Papyrus, plural papyri, was the most important writing material of the ancient world. Especially in ancient papyrus fulfilled a similar function today paper.


The papyrus plant or the papyrus thicket were in Egypt with " djit " (d ( j) t) or " tjufi " ( ṯwfj ) refers. The individual stems with cone was called " wadj " ( W3D ) and is made of the importance of " green, be fresh, flourish ' derived. The edited for writing papyrus was (DM ˁ ) called " djema ", a single page " qahet " ( q3ḥt ) and a role " aret " ( ˁ rt ).

The Greek word πάπυρος papyrus may be traced back to a reconstructed Egyptian word "pa -en -per- aa" (p3 -n- pr- ˁ 3), which means " the Pharaoh ". This could be an indication that the production of papyrus during the Ptolemaic period was under royal monopoly. From Greek papyrus dates back over Latin papyrus, Nebenform Papyrum, the German word paper from ( MHG paper ).


In ancient Egypt as early as the 3rd millennium BC, the first papyri were probably produced as a writing. The raw material was provided by the Genuine Papyrus ( Cyperus papyrus ), a nutsedge variety that can grow up to 3 meters high.

The preparation of the Beschreibstoffs Papyrus describes in the 1st century AD, Pliny the Elder in the 13th book of his Natural History. The Mark of the plant stem is up to 4 cm wide strips that are easily placed together overlapping. Two mutually crosswise overlapping layers of this strip to be pressed into a solid sheet, and knocking, which is held together by the adhesive force of the starchy vegetable juice. Then the " plate " is dried. Then you can paint or describe the papyrus.

With a special glue, the recipe handed down Pliny, the leaves are satin and glued in a uniform fiber direction to roles, processes in later times to codes. The width of the roles that have been used for Greek and Latin literary texts, is on average 20-25 centimeters. Pliny distinguishes six levels of quality of the papyrus, from the fine hieratica ( "saints" ) or Augusta ( " Imperial " ) to gross emporitica ( wrapping paper ).

Later, the name was changed to the invented in China for writing - just the paper - transfer, which also made ​​its triumphant in Europe since the 14th century.

Writing materials

Was written on papyrus with black and red color. The black color was arabic from soot and a solution of gum, the red color was produced in ocher base. As a writing instrument used was a brush of rushes. In the 3rd century BC, the Greeks replaced the brush by a split tube spring.

Use of the papyrus

Papyrus as a writing can be proved for the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC in Egypt. From Greece starting the papyrus of the Roman Empire found a wide circulation. The oldest Greek papyri can be dated, dating from the 4th century BC

What has been described Papyrus preferably parallel to the fiber direction ( recto ). In the scroll, this is the inside. A - perpendicular to the fiber direction - label the back ( verso), in most cases back to a later reuse of the material. The rule of thumb that the labeling of the outer surface is younger than that of the inside is helpful for the chronology of writings and texts. However, it applies only to the period from about 250 BC to 400 AD

According to the books losses in late antiquity, the papyrus roll is gradually displaced by the parchment codex as a carrier of the few surviving literary texts. Parchment was more expensive, but also smoother, stronger and more stable.

For documents and letters papyrus remains localized to the early Middle Ages a common writing material. The oldest surviving church in libraries papyri documents from Ravenna from 455 to 850 in Italy Papyrus was used in the papal chancery and in southern Italy until the end of the 11th century.

Importance for the textual tradition

Papyrus is sensitive to mechanical stress, moisture, and rottenness, but basically has a surprisingly high durability. Pliny mentions his study of a 300 year old roll of papyrus. Up to the present papyri have survived (especially Egypt ) and the Middle East only in the dry desert sands of North Africa. In Egypt, have been sealed by the 3rd century BC until the Roman Imperial period papyri also cardboard boxes that were used for wrapping mummies. By resolution of the cardboard the texts can be made readable again on the papyri.

A significant papyrus find the Herculaneum papyri. It involves about 1,800 charred roles of the private library of a villa on the outskirts of Herculaneum (Villa of the Papyri ), which were preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in the year 79 AD. Famous are also the finds of the Egyptian Oxyrhynchus. Over 400,000 Oxyrhynchus Papyri of the 20th century have been excavated since the beginning, of which only a small part so far has been published.

Papyri are of importance for the textual tradition of Greek and Latin literature of antiquity. Most of the texts have survived only in medieval codices. If passages are preserved on papyrus, the texts of the codes can be traced back to ancient times and corrected if necessary. Nearly 130 New Testament passages and fragments have been discovered until 2014 on papyrus.

Occasionally includes papyrus find a gap in the resulting oeuvre of an ancient author. So Menander's comedy was Dyskolos about in 1958 from a papyrus codex known. On Papyrus also a large amount of its own, everyday, legal and business documents of antiquity has been preserved.