12870 - Papyrology (1)

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Quality education

Academic Year 2019/2020

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students have acquired the necessary tools for reading, annotating, dating and interpreting papyrus texts of the graeco-roman period. At the end of the course students:

  • can explain original documents and can describe and discuss the main issues concerning public institutions, society, private and public relationships of the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine Egypt and of the periodizations' question.
  • can contextualize documents by relating them to the main problems and themes of Papyrology as an academic subject, and can employ some of the main methodological tools to interpret literary and documentary papyri dating to the Ptolemaic, Roman and Byzantine periods;
  • can apply with accuracy retrieval methods and tools (including digital repositories) for locating parallel texts and secondary bibliography;
  • can employ the necessary tools for cataloguing, preserving and communicating to the public the historical relevance of the papyrological documentary patrimony.

Course contents

Course contents:

  1. How to read, annotate, date, interpretate a papyrus text: methodology, tecnique, heuristic.
  2. Documentary text types, reading of original texts concerning institutions, society, public and private relationship in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt.
  3. Papyri from other regions of the Ancient World.
  4. Literary and sub-literary texts: production and circulation of texts in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt.
  5. Exercises: practice of the main traditional and computer tools for scientific research in Papyrology.

Above listed contents will be developed according to the following weekly schedule:

  1. First week: Introduction: defining the discipline, supports, transcription, interpretation, contextualization. Working tools. (total 6 hours)
  2. Second week: documents of the Greeks in Egypt before Alexander (6 hours)
  3. Third week: documents of the Ptolemaic period (6 hours)
  4. Fourth week: documents of the Roman period (6 hours)
  5. Fifth week: documents of the Byzantine and Arabic period (6 hours)

Expected preliminary knowledge: students taking this course are expected to have a basic knowledge of the main historical developments in graeco-roman Antiquity. It is recommended that students take in the first semester: Greek History 12 credits and/or Greek Epigraphy and Institutions 12 credits before attending this course.

Attendance of a basic greek language course offered at the department of Classical Philology and Italian Studies is highly recommended for students who want to concentrate their studies on Ancient History and do not have previous knowledge of classical languages:


Students who cannot attend the classes shall arrange with the Lecturer a list of original sources and practical exercises, which will be assigned according to the specific interests, needs and background of individual students.


Individual study:

1. O. Montevecchi, La Papirologia, Vita e Pensiero, Milano 1988,

  • Introduzione (pp. 3-29);
  • Parte prima (pp. 47-72);
  • Parte seconda (pp. 91-174)
  • Parte terza (pp. 175-239);
  • Parte sesta (pp. 335-401).

2. A.K. Bowman, Egypt after the Pharaos, Oxford, OUP, 1986 (at least 2 chapters from chapters 2-7)

3. Students will be asked to answer questions about the original texts presented in the lectures.
Original texts will be available in IOL with translation and commentary in Italian, German, French and English, depending on the original edition. All the texts will be translated and discussed in the lectures.

4. Students will be asked to demonstrate the ability to use the main research tools for papyrological research.

The students who cannot partecipate in the classes will be expected to prepare the books indicated on point 1 and 2 (point 2 the whole book). As for point 3 they will be assigned a selection of texts with which have to be studied individually. As for point 4, they will  demonstrate the ability to use the main research tools, through some individual assignments.

Assignments under point 3 and 4 have to be agreed with the lecturer in due time before the end of the course and in any case before the examination.

Teaching methods

The course will consist mainly in lectures and in practical sessions (transcribing, annotating, commenting original texts). If possible, some practical sessions will be held in the University library in order to work with the collection of original texts preserved there.

Assessment methods

Oral examination will test the student ability to analyze and interpret original sources for historical reconstruction (of political history, history of administration, economic and social history, cultural history and history of literature) starting from the texts discussed in class. The ability to use the scientific tools of the discipline will be checked through discussion of the exercise results.

For this reason, it is essential to study material distributed and analyzed in class and available in teaching materials as well as to complete the assignments.

For non-attending students, the method of examination is the same but for the analysis of the sources we will rely on a choice of texts and exercises agreed with the teacher.

Evaluation of excellence - will be awarded to students who will demonstrate:

  • the ability to link information acquired from direct and independent analysis of documents with the main issues and problems of discipline and the historical, cultural and social context.
  • Ability to present in a precise, accurate way, using disciplinary language, demonstrating organic mastery of the historical context and autonomy in the interpretation of sources.
  • Ability to use autonomously the main research tools even on unseen cases different from those discussed in class.

Good / Satisfactory - will be awarded to student who will show:

  • Ability to analyze documents discussed in class and knowledge of the themes and problems of the discipline and the historical, cultural and social context.
  • ability to express themselves properly, demonstrating awareness of the methodology needed for using documentary sources.
  • Autonomous use of tools on familiar cases

Average Suffiicent - In order to pass the exam even with a minimum- low grade students will need to:

  • describe the main issues concerning public institutions, society, private and public relationships of the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine Egypt
  • interpret the texts according to the methodology discussed in class and apply the basic tools and information for the reconstruction of the context.
  • Express themselves with correct language.
  • show ability of basic use of tools

Teaching tools

Students will be asked to get acquainted, at least to a basic extent, to the main scientific tools for research in Papyrology, both bibliographical (in the library of the Department of History and Cultures, Ancient History unit, via Zamboni, 38) and online.

Office hours

See the website of Fabian Lothar Walter Reiter