25. 15

Finally, the back cover, not hollowed out but nonetheless covered with a thin layer of wax.
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Wastablet Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. V 18B = P.L. Bat. 25. 15

All papyri, each in their own way, provide information on aspects of life in antiquity. For example the complaint of a private individual about the theft of dresses, and another text on a visit of Emperor Hadrian.

Complaint to the head of police. 3rd cent. BC.

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 101=SB 6. 9068

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This papyrus comes from mummy cartonnage, the white colour being the chalk from the stucco. When the man of the house was visiting the temple some thugs entered his house and robbed the women there from their clothing, which was often the most expensive possession people had…

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Emperor Hadrian visits Egypt. 27 December 129 AD

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 172 = SB 6. 9617

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Whenever the emperor or other high officials visited a country, the local population was expected to provide shelter and food. Literary sources such as De Vita Hadriani, but also the ostraca and papyri from Egypt tell us that Hadrian did make trips abroad. This is a letter from a village scribe to the strategos of the nome, who was the (civil) head of an Egyptian province. The letter lists a number of commodities that were gathered in December 129 in view of Hadrian’s visit in the summer of 130.

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Coin with Hadrian and Alexandria. 130/131 AD.

Munt Leid.Pap.Inst. Kolff 50

This coin, which was minted in Alexandria in the year that emperor Hadrian visited Egypt, bears Hadrian’s head on one side.





Munt Leid.Pap.Inst. Kolff 50

The other side depicts him standing, wearing his toga and a laurel wreath (right), faced by Alexandria as a personification of the city itself (left). She wears an elephant skin, offering two ears of grain with her right hand. IE denotes the year in which the coin was struck (year 15).

Magic, religion and superstition were closely related in Antiquity. In this section we combined a drawing of a temple, a list of gods, magic, horoscopes, amulets and Christian texts.

Drawing of a temple? Graeco-Roman period

Papyrus P. Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 185 = P. Horak 7

Papyrus fragment from Egypt, possibly depicting a temple. Two columns, a freeze and a dromos (access to temple) can be seen.

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List of divine names from an oracle book. 3rd cent. AD

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 573 = P.L.Bat. 25.8

This list of divine names was used as a concordance with an oracle book, the so-called Oracle of Astrampsychos. It was used to match a (numbered) question with the (numbered) answer. The Greek letters (each with two little lines above) before and after the divine name are the numbers in question. The list – more or less ordered according to the alphabet – is titled Θεοὶ χρηματισταὶ καὶ σημάντορες: ‘Gods who give oracles and signs’. 

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Horoscopes and magical texts. 3rd cent. AD

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. Warren 21 recto

This is probably a private collection of magical texts on a single papyrus. The front contains a love spell, and spells to summon and send away the god. There is also a method to calculate whether someone has already died or is still alive. 

Translation of recto column II: This is an example of a so-called φιαλο- or λεκανομαντεία, “dish-divining”. First comes the incantation, then follow the other instructions. The magician operates with a dish or cup filled with olive-oil and some other ingredients; the man himself or rather his boy assistant are expected to see phantoms on the shining surface of the oil. 

‘”Come to me, god of gods, manifestation from fire and spirit, who alone wearest truth on thy head, who cleavest the darkness, lord of spirits, (magic words). Hail lord (magic words)”. Say this many times. And if as you proceed, the phantom delays: “Open, heaven; open, Olympus; open, Hades; open, abyss; let the darkness be divided at the command of the most high god and let the sacred light come forth from the infinite into the abyss”. 
If it again delays, speak thus again aloud, enchanting the boy: “(Magic words). Approach, o lord god; hail, sacred light; hail, eye of the world; hail, ray of dawn upon the world; and give me an answer concerning the things I beg of thee”. And ask what you wish. 
Release: “ I thank you that you have come at the god’s command. I beg you to keep me whole, unaffrighted, un-spectre-stuck (magic words). Betake yourselves to your hallowed seats”. 
With a cup, into which you put a cotyle of good oil, and which you place on a brick; and you shall inscribe these characters on a live magnet stone. These characters are made [probably refers to the characters written at the foot of the column]. And you shall set the stone outside on the left of the cup and, grasping it with both hands, recite as it was explained to you. Throw the magnet into the cup. Plunge in it the afterbirth of a bitch called White, viz. of a pup white when born, or a --- membrane (?). And write with myrrh on the boy’s breast “Karbaoth”.’

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Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. Warren 21 verso

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The back contains four birth horoscopes, a curse against a woman, magical spells and a drawing. The third column (broken away) started with a new spell.

Column I: Birth-horoscopes of 4 persons, born 1 February 219, 12 February 219, 12 or 13 May 217 and 2 July, 244 AD respectively:

‘2nd year of Antoninus the <sexually tinted nickname>, Mecheir 6th to 7th, 7th hour of the night: 
Saturn, ascendant                                   in Scorpio 
Jupiter, Sun                                              in Aquarius 
Mars                                                           in Aries 
Venus, Moon, Mercury                          in Capricorn  

2nd year of the same, Mecheir 17th to 18th, 11th hour of the night: 
Saturn                                                        in Scorpio 
Jupiter, Sun                                              in Aquarius 
Mars                                                           in Aries 
Venus, ascendant, Mercury                  in Capricorn 
Moon                                                          in Gemini 

Saturn                                                        in Libra 
Jupiter, Moon                                          in Capricorn 
Venus                                                         in Aries 
Sun                                                             in Taurus 
Mercury, Mars                                        in Gemini 
ascendant                                                 in Leo 

Dionysia, 1st year of Philippus, Epeiph  8th, 2nd hour of the day: 
Saturn, Mars                                           in Virgo 
Jupiter, Venus                                         in Gemini 
ascendant, Sun                                        in Cancer 
Moon                                                         in Libra’

Love spell on lead. Provenance unknown, 3rd-4th cent. AD

Loden plaatje Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. V 34 =Suppl. Mag. I 41

In antiquity people liked to use lead for magical texts. These are mostly curses, but sometimes also love spells, such as this one. The lead plates were left behind in graves and pits and the assumption was that this way they would find their way to the underworld. This piece shows spells and magical letters spurring on the gods to perform a rather difficult task: 

(l. 10-13) ‘Bring Termoutis, born by Sophia, to Zoel, born by Droser, with burning, irresistible and undying love; quickly, hurry!’

Minicodex with LXX Psalm 90. 5th cent. AD

Perkament Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 501 haarzijde = P.L. Bat. 25.10

Parchment, which was invented in Pergamum (hence the name) in the 2nd cent. BCE, is made of animal skin. It was stronger than papyrus, but also more expensive. The text of Psalm 90 was written in a tiny booklet (folded 6 x 5 cm), which may have been used as an amulet. 

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Perkament Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 501 vleeszijde = P.L. Bat. 25.10

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This is the other, 'flesh-side'of the parchments. 






Amulet with Christian creed. 6th cent. AD

Papyrus Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. 514 = P.L.Bat 19.20 = Suppl. Mag. 1.35

In antiquity the Christian faith often walked hand in hand with pagan magical beliefs. The use of amulets was a very ancient pagan custom. It was tolerated by the Church because of its widespread popularity.

‘† † † † [† † †]   
 Christ was proclaimed in advance 
 Christ appeared 
 C hrist suffered 
Christ died 
Christ was raised 
Christ was taken up 
Christ reigns 
Christ saves Vibius, whom Gennaia bore, from all fever and from all shivering, daily, quotidian, now now, quickly quickly.† † † † † † †’

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Writing exercise. Deir el-Gizaz, 6th-7th cent. AD

Ostracon Leid.Pap.Inst. inv. O 2 = P.L.Bat. 25. 11

A Coptic monk used this shard to practise the alphabet. It is clear that he was a trained scribe, but here he is trying out the so-called Bible majuscule. Another part of this same exercise was found (during an excavation in the monastery of Apa Samuel in the nineties) that fits exactly to the Leiden piece. The erroneous mu in between the alphas and betas (a hearing mistake) and the lapsus calami at the beginning of the row of epsilons are remarkable.

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The forty martyrs of Sebasteia. 7th-8th cent. AD

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Part of the list of names of the forty martyrs of Sebasteia. According to tradition these were soldiers of a Roman legion (Legio XII Fulminata) who died as martyrs near the Armenian city of Sebasteia in the era of Licinius. The names that we can read are: Leontios, Lesimachos, Xanthias, Agagios, Maurikios, Bybianos, Heliales, Athanasios, Korkonios and Aglaios.

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