15 inscripciones que no debes perderte

¡Que nada nos detenga! Ni la pandemia. He tenido el gusto de participar en esta conferencia en remoto sobre inscripciones. Una gran idea.

Yo presenté las inscripciones o grafitos que dejaron los viajeros a su paso por los monumentos del Egipto Antiguo.

Feliz verano a todos.

Back from Aswan 2020

We just came back from a brief campaign in Aswan this year. We spend most of our time at the warehouse of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Aswan (a.k.a. Karima’s magazine) checking the location of ostraca in the boxes, since we already have a consolidated list from seasons 1 to 19. We have to date 1880 ostraca coming from most areas from 1 to 94. This year area 95 will be excavated and might yield new ostraca.🤞🏻

After almost 10 years working on these ostraca, we are already preparing final publications of their texts. The Latin letter from area 13 is already part of a collaborative article between Sofia Torallas and Mariola Hepa, in which we explore the archaeological context for the text. It is still in press and will hopefully appear at the end of this year. Amalia is preparing the publication of the Arabic ostraca in collaboration with Naïm Vanthieghem in a volume that will also include the ostraca from Paris and Strasbourg. Almost 200 new Arabic ostraca almost triple the number of known pieces to date.


Cataloguing some remains of paper, Amalia found some papyrus fragments belonging to a document that feature three lines of text. This is quite exceptional since most of the texts from the city of Aswan have been preserved on ostraca, due to the humidity of the city ground.

For information about our work on the ostraca see the annual reports here and here.

Greek in the extremities: The wandering language

I had the honor to participate in the foundation of the Center for Hellenic Studies at the University of Chicago. We presented some reflections on Greece and the Greek World in the Humanities Day (October 19th). The following text is an idea I have had for a very long time and I took that opportunity to present it on that occasion.

At the newly founded Center for Hellenic Studies much of our attention will be dedicated to the Greek Language, as we are particularly compelled by its distinction as one of the oldest living languages on earth and the oldest in Europe. From the Mycenaean tablets, to the header of TO BHMA, Greek has been the language of philosophy, tragedy, Byzantine liturgy, magical formularies, rhetorics, political discourse, and is associated with the inception of countless disciplines. With persistent prestige, classical Greek has been considered basic knowledge for higher education in the Western world until the 20th century, while Modern Greek has been an object of polarization and political debate in Greece presently. This is the chronological perspective of a language that covers millennia. Moreover, the geographical dispersion of the language remains of interest to us as well.

When one thinks about the expansion of the Greek language, the first thing that comes to mind is the empire of Alexander, which was the initial impetus for the great diffusion of the language towards the East. The next most common association is probably the Byzantine Empire and the shrinking territory of its political influence. Both of these visions, however, come from an ideological union of language with State, and generally disregard the power of other elements in the expansion of a language. Liturgy, travel, pilgrimage, trade, and even tourism were crucial in formulating the usage and prestige of what I like to call “Greek in the extremities.”

I would like to present a few examples from disparate areas in which the use of the Greek language, though perhaps marginal, had great symbolic value: Mauritania in North Africa, Bactria, in today’s Afghanistan, and Nubia.

In Late Antiquity, the division of the Roman Empire marked even more dramatically the opposition between Latin in the West and Greek in the East. The Roman Empire had maintained the Greek language as the language of administration and culture in all of its Eastern provinces.

Everyday use of the Greek language, however, occupied some areas of specialization beyond these geographical spaces, like for example, liturgy. It is remarkable that in the Roman period, most epitaphs for members of the Jewish community in Rome are written in Greek. Is this because they had used the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, which had acquired a special value by this point? These communities probably spoke Latin in their everyday life, but preferred Greek for their eternal farewell.

More surprisingly, we find this phenomenon further into the West, in the North African province of MauritaniaTingitana, today’s Morocco. Below you can see an epitaph from Volubilis, dated to the first or second centuries of the Common Era, intended for Caecilianus, first citizen and father of the synagogue of the Jews, who died at the age of 45 years. He probably spoke Latin in his everyday life. It is not clear where the Jewish population in North Africa originated, but it is safe to assume that they used the text of the Greek Old Testament and felt that the language would be appropriate for their funerary epigrams.

Moving Northeast to Bactria, in what is now present-day Afghanistan, the site of ancient Alexandria on the Oxus is one of the few places where papyri have been found outside of Egypt. Papyrus is an organic material, so in humid climates it disintegrates very quickly, while in the dry heat of Egypt it can survive for centuries. Below, you can see the severely-damaged remains of a papyrus book containing a philosophical dialogue on the First Cause.

Part of the reason that the photograph appears to show the papyrus in such an unfortunate state of disrepair is because it is not actually the papyrus itself, but rather an impression of the papyrus’ fibers and ink upon clay. While the papyrus, as organic material, has decayed and disappeared, the impression survived substantially enough to bring us four columns of a philosophical dialogue, reminiscent of Plato’s:

– «Then it is most convenient that we now discuss which was the main and first of Causes»,

– «indeed».

Journeying south of Egypt, towards what is now Sudan, we find multiple examples of Greek used in funerary epigraphy up until the 12th century. At that point Greek had lost both its prestige and common use in the northern neighbor, Egypt. Under Islamic rule, Christians used Coptic alongside Arabic, until ca 14th century. But further south, the Greek Prayer for the dead remained an very popular choice in these funerary inscriptions. The image below comes from excavations at Ad-Donga in Nubia.

In the 1960s, many foreign missions were invited to participate in rescue excavations previous to the construction of the Aswan dam that would end up submerging all villages and their artifacts situated along the riverside. The United States, for example, obtained the temple of Dendur, housed today in the Metropolitan Museum, in exchange for their archeological intervention.

The population of Nubia in the middle ages, conversed using an ancient Nubian language, but Greek was again considered a language adequate for their eternal farewell:

“God of all spirits and all flesh, you who have trod under death and have rendered ineffectual the devil, and have given life to our world, rest the soul of your departed servant”.

If we think of further expansions of the Greek language, like for example, to the New World, there is much ado in terms of use and prestige at present as well. The Ivy League universities, until the beginning of the 20th century would require Greek study for all students. All students on a campus would recognize and understand a Greek inscription like this one, on 57th street in Chicago, at the University Church.

In this case, Greek has arrived to foreign shores hand in hand with erudition and partly in thanks to liturgy and the study of the New Testament.

Finally, let us not forget the most recent agent for the expansion of Greek, which is neither political expansion nor cultural influence, but emigration. Greek communities are thriving in the New World and in the southern hemisphere. They gather around common cultural and religious elements, and often, although not as often as some might prefer, around their language.

As a student of the past, I can’t tell you what the next chapter in the wanderings of the Greek language will be, but I am sure that they will yield tales just as fascinating and wide-reaching as the ones that I have just presented.


(Special thanks to Lucas Binion for his assistance)

IX Jornadas de Papirología

We thank the communication service of the Abbey of Montserrat for posting this TV segment and interviews on both the IX Jornadas de Papirología and the Exhibit “Papyrus Networks”

Summer 2019

It’s been a hectic summer! The last two months I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in some of the most stimulating academic forums!
The race started in June in Athens. The Norwegian Institute of Archaeology in Athens was the perfect host for the third conference Curses in context. My dear colleague Korshi Dosoo has already written a detailed review here.
The following week in the same place we had the fourth editorial meeting of the project Transmission of Magical Knowledge in Antiquity run by Chris Faraone and myself.
With the invaluable help of our team members, Korshi Dosoo, Michael Zellmann Rohrer, Alberto Nodar, Raquel Martin, Anastasia Maravela, Richard Gordon and Panagiota Sarischouli, we established the final list of magical handbooks, with a total of 88, some of them complete, others fragmentary, in chronological order, from the 2nd century A.C. to the 6th century A.D. in Greek, Demotic and Coptic.
The very interesting discussions covered all kinds of philological and textual questions, but also paleographical and bibliological. I want to emphasize that the part I liked the most was the final discussion and reordering of the fragments in chronological order on the basis of palaeography.
After teaching a course at the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid on the origins of Coptic Christianity, we had our IX Jornadas de Papirología, an annual venue that we (DVCTVS) have been organizing since 2008. This year they took place at the Abbey of Montserrat. We organized a small exhibit too, “Redes de papiro/Papyrus networks” on the occasion of the meeting of more than 30 papyrologists in the sacred mountain. More information and many photos of the event in our blog and website, here.

After that, I participated in the XV Congress of the Spanish Society of Classical Studies. This congress goes every four years and gathers several hundred classicists in a week of intense conferencing. This year it took place in Valladolid.
There I presented the Papyrology keynote, with the theme “Papyrology and the material turn”.
I had the opportunity to listen to many of my colleagues in the DVCTVS project, such as Txomin Rodríguez, with his wonderful keynote on Roman Law. His paper dealt with Justinian’s ban on translating law: “El derecho a traducir Derecho”
Two more papers of members of DVCTVS: Nacho Sanz, who spoke about proskynema in Christian letters on papyrus. The discussion about the lexical difference between proskynema and proskynesis was very interesting for the linguists in the room.
In magical terms, Miriam Blanco spoke about alchemical handbooks in antiquity, specifically the Papyrus Holmiensis, an interesting fourth century papyrus codex featuring recipes for dyes and inks. 

Now we are all getting ready for the big congress next week: the 29th International Congress of Papyrology at Lecce, Italy. It will be, as always, a fantastic week of exchange and friendship. Last congress, the 28th, took place in Barcelona in 2016. In the meantime we have been working hard to publish the Proceedings of that congress. They were finally announced this week!

See you all in Lecce!



The Material Gospel

I am again very grateful to have been included in a wonderful event. This time to David Lincicum and Jeremiah Coogan: The Material Gospel.  A small group of people with different points of view, but at the same time with a clear intellectual coherence to discuss a wide variety of issues. The program included three sessions with two papers each. I include the program below. The topics discussed went from the practical use of books and techniques and strategies to use them for consultation, the evidence in a treatise by Galen on book production, destruction and disposal of Biblical codices, including reuse as palimpsests, rolls in Late antiquity and the biography of a codex as a way of understanding codex circulation and use.

The “material turn” is producing lately many interesting new approaches to many historical questions. As a papyrologist, I enjoy greatly this opportunity to claim the importance of the papyri in the reconstruction of a human practice as important as reading and writing.

Session I

David Lincicum (Notre Dame): Welcome
Clare Rothschild (Lewis University): “Galen’s De indolentia and the Early Christian Codex”
Jeremiah Coogan (Notre Dame): “Navigating the Gospel: Nonlinear Access and Practical Use”
Nathan Eubank (Notre Dame): Respondent

Session II

Chris Keith (St Mary’s University Twickenham): “The Gospel Read, Sliced, and Burned: The Material Gospel and the Construction of Christian Identity”
Angela Zautcke (Notre Dame): “Erasing the Gospels: Insights from the Sinai Syriac Gospel Palimpsest”
Paul Wheatley (Notre Dame): Respondent

Session III

Sofía Torallas Tovar (University of Chicago): “Resisting the Codex: Christian Rolls in Late Antiquity”
Matthew Larsen (Princeton): “Codex Bobiensis: A Real-and-Imagined Biography of One Gospel Manuscript”
Robin Jensen (Notre Dame): Respondent

Ostraka and the Nile: our annual visit to Aswan

Last week (1-8 march) Amalia Zomeño and I spent a week of work at the warehouse of the Council of Antiquities in Aswan, Egypt, studying the ostraca excavated by the Swiss institute (our annual visit: we have already reported our activity in the pashere). To date, there are 1823 ostraca in almost all possible languages found in Egypt. A high percentage of them are unsurprisingly in Greek, mostly military and administrative documents from the Roman period, although there is a remarkably interesting group of Arabic texts (this year they almost hit the 200), that attest to the small economy of this city in the period around the 9th-10th cent. 


This year we brought with us an IR camera and photographed away as many ostraca we could. Even if it was not a very professional camera, and we are not experienced photographers, we managed to obtain very good results in many cases which will help reading some difficult texts. See the images below:

On the way back I had the fortune of admiring Alexandria from the sky. Absolutely wonderful!

PAThs conference. Coptic Literature in Context. The Contexts of Coptic Literature

It has been a pleasure to participate in the conference organised by Paola Buzi and her fantastic PAThs team . The conference took place in Rome, Sapienza Università di Roma, 25-27 February 2019.

Although you do not need an excuse to open a conversation between scholars in archeology, philology and digital humanities around literary production of late antique Egypt, this time indeed there was one, the launching of the first product of the PAThs project, the Atlas. This new tool maps Coptic literary production geographically, although it includes multiple parameters of search and combines different sets of information: sites where Coptic manuscripts have been found, produced, preserved, where they circulated, episcopal sees, colophons, sites mentioned in texts….

To celebrate this exciting new tool, which will help in advancing our knowledge, not only of Coptic literature, but of the whole context of literary production and readership, Paola Buzi brought an interesting group of scholars to discuss topics that define their project. Just to name some of them: the influence of narratives in parietal art, the use of the papyrus roll for Coptic literature, the material study of inks through spectrography, textual fluidity in the tradition of the apocryphal texts, new manuscripts from Antinoe, Hermoupolis and Elephantine. You can see the programme and abstracts here.

I congratulate Paola and her team!




ConText Greek, Coptic and Arabic Sources from Aswan, Elephantine, Dayr Anba Hadra and Qasr Ibrim

I want to share my enthusiasm after participating in the workshop organized by Stefanie Schmidt, at the University of Basel the past 13-15 December: ConText gathered some twenty scholars in archeology, epigraphy, papyrology and different textual fields to discuss and find a common language in dealing with materials coming from Aswan, Elephantine and the area of the first cataract. Here is the program.  
Texts in ostraca, papyri, dipinti and wall inscriptions were discussed together with archeology and artifact studies. This was an enriching and thought provoking conversation. I want to thank Stefanie for such a wonderful initiative, which will no doubt lead to further collaborative work and more interesting meetings.

Alba de Frutos: Premio Fundación Pastor de Estudios Clásicos

I am proud to announce that my student, now colleague, Alba de Frutos García, who defended her dissertation “The funerary workers in Ptolemaic Egypt”, just received the Prize to doctoral dissertations from the Fundación Pastor de Estudios Clásicos 2017/2018.

In the photograph below, the board of examiners, including my dear colleagues Alberto Nodar, Emilio Crespo, José Domíngo Rodríguez, María Jesús Albarrán and Raquel Martín.

I toast for Alba, and wish her a wonderful papyrological future!