More Tips for Documentary Papyri

When you start to transcribe a cursive script:

1. Look for words and phrases that typically appear in documents, like χαίρειν (see greeting formula at the end)

2. Watch out for ligatures and unusual forms

Many letters appear differently in different documents.

Epsilon can be straightforward…


…but it often looks like this:


or even this:


Rho can also have several forms:



or with a curled tail:


Upsilon is sometimes written higher than the other letters.

It may be long and broad…


…or small and more pointed


Sometimes letters in documents bear almost no resemblance to their usual forms.

The letter on the right, for example, is open-topped beta.


Look for ligatures…some common ones are:

alpha + iota


epsilon + iota (χαιρειν)


sigma + epsilon


You will also find symbols in documentary papyri. (See the post below for a list of symbols and their meanings.)

The L-shaped year (ἔτους) symbol is very common.


Sometimes horizontal lines are used to mark abbreviations or numbers. (See post on numbers also below.)

Image (abbreviation for ευχομαι)

Here is an example of a greeting formula. The person who is sending the message is in the nominative case (Ἡράκλειος). The person receiving it goes in the dative (Θεμιστοκλεῖ). Ιn this case, an adjective is used to describe Themistocles: τιμιωτάτωι: most honoured. The last part of the formula is the word χαίρειν, greetings!


[All images from published Oxyrhynchus papyri]

Happy Transcribing!

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