95840 - Provenance and Contextualisation of Papyrus Findings (Lm)

Academic Year 2023/2024

  • Docente: Giulio Iovine
  • Credits: 6
  • SSD: L-ANT/05
  • Language: English
  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures
  • Campus: Bologna
  • Corso: Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Archaeology and Cultures of the Ancient World (cod. 8855)

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students will have acquired an understanding of the main problems and themes of Papyrology as an academic subject, and employ some of the main methodological tools to appreciate the importance of papyrus documents within the larger field of written cultural heritage. Students will be familiar with research regarding the text content as well as the materiality of manuscripts, and will be able to analyze the epistemic consequences of collecting manuscripts within the current debates on provenances of cultural artifacts. They will also be able to apply retrieval methods and tools (including digital repositories) for locating artifacts and the texts they are bearing and secondary bibliography. By the end of the course students will be able to comprehend the history of papyri’s acquisition processes, dispersion of papyrus documents in museum libraries and private collections and understand ethical and scientific implications of such processes on historical contextualization of written documents and ancient archives. They will be able to apply their analytical skills to professional activities linked with manuscript collections in museums, libraries and other institutions.

Course contents

Course contents

The course offers to the attending students a reasonably wide perspective on how the great collections of papyri and other ancient manuscripts have been gathered, either through archaeological excavations or the antiquities market, or both; on the difficulties concerning the preservation and decipherment of these manuscripts; and on the controversies they have sometimes generated between the (foreign, mostly) acquiring institutions and the ones existing where they were found.

Several case studies will be descrbed in class, and will serve as examples for the presentations of the students (see below).


Class work

  1. Introductory lecture (2 hours) on the digital tools now available to do papyrological research, i.e. finding papyri and metadata online, compare texts and navigating the websites of modern libraries and collections (e.g. Trismegistos, papyri.info, PapPal, Clauss-Slaby, HGV)
  2. Case studies presented by the teacher (ca. 6 hours), including:
    • The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Yale University and the French Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres united in resurrecting from the banks of the Euphrates a destroyed city; the discovery of the P.Dura
    • Western associations for the purchase of Egyptian papyri: the Egypt Exploration Society, the Società Italiana, the Deutsches Papyruskartell; their successes, failures and controversies
    • The collaboration of archaeologists and paleographers in deciphering new papyri and potsherd: Robert Marichal and his dealings with excavations in Libya and Tunisia
  3. Further case studies and problems (ca. 12 hours), presented by invited speakers and leading experts in the field, including:
    • The Herculaneum Papyri (PHerc) and the Neapolitan excavations in the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum
    • The collection at the John Rylands Library at Manchester University
    • The French excavations in the Eastern Desert and the incredible wealth of ostraka from Roman forts in the area (Mons Claudianus, Krokodilo, Berenike)
    • The Tebtynis papyri at University of California Berkeley (excavations and antiquities market)
    • Digitalization and commentary upon unpublished sources on papyrological excavations, such as personal letters between scholars involved in fieldwork (Grenfell, Hunt, Smyly, Rubensohn)
    • Eurocentrism in Papyrology and the ongoing controversies between the Egyptian and the Western institutions for the return of items and material illegaly acquired, or lent and long overdue
  4. Presentations by students (in working groups) on topics related to the course, and agreed beforehand with the teacher (about 10 hours). This presentation will be part of the work for the final assessment. Students involved in the presentation will be considered attending students.


Pending the availability of all the external experts and the number of students willing to make a presentation over a chosen topic, the final distribution of hours in sections 3) and 4) may vary.


a) Compulsory readings for attending students:

  • R. BAGNALL, Writing on ostraca. A culture of potsherds?, in Id., Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East, Berkeley-Los Angeles-London 2011: pp. 117-137
  • H. CUVIGNY, The Finds of the Papyri: The Archaeology of Papyrology, in R.S. BAGNALL (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology, Oxford 2009: pp. 30-58
  • B. HAUG, Politics, Partage, and Papyri: Excavated Texts Between Cairo and Ann Arbor (1924–1953), «American Journal of Archaeology» 125 (2021), pp. 143–163

Non-attending students will read the articles and chapters listed above, plus some more (see b). Non-attending students are required to discuss with the teacher their final choice before signing in for the oral exam, or the exam itself will not take place.

b) Compulsory readings for non-attending students:

- 5 more articles or a full monograph to be selected, according to topics close to the students’ interests and sensibility, from the list uploaded in Virtuale. Most of the material will be available in the same repository.

Other choices may be suggested by the students and previously agreed with the teacher also on the basis of their specific interests.

All the texts read and discussed during the course will be available as teaching materials in the IOL web site; students will find PDF version of the bibliography where available or specific indications about availability of books and articles in the same IOL repository.

Teaching methods

1) Class lectures by the teacher, presentation of the subject and some case studies, where students are invited to participate in analysis and discussion;

2) Presentation by experts in the field; students, after reading some suggested readings in preparation to classes, agreed with the teacher, will critically participate in the discussion following experts presentations;

3) Presentation by students who, divided into groups, will prepare and discuss in class specific case studies agreed with the teacher.

Assessment methods

Attending students. A student is considered ‘attending’ when he/she attends 10 out of 15 lessons. Students are strongly advised to declare as soon as possible whether they will attend the course or not, in order to facilitate the partition in groups and the final presentations of the attending students.

The final assessment is divided into two parts:

  1. 50% of the final assessment will be based on the presentation of the working groups. Depending on the critical insight and depth of the presentation, the members of the group receive a preliminary grade. The grade assigned to the presentation will be based on the assessment of information retrieval (including informed review of existing databases), quality of analysis of the state of the art, use of appropriate vocabulary, critical appraisal of the main methodological issues, use of appropriate analytical tools, clear structure and presentation, capacity of dividing tasks in the group and produce an organic work.
  2. 50% of the assessment will be based on an oral examination. Each student will be asked three questions on the compulsory readings. The oral exam will assess a precise knowledge of the essays studied and a mature critical understanding and ability to discuss about them, capacity to manage and communicate interdisciplinary and intercultural connections with awareness of the different scientific approaches.

Non-attending students. Students who are unable to properly attend the course (see above) are strongly advised to say so as soon as possible, in order to facilitate the partition of the working groups. The assessment will be based on an oral exam, in which three questions will be asked on the compulsory readings. The questions will assess the capacity of presenting the course topics with critical awareness of the methodological implications and interdisciplinary/intercultural connections, clarity of oral expression, use of appropriate vocabulary. Quality of autonomy in the assessment of the digital tools and methods related to specific case studies.

  • good/excellent final grade: critical analysis of topics with use of proper terminology and autonomous capacity to apply the appropriate methods and analytical tools to a given context.

  • sufficient/fair grade: description of the main issues learned or analysed, use of appropriate language even if with some uncertainties. Guided capacity to apply methods, based on replication of class examples or examples found in readings

  • fail: Serious or extensive shortcomings, inappropriate language, inability to correctly frame the topics dealt with, lack of orientation within the bibliographical materials indicated will be evaluated negatively.

Teaching tools

The course is paper-free. The teacher will employ power-point files, as will the students in their presentations. Pdf documents are available on the platform Virtuale.

Office hours

See the website of Giulio Iovine