Stable identifiers

Trismegistos numbers

Each individual record in the database is identified by a unique Trismegistos number, which can be used to form a stable url, e.g. This number does not change when the text is re-edited or interpreted in a different way (e.g. as a magical text rather than as a document). The only way in which it can disappear is if the database turns out to contain double entry or if two fragments are joined. Even in those cases, however, track is kept of the number in the so-called old number database, and the user is re-directed towards the currently valid number (e.g.

What gets a number? Objects, documents and texts

In principle a Trismegistos number (TM_id) that identifies records in the database corresponds to a single document or book. In the majority of cases no distinction has to be made between a document or book (which is identified by the number), the physical object (e.g. a papyrus) and the text (e.g. a Demotic letter). Frequently, however, several (sub)texts are found together on a single writing surface and then it must be decided whether these all should become individual records with their own TM_id or not.

To determine what constitutes a document or book or inscription (and thus should become a separate record), we have given priority to material aspects: in principle all texts written on what was in antiquity a single writing surface belong together and form one document receiving a single Trismegistos number, unless there are good reasons to believe that the only (and unintended) relation between the two texts is the writing surface itself.

This means that related texts on the same surface are considered a single document, even if the relation is merely that they were written by the same scribe consecutively, but also that related texts which were in antiquity written on separate surfaces are considered separate documents. Even if a single text written by the same scribe and in a single action does not fit on a single papyrus sheet or ostracon but is continued on another for pure material reasons, two writing surfaces which were physically separate in antiquity cannot be considered a single document. Exceptions to this rule are rare and have explicitly been marked as such in the Ro/Vo comment field.

In other words the burden of proof rests with the scholar who wants to argue that two texts on the same writing surface belong to different documents because in the scribe’s intention they have nothing to do with each other.

More problematic cases have normally been treated by Trismegistos according to the following guidelines:

  1. • A tax receipt connected with the sale under which it is written belongs to the same document, while another one written on a separate sheet is a separate text; in the latter case the connection is indicated in the field 'note'.
  2. • An account on the back of a letter specifying expenses referred to in the letter belongs to the same document, while another account listing unrelated expenses is a separate text; in the latter case the connection is indicated in the field 'reuse'.
  3. • Three documents pasted together in a tomos synkollesimos are three separate entries with theor own TM_id in the database, since they were originally separate sheets. In each case the TM_id numbers of the other documents in the tomos are mentioned in the field 'reuse'.
  4. • A ‘cascade-letter’ is a single document, since the various forwarding letters are all concerned with the same subject - which is why they were copied into the new letter. The 'date' field contains the date on which the last forwarding letter was written.
  5. • A palimpsest papyrus always constitutes two documents, since there is no intended relation between the two texts - otherwise the old text would not have been wiped out. There may be an unintended relation, but this does not make the two texts a single document. The entry with the new text is marked in 'reuse' as ‘palimpsest new, old text is:’ and the TM_id of the old text is provided. The entry containing the old, washed out text is marked in 'reuse' as ‘palimpsest old, new text is:’ with the TM_id of the new text.
  6. • A text on the back of the papyrus which has no discernible intended connection with the front (or vice versa) is considered a different document. The two documents always refer to each other in 'reuse'. An example of an unintended relation is an archive owner’s reuse of the back of an obsolete contract in his archive.
  7. • A text which is written on the same writing surface, even by another hand or at a (much) later time, is considered to be part of that document if its subject matter is intentionally related. Examples are glosses in books, tax receipts or registrations in contracts, dockets in letters, etc.
  8. • An illegible (or unpublished) text on the back of another text is problematic, since the criterion of intended relation cannot be applied here. The burden of proof, however, rests with the scholar who wants to distinguish two documents. Therefore the option to consider the illegible verso a separate document has to be argued. Possible reasons to suspect that there is no relation are another language or script, another hand, .... If absolutely nothing can be read, we normally just add ‘illegible’ in 'back' and consider it a single document.
  9. • Separate fragments which have been identified as belonging to the same text are considered a single document, even if they are now in different collections.

The above criteria have the advantage that they follow the current practice of most papyrological publications. Inscriptions can be more problematic: coffins and stelae can still be defined as separate physical entities, writing surfaces or documents, but for walls or ceilings of temples, tombs or quarries this is not a workable criterion. In this case the clause ‘unless there are good reasons to believe that the only (and unintended) relation between the two texts is the writing surface itself’ is crucial and topological proximity should be combined with subject matter. Generally the distinctions made in the publications have been followed.