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Egypt Exploration Society

working in Egypt for 125 years

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The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Collection

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Collection, which comprises the papyrus texts excavated by Grenfell and Hunt at Oxyrhynchus and other sites in Egypt and related materials, belongs mainly to the Egypt Exploration Society (apart from some personal items of Grenfell and Hunt), and is housed by Oxford University in its Sackler Library.The Society owns over 500,000 papyrus fragments, the largest collection of papyri in the world. The collection mainly comprises literary, documentary and other texts in Greek, dating from the third century BC to the seventh century AD, but also includes a few hundred texts each in Egyptian (hieroglyphic, hieratic, demotic, mostly Coptic), Latin and Arabic, and a very few in Hebrew and Aramaic, Syriac and Pahlavi. Most of these papyri come from the excavations of Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt at ancient Oxyrhynchus in 1896/7 and from 1903 to 1906/7. Some of the Greek and Latin texts come from ancient village sites in the Fayyum and from the cemeteries of el-Hibeh where Grenfell and Hunt (see image at right) dug between 1895 and 1903, and from the 1913/14 excavations of John de M. Johnson at Antinoopolis. The Society also holds various records of the excavations and the distribution of the finds, including several hundred photographs taken by Hunt and Johnson (see here for further information on the Society's archives).

The Sackler Library provides a room equipped for the restoration, photography and decipherment of the papyri. Work is also carried out at University College London and the Institute of Classical Studies of the University of London. In the earlier years some papyri were sent to the Cairo Museum after publication, and others were distributed to appropriate museums and educational institutions in Great Britain and the North America to encourage interest in papyrology, but now all published papyri are retained to facilitate future re-examination and the possible joining of fragments.

Financial support for the care and publication of the collection, which is designated as a British Academy Major Project, is currently provided by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy.The EES appoints a Management Committee to oversee the collection and its publication. The current chairman of the committee is Professor D.W. Rathbone, King's College London. The basic work of organising the publication of the papyri is undertaken by a group of General Editors, at present Dr N. Gonis, Dr D. Obbink and Professor P. J. Parsons. They are appointed by the Management Committee and are jointly responsible to it for the assignment of papyri and the preparation of texts for publication in the annual volume of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, a part of the Society's Graeco-Roman Memoirs series. They draw on the regular assistance of the Advisory Editors, currently Professors A. K. Bowman, G. B. D’Alessio and J. D. Thomas, and also contributions by many other papyrologists in the UK and abroad.

There is no single project or Director. The editing and publication of the papyri is a Major Research Project of the British Academy which provides some financial support. The physical publication is funded by the EES members who subscribe to the Graeco-Roman Memoirs. The preparation of texts for publication is funded mostly by a five-year grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which includes the employment of two Research Associates. For the current quinquennium (September 2010 to August 2015) the grant-holder and Principal Investigator is Dr N. Gonis, University College London. The current Research Associates are Dr Daniela Colomo and Dr Ben Henry.

The collection website, POxy: Oxyrhynchus Online, provides digital images of most of the published papyri (except those which were distributed). These images are created by another project, ‘Imaging Papyri in Oxford’, directed by Dr Obbink. Requests to reproduce the images require the approval both of the Imaging Papyri project and of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri Management Committee.

Dr Daniela Colomo is responsible for the curatorial work and daily running of the collection. Requests to visit the collection, queries about published papyri and requests to reproduce images of them should be addressed to her in the first instance, at: daniela.colomo@classics.ox.ac.uk.

From 1898 up to 2008, 94 volumes of the Graeco-Roman Memoirs have been published, including 72 volumes of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri. All are available for consultation in the Society's Library. About 6,000 texts have been published, all with translations and commentaries in English. This makes it the best published of the world’s big collections of papyri.

Permission to use Oxyrhynchus Project images

Requests to use images of the Society’s papyri for books, films or electronic resources should be sent by e-mail or post to the London Office. Applicants should first check whether there is an image already available, and of adequate quality, on the website of the University of Oxford Imaging Papyri Project. Identify the papyrus text in which you are interested. The site has an online database of published items which can be searched by author, genre (type/content), date or keywords. Record the publication number (e.g. 2340; the volume number is not needed), and type it into the query box at the top left of the page.Note that the Society has photographs of some but not all of the papyri which were distributed to other institutions (that means documentary papyri which do not currently feature on the database of digital images), and permission to reproduce them must be sought from the institutions which now hold these papyri.

The Society normally charges a fee for reproduction of images in commercial books, films or electronic resources. Rates are available from the London Office. Fees are normally waived for use in academic or educational studies if the images are already online, although a charge to cover costs will be made if the request involves making an special image. If several images are used or the publication is commercial, the Society may also require a copy of the work - book or CD-ROM of film - for its Library.

All images of the Society’s papyri must be acknowledged: ‘Courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society' and if acquired from the Imaging Project must be acknowledged 'Courtesy of The Egypt Exploration Society and the University of Oxford Imaging Papyri Project’.

Digital images created by the Oxford Imaging Papyri Project must not be made available on any open website.

Some suggested reading

P. Parsons, City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish. Greek Lives in Roman Egypt (Orion Books 2007).

ed. A.K. Bowman and others, Oxyrhynchus. A City and its Texts (EES 2007).

Mountford, M, 'A day at the races in Byzantine Oxyrhynchus' in EA 41 (2012), 5-7

D.W. Rathbone, ‘Grenfell and Hunt at Oxyrhynchus and in the Fayum’, (in) ed. P. Spencer, The Egypt Exploration Society - The Early Years (EES 2007) 195-229.

E.G. Turner, ‘The Graeco-Roman branch’, (in) ed. T.G.H. James, Excavating in Egypt. The Egypt Exploration Society 1882-1982 (EES 1982) 160-78.

Online images and other information: http://www.papyrology.ox.ac.uk/POxy/

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