At the dawn of the discipline

Papyrology is a new discipline. The first Greek papyrus from Egypt known in Europe was the so-called Charta Borgiana, a list of canal-workers for the year 193 AD in the site of Tebtynis. The papyrus, which is now housed at the National Museum in Naples, came from a wood sycamore box containing 50 papyri of unknown provenance. It was bought by an anonymous italian merchant in Giza in 1777, and donated to the Italian cardinal Stefano Borgia (from whom it takes its name).

It was not, however, until the XIX century that a few collections of papyri in Europe were formed. The core of the Collection in Turin (Museo Egizio, Egyptian Museum) was acquired in 1824 by Charles Felix of Sardinia (1765-1831), king of the reign of Piedmont-Sardinia, from the antiquarian Bernardino Drovetti (1776-1852), who was appointed by Napoleon as French consul to Egypt. It was a time when diplomats and military men were often also collectors of antiquities. Among them was Jean d’Anastasi (1780-1857), a merchant from Damascus, who became the consular representative of Sweden in Alexandria not long after Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt (1798-1801). After he came back to Europe in 1828, his collection was purchased by various libraries in Europe: the British Museum in London; the Bibliothèque Nationale and the Louvre in Paris; The Staatliche Museen in Berlin; and the Rijksmuseum in Leiden.

In 1863 the French archaeologist Auguste Mariette (1821-1881), the Director of the Conservation Service in Egypt, founded the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, later ravaged by a flood and rebuilt in 1897. The Papyrussammlung in Vienna originated in 1883 and was based on the finds made between 1877 and 1880 in the area of Fayyum by Josef von Karabacek, an art-historian and Professor of History of the Orient at the University of Vienna. The papyri were later purchased by the Archduke Joseph Rainer of Austria, who gave the name to the collection and the publication series called Corpus Papyrorum Raineri. The publication of these new acquisitions, which marks the beginning of Papyrology as a science, did not systematically start before the last two decades of the XIX century. The first volume of the Corpus Papyrorum Raineri was published in 1895 by C. Wessely, who had already been assigned the publication of a set of Leipzig papyri in 1885. The first volume of the Greek Papyri in the British Museum, by F.G. Kenyon came out in 1893, followed by the inaugural volume of the Aegyptische Urkunden aus den Königlichen (later Staatlichen) Museen zu Berlin, published in 1895. The era of Oxyrhynchus was about to arrive.


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