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date: 22 January 2018

papyrology, Latin

In comparison with Greek papyri, Latin papyri are uncommon, even when “papyri” is understood in a wide sense so as to include ostraca and parchment scraps. This is so because the vast majority of papyri come from the eastern Mediterranean, where the language of administration was Greek even under the Roman empire. Latin was in regular use in this area until c. 300 ce only in the military sphere; and although Diocletian made an effort to encourage the use of Latin in the eastern provinces, this did not have any great effect.

Since the turn of the 20th century, some 600 Latin papyri have been published, less than a quarter of which are literary. Most come from Egypt, but finds have also been made at Dura-Europus, Nessana, and Masada, as well as in the west. Two literary papyri dating from the reign of Augustus are known: the much discussed elegiac verses from Qasr Ibrim attributed to Cornelius Gallus 1 and a fragment of Cicero, In Verrem (CPL 20). Otherwise, literary texts before 300 ce are rare. They include a few lines of Virgil and a handful of historical texts, notably an Epitome of Livy (CPL 33), a piece of Sallust, Histories (CPL 28), and a text relating to Servius Tullius (CPL 41). Most Herculaneum papyri are in Greek; exceptions are the Carmen de Bello Aegyptiaco, 2 and a few scraps of Ennius, Caecilius Statius, Faenator, and (possibly) Lucretius. After 300 ce literary texts are less unusual. Commonest are Virgil and Cicero, often for school use and accompanied by Greek glosses. Also for school use are a number of grammatical texts and glossaries (see glossa, glossary). New verse is represented by 124 lines of a hexameter poem concerning Alcestis; known verse by, among others, Terence, Andria (Pack2 2933a, 2934) and Juvenal with Greek scholia (CPL 37).

One or two legal texts may date from as early as c. 100 ce, but most texts in this category belong to the 4th–6th centuries and indicate the importance at this time of Roman legal studies. Especially noteworthy are a fragment of Gaius (2), Institutiones (CPL 78), near-contemporary texts of the Codex Justinianus (CPL 99–101), and Pauli Sententiarum Fragmentum Leidense 3; see justinian's codification; iulius paulus. Among Christian texts we have some from the Old Latin version of the Bible, a fragment of Luke with a Gothic translation (CPL 53), a Latin–Greek lexicon of Saint Paul, 4 and an extensive Hymn to the Virgin. This last forms part of a remarkable codex,5 now in Barcelona, which also includes Cicero, Cat. 1–2, the poem of Alcestis referred to above, and Christian liturgical texts in Greek.

In the first three centuries of the empire most Latin papyri are military documents, including large rosters, strength reports, a military calendar (the Feriale Duranum), and numerous accounts and pay records. A small but interesting find from the 1st century has been made at Masada, and there are two important 3rd-century archives, from Dura-Europos (Syria) and Bu Njem (Libya). More than 130 military documents from Egypt and Dura are to be found in Fink's (1971) collection, and a score or more have since been published. For Masada see and Geiger (1989), and for Bu Njem, Marichal (1992). Many other Latin documents such as wills and private letters are no doubt also from military sources. The former are of legal interest, while the latter offer us a glimpse of Latin “as she was spoke”; see latin language. There are also some imperial edicts and rescripts. In the 4th century it was normal for proceedings before high Egyptian officials to use Latin to record the preamble and decisions of cases written down in Greek. Apart from these bilingual texts and a few official letters, non-literary papyri in Latin are uncommon after 300 ce. From the West we have an extensive collection of papyri from the papal chancery at Ravenna. Although these fall outside the classical period (5th–8th centuries), they are of value for their information on palaeography, Roman law, and the development of the language.6

The contribution of Latin papyri to classical studies is far from negligible. They provide our earliest information about the shape and format of the Roman book and the diplomatic language of Roman documents, and they have revolutionized our understanding of early Latin palaeography. A few new texts have been recovered, and we have learnt a good deal about the textual transmission of some works (e.g. Cicero, In Catilinam) and the spread of Latin culture. Most important of the non-literary texts are those of a military nature. Our knowledge of the Roman army has been increased considerably by documentary evidence of the way things worked in practice, which provides a useful counterbalance to the evidence from literary sources and archaeology. See armies, roman.


Adams, J. N. “Latin in Egypt.” In Bilingualism and the Latin Language, by J. N. Adams, 527–641. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Literary Texts

Catalogue des papyrus littéraires grecs et latins (Mertens-Pack3).

Leuven Database of Ancient Books.

E. A. Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores.Find this resource:

The Friends of Herculaneum Society, Facsimiles of Herculaneum Papyri.

Capasso, Mario. Les papyrus latins d’Herculanum: Découverte, consistance, contenu. Liège: Éditions de l’Université de Liège (2011).Find this resource:

Scappaticci, Maria Chiara. Papyri Vergilianae: L’apporto della papirologica alla storia della tradizione Virgiliana (I-VI D.C.). Liège: Presses Universitaires de Liège, 2013.Find this resource:


Cavenaile, Robert. Corpus Papyrorum Latinarum (CPL). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1958. Collection of Latin papyri known up to 1958.Find this resource:

Cavenaile, Robert. Serta Leodiensia Secunda. Liège: Université de Liège, Departement des sciences de l’antiquité, 1992. See 47–62. Update of CPL.Find this resource:

Cugusi, Paolo, ed. Corpus Epistularum Latinarum. Florence: Gonnelli, 1992–2002.Find this resource:

Fink, R. O. Roman Military Records on Papyrus. Cleveland, OH: Case Western Reserve University Press, 1971.Find this resource:


Bruckner, Albert and Robert Marichal, eds. Chartae Latinae Antiquiores: Facsimile Edition of the Latin Charters prior to the Ninth Century. Olten: U. Graf, 1954–2001.Find this resource:

Seider, Richard. Paläographie der lateinischen Papyri. Stuttgart: Hierseman, 1967–1990.Find this resource:


(1.) P. J. Anderson, P. J. Parsons, and R. G. N. Nisbet, “Elegiacs by Gallus from Ibrim,” Journal of Roman Studies 69 (1979): 125–155.

(2.) Re-edited by Giuseppe Zecchini, Il carmen de Bello Actiaco: Storiografia e lotta politica in età Augustea (Stuttgart: Steiner, 1987).

(3.) Re-edited G. G. Archi and others, 1956.

(4.) Alfons Wouters, The Chester Beatty Codex AC 1499: A Graeco-Latin Lexicon on the Pauline Epistles and a Greek Grammar (Leuven: Peeters, 1988).

(5.) Published by R. Roca-Puig, Himne a la verge Maria: “Psalmus responsorius”; papir llatí del segle IV (Barcelona: Asociación de Bibliofílos de Barcelona, 1965); Cicero, Catalinàries: I et II in Cat, papyri Barcinonensis (Barcelona: Asociación de Bibliofílos de Barcelona, 1977); and Alcestis, hexametres llatins: Papyri Barcinonenses inv. no. 168–171 (Barcelona: Asociación de Bibliofílos de Barcelona, 1982).

(6.) Jan-Olof Tjäder, Die nichtliterarischen lateinischen Papyri Italiens (Lund: Gleerup, 1954–1982).

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