Archive | July 2012

Greek letter combinations

We thought it might be helpful to provide information on how Greek combines letters and have prepared the following chart that reflects possible and impossible combinations of letters in standard Greek words.  The qualification ‘standard’ is important, as exceptions to these rules are not uncommon. Exceptions may be caused by: 1) abbreviations in documentary papyri; 2) letters used as numerals, both in texts and documents; 3) scribal errors; 4) Greek names  ‘imported’ from other languages, such as Egyptian, Latin, Hebrew (for example, biblical names often combine letters in ways Greek would not and Egyptian names are very common in documentary papyri, see our last blog post); 5) magical words in spells and incantations

1=possible; 0=does not occur.  For each cell, the first letter of the combination is determined by the row and the second by the column.  Thus, the top row represents all the combinations that begin with α.  Please note that word divisions do not matter.  The combination ξξ would not occur within a word, for example, but is marked as possible because it can occur at the end of one word and the beginning of the next.

Theresa Chresand, Rachael Cullick, Marco Perale, Ryan Seaberg


Geographical, Personal, and Month Names

Greetings Ancient Lives Users! Before beginning our next post, we have a small announcement:

We’ve just hit the 1-year mark since the launch of the website! The success of the project so far has been due in large part to your dedicated efforts. Thank you for all of the transcriptions, measurements, and posts in Talk. Please continue the great work!

In previous posts, we have briefly discussed documentary papyri, and provided tips for deciphering their rather difficult cursive script. Now, we will examine the vocabulary of some of these manuscripts.

 Unlike in literary papyri, in documentary papyri there are recurring expressions such as dating and greeting formulas; proper nouns like geographical, and personal names; and units of measurement. For example, Egyptian month names appear with relative frequency.

 These are:  Θώθ, Φαῶφι, Ἁθύρ, Χοίακ, Τῦβι, Μεχείρ, Φαμενώθ, Φαρμοῦθι, Παχών, Παῦνι, Ἐπείφ, Μεσορή.


(Ἁθύρ) P.Oxy. 4700 (Top of Contract) line 2

 Other common vocabulary that might be found? Greek and Egyptian personal names.


Greek, nominative: Ἀπολλώνιος  (P.Oxy. 4889, Order for Transfer of Credit in Grain, line 1)


 Greek, dative: Διονυϲία<i> (the iota adscript was not always written in) (P.Oxy. 4889, line 16)

 There might also be geographical names.


 P.Oxy. 4700: The city of Oxyrhynchus is mentioned at line 6: Ὀξυρυγχιτῶν πόλεωϲ “of the city of the inhabitants of O.”

A papyrus can also consist of only a list of toponyms. Particularly relevant in this respect is the Bell Papyrus, located at the Bell Library in Minneapolis and containing a list of toponyms in Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Anatolia, some easy to identify, some much more obscure. It is difficult to tell what the list represents; it is possible that it is has some sort of religious significance, since there were Coptic ties to many of the places mentioned. A picture of the papyrus is available here: (appendix: Illustrations, p. 23)

Theresa Chresand, Rachael Cullick, Marco Perale, Ryan Seaberg