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Greek Papyrology


Admission requirements

Regular MA admission with sufficient knowledge of ancient Greek (if in doubt, contact the instructor).


Papyrology is the study of ancient texts written on papyrus and other portable materials. More than 70.000 Greek papyri have been found and edited up til now. These copies of literary works, petitions, private letters, contracts and lists provide an invaluable resource for the transmission of Greek literature and the social, economic and cultural history of Egypt and the Mediterranean area during the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods.

This course offers an intensive introduction to the papyrological apparatus and how to use papyri in research. Students will become familiar with printed and digital papyrological resources and learn how to read and date Greek handwriting from the fourth century BCE until the eighth century CE. They will practice their palaeographical skills on original papyri from the collection of the Leiden Papyrological Institute. Students will present their own papyrus and write a popular science article about a chosen original literary or documentary papyrus, reflecting on its contribution to our knowledge of the ancient world.

Course objectives

Knowledge and insights:

  • Knowledge of the printed and digital papyrological resources, such as editions, corpora, websites and databases, and how to use them.

  • Knowledge of a range of different types of Greek texts (literary texts, letters, contracts, petitions etc.) transmitted on papyrus and other portable materials.

  • Knowledge of the historical and cultural context of Greek papyri from Graeco-Roman Egypt.

  • Understanding of the terminology and concepts in Greek palaeography relevant for reading documentary and literary papyri.

  • Familiarity with Greek handwriting used in documentary papyri from the Hellenistic until the Byzantine period.

  • Familiarity with the post-Classical Greek language used in documentary papyri from the Hellenistic until the Byzantine period.


  • The ability to independently identify a published Greek papyrus from an image or original using relevant printed and digital tools.

  • The ability to approximately date a Greek papyrus based on the handwriting using relevant printed and digital tools.

  • The ability to independently read and translate a published Greek papyrus using relevant printed and digital tools.

  • The ability to independently situate a given papyrus in the historical and cultural context with the help of relevant secondary literature.

  • Formulation of a research question, collecting and interpreting relevant papyrological sources and secondary literature, constructing arguments and formulating conclusions.

  • Presentation of a papyrus with own translation, demonstrating the ability to read the Greek text in the original handwriting and reflecting on the contribution of this papyrus to our knowledge the ancient world in comparison to recent scholarship.

  • The ability to provide constructive feedback to the work of others and to evaluate the value of such feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it.

  • The ability to write a popular science article presenting a papyrus in its historical and cultural context, answering an independently formulated research question related to this papyrus on the basis of a selection of other parallel papyri and secondary literature.

  • The course requires active participation and preparation of each class, making contributions to collective progress on the basis of prior study of each papyrus and critical interpretation of independently selected relevant secondary literature.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

Seminar, self-study and written assignments.

Assessment method


  • Weekly assignments (50%)

  • Presentation(s) in class (20%)

  • Written paper(s) (30 %)
    The requirements for MA and ResMA students are differentiated: ResMA students are expected to come up with their own original research question on the basis of the chosen papyrus and an innovative selection and critical interpretation of other papyri and literature; MA students may expect more help in choosing their research question and their papers may consist of an assessment of the status quaestionis and parallel papyri as presented in literature.


The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, the student can revise the paper or submit one or more new assignments (after consultation with the teacher). There is no resit for the oral presentation. If the final mark is sufficient, the paper and assignments cannot be retaken.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized..

Reading list

  • R.S. Bagnall (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology (Oxford University Press, 2009) (also available online through Leiden University Library).

  • Other relevant literature, to be found in the PAPY section of the Leiden University library, will be announced on Brightspace, but literature must also be searched by the students themselves as part of the preparation for each class and assignments.


Enrolment through My Studymap (Login | Universiteit Leiden) is mandatory.

General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Registration À la carte education, Contract teaching and Exchange

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of À la carte education (without taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of Contract teaching (with taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.
For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturers listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal


Not applicable.