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The Project


"Panta rhei .... everything flows" - this quotation of the philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (550-480 BC) could describe the state of libraries, treasuries and museums at the turn of the millenium. Digitilization, multimedia and internet were the magic words, in which the modern man put his hope. Not only with special sales, but with presenting their stock on-line the institutions opened their archives. On the opposite there were arguments like protection, preservation and indexing. Both ingratiation and refusal regarding the new media do not lead to success. New media and technologies have to be used – the risks which come along with them have to be avoided, or at least minimized. To ignore the technical achievements of the 21st century was and is not a solution.

The Project

The aim of the Halle, Jena and Leipzig papyri collections was to catalogue, digitalize, film, and back up their papyri using common criteria and guidelines. The resulting digital data is published on this website, including pictures and short descriptions. Since December 2009 we are editing about 1,600 ostraca. The work on these will continue for three years.


At the beginning of the project, the Leipzig university computer center offered storage and web presentation capabilities for data and pictures to the project partners. This happened after the project „Bach Digital“ had become a great success.

To get to a standardization and stay compatible with existing projects at that time ( Heidelberg , Cologne , Giessen , APIS ) preliminary work had to be done, concerning the technical realization as well as organizing the content. It was neccessary to discuss the classifications of the papyri to ensure a common terminology. For that the Leipzig papyrus collection and its partner collections Halle and Jena hosted a workshop "Papyri im Internet" on march 22nd, 2001. Staff of the papyri collections of German universities like Berlin, Giessen, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Cologne and Trier attended the workshop as well as members of their appendant computer centers. They were able to contribute their recent experiences with similar current projects like in Giessen, Heidelberg und Cologne as well as - then in the planning process - in Trier. Furthermore these colleagues suggested papyri classifications, which could be connected with our own concepts.

Realization of the project

1. Restoration

At first, most of the objects in Halle, Jena and Leipzig had to be (partly) restored and preserved. Mr. Jörg Graf, papyrus restorer from Leipzig, is responsible for all three locations.

2. Filming, digitalization and 3D pictures

At first, the backup filming and creation of digital pictures for all three collections was done in the Thüringer Landes- und Universitätsbibliothek in Jena (ThuLB). A monochrome negative was used for long-term archiving. The digital master-image is saved as 600dpi uncompressed TIFF-file and in addition stored on CD/DVD. The TIFF-format was chosen, because it is a standard format, which will surely be readable for a long time in the fast moving digital world. Filming and digitalization take place simultaneously in a so-called hybrid process. These pictures are scaled down to 300, 100 and 72 dpi and are converted to JPEG for internet presentation. In the meanwhile all images are available at 300 dpi due to the increasing Network speed. The Metadata is saved in XML-format. Safety is an imported aspect, for Leipzig already made painful experiences during World War II, when parts of the famous Papyrus Ebers were lost, despite their evacuation to Rochlitz/Mulde - which was wrongly located according to some media in Switzerland. The recovery of the text was possible with a facsimile, that had been created shortly after acquisition. Meanwhile, the Leipzig university library has gotten its own digitalization facilities, so these objects could be filmed and digitalized locally. Additionally, the Leipzig University created infrared pictures of the ostraca. The instistute for mineralogy, crystallography and materials science was scaning about 300 objects using the newest, non-destructive and innovative methods (e.g. computer-tomography and 3D-scans) to improve their readability. The results are presented on this website, too.

3. Cataloguing

Local scientific staff was responsible for the cataloguing of the objects. They could base their work on the old inventory book and former cataloguing. The resulting data was saved in XML-format, so that it can be used in the future. This database is also used as inventory book, catalogue as well as for internal work and editing. An extensive description can be found by clicking the menu item "Documentation". Due to the characteristics of this kind of source (papyri), two data input masks were created, one for the physical aspects, i.e. the material and the other for the texts written on it. Besides the inventory number for identification, information about the material, measure, storage, language, date, origin, place of discovery, acquisition, content and publication are given. In case of published documentary papyri, a link to the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri is available, where the greek texts of all published documentary papyri and ostraca are saved and can be accessed online or searched. Another link redirects to the „Heidelberger Gesamtverzeichnis“ . Literary papyri have a link to the Leuven Database of Ancient Books ; paraliterary papyri are linked from the Catalogue of Paraliterary Papyri to Trismegistos Texts .

These links and connections show how papyrologists are using the new technologies and the world wide web, confirming that the famous amicitia papyrologorum is more than an empty phrase.

The databases Halle, Jena and Leipzig are part of the 'Papyrusportal' , which has been created by the same staff like the original 'Papyrusprojekt Halle – Jena – Leipzig' and financed by the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft). Since 2008, the 'Papyrusportal' is online and enables parallel, real-time search through all participating german papyrological databases.

4. Internet presentation

The metadata and digitalized images of the papyri and the ostraca initially have been integrated into the MyCoRe-based content manager by Mr. H. Vogler at the Leipzig University computer center. After the supply of a MyCoRe editor, the staff directly put the data into the database, so that it was always up-to-date. The technical basis has not changed to the day, but runs now with modern components. The technical realization of the project is directed by the computer center of the University Leipzig with Mr. J. Kupferschmidt in charge.

Motives and aims

In the end, we can sum up, that the digitalization of papyri and ostraca, parchment and paper is an enrichment in every respect, for digitalization and online presentation have a conducing and supporting role. Filming and scanning do conduce to preservation and conservation and do prevent frequent moving and exposal to sunlight, which could cause unavoidable damage. Cataloguing and description do classify the digitalized pictures and can be seen as a pre-stage of the scientific edition of the papyri (transcription, translation and philological-historical commentary). Online cataloguing and digitalization allow better communication between scientists. Via descriptions and pictures specialists and laymen can discover papyri or ostraca related in form and content. There are some 'splitted' papyri in the German collections, for, when the papyri were bought in 20th century by the Deutsche Papyruskratell, they were auctioned separately. So the digitalization increases the chance of discovering smaller archives (an "archive" contains a number of texts, that concern to the same person, family or have a very similar content). Hence, the single information can be seen in a greater context increasing its historical value. During previous indexing some new archives have been discovered and known archives were extended with new texts. In case of an extended archive, a link to Trismegistos / Archives is conncected. Such presentation offers to take a closer look on cultural assets, whose originals can be exhibited only once in a while. Maybe the user will also be animated to come to have a look to the originals itselves.

Subsequent use

Inspired by Halle-Jena-Leipzig the collections of Bremen, Erlangen, Giessen, Cologne, Marburg and Würzburg were using the MyCoRe application for their papyrus collections. Basel and Hamburg will shortly join them.

Prof. Dr. Reinhold Scholl

Leipzig, November, 19th 2018