First Report on Papyri Sent by Nahman: July 1923

See scan of original document

July 20, 1923

This consignment consists (a) of four packets sent through the post, (b) of two wooden boxes sent separately. Of the latter one contains exclusively Demotic papyri, the other a large collection of miscellaneous Greek and (apparently very few) Coptic papyri, chiefly fragmentary. As the last mentioned are clearly of minor importance and, owing to their number number and imperfection, will take some time to describe, and as I am leaving for my vacation on August 1, I have thought it best to make a separate report on the four postal packets, which contain the best of the Greek and Coptic papyri. A second report, on the papyri in the box, will be sent later, after my return.

In damping out and flattening the papyri the covers of packets III and IV seem to have been accidentally confused. As the mistake was not discovered till my descriptions had been written it seemed better not to alter the numbers here affixed. it must therefore by understood that in this Report Packet III = Nahman's IV and Packet IV = Nahman's III.

The papyri are a very good lot on the whole, but the prices asked seem to me very high and, in the case of I, quite fantastic. Those in Packet I are the residue of the archive of the γραφειον of Tebtunis, of which other portions were acquired by Michigan in 1921 and 1922.

These, like the former ones, are in wonderful preservation, and are of much the same character as the others. Unfortunately, as before, more than half of them are subscriptions only, the actual contracts never having been written, so that in many cases much of the papyrus is blank.

Packet II is described as from Batn el-Harît (Theadelphia), and this appears to be correct. It must not be supposed however that these papyri are from a recent find; eight out of the ten rolls were offered to the Museum, along with two or three others, as long ago as 1911-12, but were not bought as the price was too high. These rolls are mostly tax registers but are valuable; three, which form parts of a τομος συγκολλσιμος of receipts addressed to a state bank, are specially noteworthy.

Packet III consist of miscellaneous papyri. At least one Coptic and several of the Greek papyri come from the Meletian archive acquired by the British Museum last year, and are distinctly interesting. It is obviously desirable that these should be secured; one actually completes a B. M. papyrus. Others (Greek) come from a find made at Darb el Gerza (Philadelphia) and consist chiefly of documents of the reign of Diocletian and his immediate successors.

Packet IV is also miscellaneous. A considerable portion of it consists of papyri from the Gerza Diocletian archive; these include a very interesting set of letters of the household of a certain Paniscus, at one time a Christian but in one letter (either before conversion or after relapse during the Persecution) a Pagan. There are also some 1st and 2nd cent. papyri from Theadelphia and elsewhere, and a very good Latin document. Finally, there are a few Zeno papyri, all imperfect and none of them of any special interest.

In fixing prices I have borne in mind the high prices now prevailing, and in most cases my prices err, if at all, upwards rather than downwards, though in one or two cases I have perhaps priced a papyrus rather lower than, at the present time, it might be expected to fetch. Yet in every case my price is below that asked by Nahman. The following is a table of prices:




H. I. Bell


£ 800

£ 185


£ 350

£ 235


£ 300

£ 264


£ 300

£ 219

V (box of fragments)

£ 250

(not yet fixed)


£ 900

" " "


The discrepancy is greatest in the case of packet I, on which the natives evidently placed an exaggerated value owing to the fine preservation of these papyri. I do not think I have in general priced these below their intrinsic value ( I have reckoned £ 3 - £ 6 for subscriptions only. £8 for completed contracts, with higher prices for nos. 6, 10, 16, and 21, which are specially large or interesting), but is perhaps not wholly unreasonable, in view of the exceptionally fine preservation and the desirability of adding these papyri to those previously bought to increase these prices by £2 for the smaller, £4 for the larger documents. that would bring the total price to £265, which is still far below Nahman's £800. It is for the Michigan authorities, to whom these papyri, if bought, should certainly go, to decide whether the desirability of securing the rest of the archive justifies the payment of a price which I cannot but regard as quite exorbitant.

The other prices are less unreasonable, and it may be possible to arrive at some agreement. In particular it may prove that the content of V may be of more value than appearsm so that an adjustment of prices will be possible. But I am not too sanguine as to this last point.

In the following inventory of papyri which seem to me, for any reason, specially noteworthy are marked with an asterisk. Literary ones (including magical and theological) are distinguished with an L in the Margin.

The Coptic papyri were very hastily examined by Mr. Crum on a flying visit to the Museum, and the desciptions are due to him. Mr. Lamacraft has, as usual, done most valuable work in damping out many papyri and identifying fragments.

H. I. Bell
British Museum

(+ list)

Give feedback about this page
Last modified: 03/21/2014