Papyrology is the study of ancient literature, correspondence, legal archives, etc., as preserved in manuscripts written on papyrus, the most common form of writing material in the Egyptian, Greek and Roman worlds. Papyrology entails both the translation and interpretation of ancient documents in a variety of languages, as well as the care and preservation of the papyrus originals.

Papyrology as a systematic discipline dates from the 1890s, when large caches of well-preserved papyri were discovered by archaeologists in several locations in Egypt, such as Crocodilopolis (Arsinoe) and Oxyrhynchus. (See Oxyrhynchus Gospels.) Leading centres of papyrology include Oxford University, Heidelberg University, Columbia University, the University of Michigan, the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, and the University of California, Berkeley. Founders of papyrology were the Viennese orientalist Joseph von Karabacek (Arabic papyrology),  Wilhelm Schubart (Greek papyrology), the Austrian antiquarian Theodor Graf who acquired more than 100,000 Greek, Arabic, Coptic and Persian papyri in Egypt, which were bought by the Austrian Archduke RainerG. F. Tsereteli who published papyri of Russian and Georgian collections,  Frederic George Kenyon, Ulrich Wilcken, Bernard Pyne Grenfell, Arthur Surridge Hunt  and other distinguished scientists.

The collection of pagan, Christian and Arabic papyri in Vienna called the Rainer papyri represents the first large discovery of manuscripts on papyrus found in the Fayum in Egypt. About 1880 a carpet trader in Cairo acquired on behalf of Karabacek over 10,000 papyri and some texts written on linen. Of those over 3000 are written in Arabic. The papyri originated from Kôm Fâris (Krokodílon Pólis) and Ihnasiyyah al-Madinah (Herakleopolis Magna), the textile pages from Kôm al-‘Azâma. They were exported to Vienna in 1882, and presented in a public exhibition the following year that caused a sensation. Later the papyri were bought by the Grand Duke Rainer and presented to the Kaiserliche Akademie der Wissenschaften in Vienna.


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