2nd Edition

Reading Papyri, Writing Ancient History

ISBN 9780815379928
Published June 24, 2019 by Routledge
144 Pages

USD $46.95

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Book Description

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.

Table of Contents

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

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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).