2nd Edition

Reading Papyri, Writing Ancient History

By Roger S. Bagnall Copyright 2020
    144 Pages
    by Routledge

    144 Pages
    by Routledge

    Since its first publication in 1995, Reading Papyri, Writing Ancient History has proved to be an invaluable resource for students of the ancient world looking to integrate papyrological evidence into their research. In the quarter century since its publication, changes in the research environment have affected papyrology like other fields. Although the core philological methods of the field remain in place, the field has increasingly embraced languages other than Greek and Latin, with considerable impact on the Hellenistic and Late Antique periods. Digital tools have increased the ease and speed of access, with profound effects on research choices, and digital imaging and materiality studies have brought questions about the physical form of written materials to the fore.

    In this fully revised new edition, Bagnall adds to the previous analysis a portrait of how the use of papyri for historical research has developed during recent decades. Updated with the latest research and insights from the author, the volume guides historians in how to use these scattered and often badly damaged documents, and to interpret them in order to create a full and diverse picture of ancient society and culture.

    This second edition of Reading Papyri, Writing Ancient History continues to offer students and researchers of the ancient world a critical resource in navigating how to use these ancient texts in their research.

    List of figures

    Preface to the second edition

    Preface to the first edition



    Introduction: history and papyri

    1 The culture of papyrus

    2 Ancient and modern choices in documentation

    Languages and scripts

    Who wrote what

    Survival of papyri

    Restoring and using damaged papyri

    3 Particular and general

    Understanding individual documents

    Archives and dossiers

    Museum archaeology

    Synthesizing dispersed texts

    Joining papyri to other evidence

    4 Time and place

    Stratifying material

    A broader Mediterranean context

    Province and empire

    The chronological axis

    5 Quantification

    Patterns of land ownership

    Textile production

    Wine production


    Religious conversion

    Mathematics and networks

    6 Asking questions

    Other ancient texts

    Anthropology and the papyri

    Post-colonial studies and Ptolemaic Egypt

    Gender studies and the papyri

    Papyri and the history of emotions

    New Institutional Economics

    7 The digital revolution

    Failing cheaply

    The impact of digital imaging

    Digital resources and onomastics

    8 Continuity and renewal

    The durability of philology

    The challenge of a larger context

    Limits and prospects


    Works cited in the text and notes

    General bibliography

    Index of subjects

    Index of texts cited


    Roger S. Bagnall is Jay Professor of Greek and Latin and Professor of History, emeritus, at Columbia University, USA, and Professor of Ancient History and Leon Levy Director, emeritus, at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University, USA. His other publications include Egypt in Late Antiquity (1993), The Demography of Roman Egypt (1994), and Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East (2011).