The research project is dedicated to studying a group of unpublished manuscripts from Tebtunis (Fayum, Egypt)datable to the period of the Roman Principate.

Research history

Most of the papyri preserved at the Berkeley Collection (Center for the Tebtunis Papyri) were discovered by classicists and papyrologists B.P. Grenfell and A.S. Hunt in the 1899–1900 excavation season at Umm El Baragat, the ancient Tebtunis, through funding from the University of California. Tebtunis was a large village: the site area is estimated at about 57 ha (roughly the size of ancient Pompeii), and estimates of the population range between 3000 and 8000. The thousands of papyri from Tebtunis have been acknowledged to be a representative primary resource for reconstructing the cultural and administrative practices of Greco-Roman Egypt.


In 2003, some fragments from the 1899–1900 finds were rediscovered. Kept in containers that had remained overlooked in Oxford for decades, the missing papyri were eventually moved to Berkeley in 2005. They turn out to be a crucial part of the collection: not a few of them join with fragments that were already published and belong to known ancient archives. Within the present research, 32 of the rediscovered documents (all hitherto unpublished) will be studied and edited: all are datable to the period between the beginning of Roman rule in Egypt and the 3rd century CE. Mostly written in Greek, some in Latin, they include contracts, official and private letters, public registers, and fragments of a technical book. Although heterogeneous in content and typology, it is possible to determine that the 32 papyri come from a circumscribed archaeological context, and some of them immediately show direct connections with people and families known from other published documents, but also show previously unknown links between families of different social groups.

Method and project goals

The study will be conducted by following a series of strands interconnected with each other: the family archives and their reciprocal ties, the professional scribes who wrote the documents, the administrative and medical activity in the ancient Fayum. The preliminary examination of these texts makes it clear that they can give a new comprehensive picture of the interactions between various social classes and ethnic groups in the province of Egypt, of social and geographical mobility, and provide insight into Roman administrative policies and the economic and demographic changes in Roman Egypt.


Roberto Mascellari


The Center for the Tebtunis Papyri (The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley)




FWF M 3235 Meitner-Programm