Re-used Papyrus, “On the flip side”

Michael Freeman’s project explores the use of re-used papyrus for Greek scribal training in Roman Egypt. He is studying several stages of the “afterlife” of Greek papyri: (1) The life of a papyrus after the text written on the recto has served its purpose and the manuscript is discarded or sold to be repurposed as a “school text”. (2) The multiple capacities and contexts in which a school text might be used and re-used. (3) Tracing the extant school texts back to the archaeological contexts where they were discover and where, therefore, ancient schooling may have occurred.


This project branches from a portion of his dissertation research in which he argues that a subset of the “grammatical papyri” should be classified as scribal writing exercises. Michael has discovered that among the corpus of extant, identifiable grammatical papyri (Wouters 1979, 1988, 1997; cf. Harrauer 1985) approximately 40% of texts are written on the verso of a re-used papyrus with a script and with codicological (or “voluminological”) characteristics which evince the skilled but not-quite-professional work of an apprentice scribe. He demonstrates through further analysis of orthography, paleography, and codicology/voluminology that a number of these texts were produced as writing exercises designed to train literary scribes. This phenomenon is not confined to the grammatical papyri. His ongoing survey reveals that a significant subset of “sub-literary” or “para-literary” papyri are written on the verso of re-used papyrus and, further, that a significant subset of these recycled texts display the characteristics of an advanced literary or notarial writing exercise. This project is a focused study of this particular subset of sub-literary texts written on the verso of re-used papyrus. The nature of this survey will require that Michael consider a larger sample size of such manuscripts than is contained within the Rubenstein Rare Books Library. Michael aims to develop an understanding of the archaeological contexts for scribal schooling and the social contexts surrounding the production and use of scribal writing exercises.


Michael has been working primarily with papyri used for scribal trials and exercises. He is specifically working with Duke Papyrus 34 R (b), also known as the “Fackelmann Papyri” after Anton Fackelmann. It is possibly a Ptolemaic document from the 3rd/2nd century BCE. It was extracted from a mummy cartonnage and contains an imperial Roman dating formula, “επ᾽ αυτοκρατορος,” possibly referring to Augustus. Duke obtained this item from Fackelmann in January 1970 as a part of a bundle with 66 other pieces. Fackelmann was a world-renowned papyri conservatory specializing in burned or destroyed papyri. He was also an antiquities dealer who sold this piece, along with 17 others from this bundle, to Duke.

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