Most papyri are not found as individual items, but in groups, which are called "archives" by the papyrologists. Ideally such an archive is discovered by an archaeologist, who then describes in detail the order in which the texts were put down in antiquity (often in a jar or bundled in cloth). In fact, most papyri are found in clandestine excavations (though new finds such as those in Kellis, in the eastern oasis and in the Italian-French excavations at Tebtynis are better documented), and archives have to be reconstructed on the basis of the contents of the papyri and indications of a common purchase. A common find is not enough to make an archive, and therefore a rubbish heap, a dump of papyri, papyri found in the same house or temple or reused for the same mummy cartonnage (see for instance the archive of Leon) do not constitute by themselves archives. An archive is a group of texts which were collected in antiquity with a specific purpose (see bibliography). The purpose may even be to discard some items from a larger archive and then throw them away.

In the database we have collected information of more than 500 archives, dated between the 6th century BC and the 7th century AD in Greek, Latin, Demotic, Coptic, Arabic and a mixture of all these. For each archive the user can access the individual texts, now amounting to nearly 20,000 records. Hundred and thirty archives have already received a full description in PDF format; these are marked with the symbol + before the name. The 145 archives of the Fayum area, the ancient nomos Arsinoites, and 21 archives of the Upper Egyptian town of Pathyris have also been published in the series Collectanea Hellenistica (see Archives projects).

On the basis of the archive keepers a distinction can be made between public and private archives. The former were collected by an official or an administrative body, the latter by a private person or a group of persons. Typical examples of public archives are the tax lists of Karanis, the so-called archive of Menches (in fact the archive of the village scribes of Kerkeosiris) and the enteuxeis found at Magdola. Private archives may be owned by a single individual (e.g. Claudius Tiberianus) or by successive generations, in which case we can call them family archives (e.g. the Dryton archive). In several cases officials kept part of their administrative papers when retiring from office and even mixed them up with their private correspondence. Such mixed archives are preserved for the engineers Kleon and Theodoros and for Apollonios, the strategos of the Heptakomia.

A division by type of documents only partly coincides with that by archive keepers. Many private archives largely consists of title deeds, documents proving ownership rights over immovables, and receipts, showing that the archive keeper has paid his dues to other persons or to the state. This is particularly common with demotic texts. Archives linked with law-suits can be private (e.g. the lawsuit of Lamiske or that of Isidoros) or official (e.g. the enteuxeis or the petitions addressed to the village epistates of Euhemereia). Some archives consists entirely of correspondence, usually incoming, but also drafts or copies of incoming letters; examples are the private archive of Apollonios and the official archive of the oikonomos Harmachis. Few archives consists of a single type of documents, but in most there is a dominant factor, which we have tried to recognize.

The archive keeper has kept the documents for a certain use, which we have reconstructed wherever possible. Most documents are incoming or outgoing. Incoming documents were written by third persons for the archive keeper(s), e.g. letters, contracts or receipts for private persons, petitions or reports to officials. Outgoing documents are written by (or in the name of) the archive keepers; usually they are drafts or copies, the originals being sent or given to another party. Sometimes outgoing copies are returned to the sender, with an official subscription. They appear not only in private archives, but also in official archives (e.g. the land survey reports by the village scribe Menches). Sometimes older title-deeds end up in the hands of an archive keeper together with immovable property; they are incoming in an indirect way. In a law-suit dossier legal texts may be incorporated as precedents. There are also internal documents, mostly lists and accounts. The balance between incoming and outgoing documents, and the possible presence of unexplained "intruders" determines the typology of an archive as much as the type of archive owner(s) and the type of documents.


Trismegistos Archives is work in progress. There are currently 629 archives, containing 22074 works.

How to cite

Please consult this page.

Archives projects

Pathyris archives

The small town of Pathyris - modern Gebelein - is located south of Thebes. After a huge revolt in Upper Egypt was suppressed in 186 B.C., a Ptolemaic military camp was built in Pathyris where local people could serve as soldiers-serving-for-pay. The government took several initiatives to Hellenize the town, resulting in a bilingual society. The town produced hundreds of papyri, ostraca and wooden tablets, discovered during legal excavations as well as illegal diggings at the end of the 19th and in the 20th century.

Up till now, 21 Graeco-Demotic archives from Ptolemaic Pathyris may be reconstructed. For these archives, a description in PDF is downloadable here.

The descriptions are also available as part of the monograph:
K. Vandorpe and S. Waebens, Reconstructing Pathyris' Archives. A multicultural community in Hellenistic Egypt (Collectanea Hellenistica, 3), Brussels: l'Union Académique Internationale & Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België 2009.
More information on this volume is available here.

A bibliography of Pathyris is downloadable as pdf here.

Fayum archives

The Fayum is a large depression in the western desert of Egypt, receiving its water directly from the Nile. In the early Ptolemaic period the agricultural area expanded a great deal, new villages were founded and many Greeks settled here. When villages on the outskirts were abandoned about AD 300-400, houses and cemeteries remained intact for centuries. Here were found thousands of papyri, ostraca (potsherds) and hundreds of mummy portraits, which have made the area famous among classicists and art historians alike. Most papyri and ostraca are now scattered over collections all over the world. Here we present more than 160 reconstructed archives originating from this region, including private, professional, official and temple archives both in Greek and in native Demotic.
Descriptions of the major part of the Fayum archives (period: 3rd century B.C. until 4th century AD) are available online and are downloadable in PDF.

Click here for a list of Fayum archives (3rd century B.C. - 4th century AD).

146 descriptions are also published in a new volume, with an introduction and indices: K. Vandorpe, W. Clarysse, H. Verreth, Graeco-Roman Archives from the Fayum (Collectanea Hellenistica – KVAB VI), Leuven-Paris-Bristol: Peeters, 2015, 496p.

More information on this volume is available here.

Upper Egyptian archives

The archives of Upper Egypt (332 BC - AD 300, except for Pathyris) are currently studied under the direction of K. Vandorpe and W. Clarysse and will become part of a new volume of Collectanea Hellenistica. For some of these archives, descriptions in pdf-format are already available.

Click here for a list of Upper Egyptian archives.

Archives of the transitional period between Byzantine and early Islamic Egypt

Archives of the transitional period between Byzantine and early Islamic Egypt (6th-8th century) are currently studied as part of the SNSF project "Change and Continuities from a Christian to a Muslim Society- Egyptian Society and Economy in the 6th to 8th centuries", University of Basel, and will become part of a new volume of Collectanea Hellenistica.

For a list of archives of this period, click here.

Tomoi synkollesimoi

Tomoi Synkollesimoi are rolls consisting of separate documents pasted together for archive keeping. The procedure is especially common in the Roman period.

For information, see W. Clarysse, ‘Tomoi Synkollesimoi’, in M. Brosius (ed.), Ancient Archives and Archival Traditions: Concepts of Record-keeping in the Ancient World, Oxford, 2003, p. 344-339.

To download an (early 2000's) list of tomoi synkollesimoi on which this article has been based, click here. A first draft of the article is available here.

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Questions can be sent to Katelijn Vandorpe ( ) or to Willy Clarysse ( )


  1. B. Van Beek, "Ancient Archives and Modern Collections: The Leuven Homepage of Papyrus Archives and Collections", in J. Frösén, T. Purola and E. Salmenkivi (edd.), Proceedings of the XXIVth International Congress of Papyrology. Helsinki, 1-7 August 2004 (Societas scientiarum Fennica. Commentationes humanarum litterarum 122), Helsinki, 2007, p. 1033-1044.
  2. A. Jördens, "Papyri und private Archive. Ein Diskussionsbeitrag zur papyrologiszchen Terminologie", in E. Cantarella and G. Tür (edd.), Symposion 1997: Vorträge zur griechischen un hellenistischen Rechtsgeschichte (Altafiumara, 8-14 Sept. 1997) (Akten der Gesellschaft für griechische und hellenistische Rechtgeschichte 13), Cologne, 2001, p. 253-267.
  3. A. Martin, "Archives privées et cachettes documentaires", in A. Bülow-Jacobsen (ed.), Proceedings of the 20th International Congress of Papyrologists. Copenhagen, 23-29 August 1992, Copenhagen, 1994, p. 569-577.
  4. L. Pantalacci (ed.), La lettre d'archive. Communication administrative et personelle dans l'antiquité proche-orientale et égyptienne. Colloque Lyon, 9 juillet - 10 juillet 2004 (Topoi Suppl. 8, Institut français d'aréologie orientale du Caire. Bibliothèque générale 32), Le Caire, 2008.
  5. P.W. Pestman (ed.), Familiearchieven uit het land van Pharao, Zutphen, 1989.
  6. K. Vandorpe, "Archives and Dossiers", in R.S. Bagnall (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Papyrology, Oxford, 2009, Chapter 10, p. 216-255.
  7. K. Vandorpe and S. Waebens, Reconstructing Pahtyris' Archives. A multicultural community in Hellenistic Egypt (Collectanea Hellenistica 3), Brussels, 2009.
  8. K. Vandorpe, W. Clarysse and H. Verreth, Graeco-Roman Archives from the Fayum (Collectanea Hellenistica – KVAB VI), Leuven-Paris-Bristol, 2015, 496p.


General coordination: Willy Clarysse and Katelijn Vandorpe
Database structure (Filemaker 7-18): Tom Gheldof, Mark Depauw
Online version (PHP & MySQL): Mark Depauw
Online version (web design): Yanne Broux
Data processing: Katelijn Vandorpe, Willy Clarysse, Lauren Dogaer, Herbert Verreth, Sofie Waebens, Lore Van Melkebeke
Former collaborators: Elien Zoete, Birgit Feucht, Karolien Geens, Tom Gheldof, Ruben Smolders, Bart Van Beek.