Imaging Papyri Project

The Imaging Papyri project, which began in 1998 under the direction of Dr Dirk Obbink, Tutor in Greek Literature (Christ Church), generates digitised images of Greek and Latin papyri at Oxford and Naples, for the creation of an Oxford online database of digitised images of papyri. The newly digitised versions of the literary texts have been and will continue to be published.

The collection of papyri housed at Oxford represents a significant amount of ancient manuscripts, published and unpublished, of Greek and Latin authors and historical documents (3rd century BC-7th century AD). Housed in the Ashmolean (mainly from Oxyrhynchus in Egypt) and in the Bodleian (from Herculaneum in Italy), the latter are largely the works of the Epicurean philosopher Philodemus (ca. 110-40 BC), which were carbonised and thus preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. More originals are housed in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples.

The papyri in the Ashmolean were recovered from the rubbish heaps of Oxyrhynchus and other Graeco-Roman towns and brought to England in the late 19th century. They preserve the works of numerous lost Greek authors, as well as important historical documents, private letters, and imperial decrees. The Herculaneum papyri are being re-edited with a translation and brief commentary by an international team (the first volume: Philodemus On Piety, editor D. Obbink, Oxford 1996). The Oxyrhynchus Papyri are edited by a working group of students and scholars from around the world (a Major Research Project of the British Academy) and are published annually in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri (79 volumes to date).

The work is painstaking: the aim is to reconstruct as much as possible of each original papyrus roll and then to reconstruct the text. Such reconstruction requires a constant sequence of conjecture, objection, improvement, and eventually, agreement. No single scholar can see all that needs to be done.

The papyri are also used for teaching purposes and provide material for dissertations. At the same time, digital imaging technologies offer a wide range of possibilities for improved readings. Digital images of the papyri can be enhanced for further legibility; this data can then be indefinitely stored for future use and dissemination. Images can be linked to on-line versions of edited texts with translations, for simultaneous viewing, study, and improvement. The papyri, originally found together, were separated by dealers and collectors and now exist separately in numerous collections around the world.

The objective of the project is to maintain and expand its online database of digitised images of papyri, photographs, and facsimiles at Oxford, internationally renowned as a centre for the study of ancient manuscripts, making these available, as required, to collaborators and other interested parties, enabling re-combination and collation of pieces preserved in discrete locations. In addition, by using the these digital images, the delicate originals need to be consulted less frequently, aiding conservation.

Permissions and Copyright

Unless otherwise stated, all digital images are copyright of the Imaging Papyri Project, University of Oxford. Images of them may be used for teaching and research purposes, but should not be published without the prior consent of the Imaging Papyri Project. If you are aware of any inadvertent misattribution or copyright infringement on our part, please tell us without delay.

If you wish to request permission to use a particular image, please contact us.