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History and content

The Museo Egizio holds one of the world’s most significant papyrus collections. The Papyrus Collection comprises nearly 700 whole or reassembled manuscripts and over 17,000 papyrus fragments; documenting over 3,000 years of written material culture in seven scripts and eight languages.

History

Drovetti and Schiaparelli

Most of the papyri were acquired by the king of Savoy in 1824 from Bernardino Drovetti (1776–1852), the French consul in Egypt at the time, whose agents procured most of the antiquities for his collection in western Thebes. The rest of the papyrus collection comes from the early twentieth century excavations of the Turin museum in Gebelein, Asyut and, again, western Thebes under the direction of Ernesto Schiaparelli (1856–1928) and Giulio Farina (1889–1947). 

Western Thebes is where the Ramesside pharaohs (c. 1300–1050 BCE) had been buried and had built their mortuary temples. Indeed, many of the Turin papyri mention these temples, as well as matters dealing with the construction of royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. 

The vast majority of the papyrus manuscripts in the Museo Egizio date from the Ramesside period and are highly likely to originate from the settlement of Deir el-Medina, which housed the families of the workmen who built the royal tombs. The papyri probably belonged to members of the administration of the royal necropolis.

Content

An overview

The Papyrus Collection consists of nearly 700 whole or reassembled manuscripts and over 17,000 papyrus fragments, documenting over 3,000 years of written material culture in seven scripts and eight languages. It contains texts of various types, and the manuscripts originate from several locations. 

  • Text types

narratives, teachings, documentary, letters, codices, journals, rituals, funerary and magical texts etc.

  • Provenance

Gebelein, Thebes, Deir el-Medina, This, Asyut, Saqqara, Hermopolis

  • Scripts

hieratic, Demotic, Coptic, Greek, Arabic, abnormal hieratic, cursive hieroglyphs   

  • Languages
    • Old Egyptian (27th-22nd cent. BC)
    • Middle Egyptian (22nd -14th cent. BC)
    • Late Egyptian (15th-7th cent. BC)
    • Traditional Egyptian (7th cent. BC - AD 2nd cent.)
    • Demotic (7th cent. BC - AD 5th cent.)
    • Greek (4th cent. BC - AD 8th cent.)
    • Coptic (AD 2nd-10th cent.)
    • Arabic (AD 7th-10th cent.)

  • Periods
    • Old Kingdom (2650-2160 BC)
    • Middle Kingdom (1990-1760 BC)
    • New Kingdom (1539-1077 BC)
    • Third Intermediate Period (1076-664 BC)
    • Late Period (664-332 BC)
    • Ptolemaic Period (332-30 BC)
    • Roman Period (30 BC–AD 565)
    • Byzantine Period (AD 565-642)
    • Islamic Period (AD 642-1252)

Infographic Papyrus Collection Museo Egizio

Created for the temporary exhibition “Archeologia invisibile” (3 marzo - 6 gennaio 2020)

Copyright: Susanne Töpfer e Piera Luisolo/Museo Egizio

Highlights - Hieratic and cursive hieroglyphs

The collection houses a number of important and unique texts that are well known to the Egyptological community and the public. These include: the “Turin King List” also known as “Royal Canon”, a fragmentary papyrus containing a list of Egyptian kings; the “Turin Judicial Papyrus”, a record of a conspiracy against King Ramesses III; the “Satirical-Erotic Papyrus”, giving a glimpse of the humour of the inhabitants of the settlement; the “Turin Goldmine Papyrus”, the oldest known geological map; and the “Turin Strike Papyrus”, documenting the earliest recorded strikes in world history, under Ramesses III.

Among the approximately 170 funerary manuscripts held in the Museo Egizio, two in particular stand out, namely, the Book of the Dead of Kha, written in cursive hieroglyphs by a scribe with a neat handwriting, accompanied by high-quality colour vignettes, and the 18 m long Book of the Dead of Iufankh

Highlights - Demotic, Greek and Coptic

Besides hieratic and hieroglyphic manuscripts, the Museo Egizio houses several Demotic and Greek documentary manuscripts, including title deeds, contracts and receipts. Particularly notable among these are the bilingual (Greek and Demotic) family archive of the priest Totoes and his ancestors, which was found in two sealed jars north of the Hathor temple precinct in Deir el-Medina, and the archive of the “embalmer priest” Amenothes.

The Museo Egizio also holds one of the most important collections of Coptic literary papyri. The Coptic papyrus material acquired in 1824 by Drovetti included about nineteen fragmentary codices. They date to the late seventh or early eighth century AD and originate from the cathedral of Thi(ni)s, modern Ǧirǧa.

Selected Bibliography

  • Botti, Giuseppe, L’archivio demotico da Deir el Medineh, Firenze 1967.
  • Buzi, Paola, Julian Bogdani, Nathan Carlig, Maria Chiara Giorda and Agostino Soldati, “‘Tracking Papyrus and Parchment Paths’: A New International Project on Coptic Literature”, Rivista del Museo Egizio 1 (2017), https://doi.org/10.29353/rime.2017.656.
  • Demarée, Robert and Dominique Valbelle, Les registres de recensement du village de Deir el-Médineh (le “Stato civile”), Leuven 2011.
  • Demichelis, Sara, “Ricomporre frammenti. Lavori in corso tra i papiri del Museo Egizio di Torino”, Memorie dell’Accademia delle Scienze di Torino, Classe di Scienze Morali, Storiche e Filologiche, Serie V, Vol. 40 (2016), pp. 3-44.
  • Demichelis, Sara, “I papiri del Museo Egizio”, in Museo Egizio, Modena 2015, pp. 254–65.
  • Fabretti, Ariodante, Francesco Rossi and Ridolfo V. Lanzone, Regio Museo di Torino. Antichità egizie (Catalogo generale dei musei di antichità e degli oggetti d’arte raccolti nelle gallerie e biblioteche del regno, 1. Piemonte), Torino 1882 and 1888.
  • Gardiner, Allan H., The Royal Canon of Turin, Oxford 1959.
  • Harrell, James A. and V. Max Brown, “The Oldest Surviving Topographical Map from Ancient Egypt (Turin Papyri 1879, 1899, 1969)”, JARCE 29 (1992), pp. 81–105.
  • Kitchen, Kenneth A., Ramesside Inscriptions, Historical and Biographical, 8 vols., Oxford 1975–1990.
  • Lepsius, Richard, Das Todtenbuch der Ägypter (nach dem hieroglyphischen Papyrus in Turin), Leipzig 1842.
  • Moiso, Beppe, La storia del Museo Egizio, Modena 2016.
  • Omlin, Joseph A., Der Papyrus 55001 und seine satirisch-erotischen Zeichnungen und Inschriften, Turin 1973.
  • Orlandi, Tito, “The Turin Coptic Papyri”, Augustinianum 53 (2013), pp. 501–30.
  • Pestman, Pieter W., L’archivio di Amenothes, figlio di Horos: Testi demotici e greci relativi ad una famiglia di imbalsamatori del II sec. a.C., Milano 1981.
  • Pleyte, Willem and Francesco Rossi, Papyrus de Turin: Texte et Planches, Leiden 1869–1876.
  • Posener-Kriéger, Paule, I papiri di Gebelein: scavi G. Farina 1935 (edited by Sara Demichelis), Torino 2004.
  • Roccati, Alessandro, Amerigo Bruna and Pieter W. Pestmann, “Supporti scrittori”, in: Anna Maria Donadoni Roveri (ed.), Dal museo al museo: passato e futuro del Museo Egizio di Torino, Torino 1989, pp. 118-30.
  • Töpfer, Susanne, “The Turin Papyrus Online Platform (TPOP): An Introduction”, Rivista del Museo Egizio 2 (2018), https://doi.org/10.29353/rime.2018.1916
  • Töpfer, Susanne, Il Libro dei Morti di Kha, Modena 2019 (PDF online available).

Museo Egizio