The Center for Tebtunis Papyri logoEthnic Identity in Roman Tebtunis header

 

This is an archived exhibit of The Bancroft Library, University California, Berkeley.

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Sources of the Papyri

 

sarcoghagus maskThe texts on papyri excavated from ancient Tebtunis by British papyrologists Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt on behalf of UC Berkeley in 1899/1900 derive from three sources. Those excavated in situ from the temple and town date primarily from the Roman period, while the two cemeteries, human and crocodile, provide a great number of texts from the Ptolemaic period (c. 305 - 30 BCE). All three sources yield documents that originate from or concern towns and cities throughout the Fayum and beyond. The resulting collection includes texts written in either Greek or Egyptian (and occasionally both); most of the Egyptian texts are written in Demotic, a cursive script that developed out of hieroglyphs in the early first millennium BCE.

Grenfell and Hunt were happy to discover that the cartonnage covering the human mummies in the Ptolemaic cemetery often consisted of reused texts written on papyrus rolls in place of the usual linen. The documentary texts retrieved from these cartonnage masks, pectorals, aprons, leg casings and foot guards (see photograph below) date from the late third and early second centuries BCE. Their origin in the mummy cartonnage explains the odd shape of many of the texts in the collection; trimmed texts resemble the soles of feet and other recognizable forms due to their second life as cartonnage (P.Tebt. frag.10,751-10,756 below).

Although only a fraction of the crocodile mummies found (and often destroyed) by the excavators included reused papyri, several long rolls wrapped around large animals were retrieved intact. Dating from the second and early first centuries BCE, these texts are also mainly documentary (i.e., not "literary") and have already contributed significantly to the study of Ptolemaic administrative and legal practice.

 

Photograph of Grenfell and Hunt, 1899/1900 Photograph of Grenfell and Hunt, 1899/1900

Courtesy of Egypt Exploration Society, London.

 

 

Cartonnage mummy mask Cartonnage mummy mask
Ptolemaic period (3rd - 1st centuries BCE)

In contrast to the painted wood panels of the Roman period, this cartonnage mask cannot be interpreted as a portrait recording the actual appearance of the deceased. Its features are so stylized that it is not even possible to determine the gender of the subject.

Courtesy of the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Museum of Anthropology, Berkeley, and the Regents of the University of California; photographed by Joan Knudsen.
Inv. 6-20107

 

Photograph of mummy cartonnage from Tebtunis, 1899/1900 Photograph of mummy cartonnage from Tebtunis, 1899/1900

Courtesy of Egypt Exploration Society, London.

 

 

Mummy cartonnage painted with the four sons of Horus Mummy cartonnage painted with the four sons of Horus
Ptolemaic period (3rd - 1st centuries BCE)

The paint in the lower left-hand corner has been removed revealing a Demotic Egyptian text beneath.

P.Tebt. frag.
10,751-10,756

 

Photograph of crocodile mummies from Tebtunis, 1899/1900 Photograph of crocodile mummies from Tebtunis, 1899/1900

Animal cults were ubiquitous in first-millennium BCE Egypt, but their origin and motivation are little understood today. The great temple at the heart of ancient Tebtunis was home to a local manifestation of the Egyptian crocodile god, Soknebtunis; mummies and images of crocodiles were perhaps votive offerings dedicated to him.

Courtesy of Egypt Exploration Society, London.

 

Crocodile mummy Crocodile mummy
Ptolemaic or Roman period
(3rd century BCE - 3rd century CE)

A few of the crocodile mummies that were not destroyed in the search for papyri are housed in the Hearst Museum of Anthropology on the Berkeley campus.

Courtesy of the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Museum of Anthropology, Berkeley, and the Regents of the University of California; photographed by Madeleine Fang.
Inv. 6-20101

 

Limestone crocodile sculpture Limestone crocodile sculpture
Ptolemaic period (3rd - 1st centuries BCE)

Courtesy of the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Museum of Anthropology, Berkeley, and the Regents of the University of California; photographed by Madeleine Fang.
Inv. 6-20307

 

Small ceramic crocodile figurine Small ceramic crocodile figurine
Ptolemaic period (3rd - 1st centuries BCE)

Courtesy of the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Museum of Anthropology, Berkeley, and the Regents of the University of California; photographed by Elisabeth R. O'Connell.
Inv. 6-21637