Papyrus (IPA|/pəˈpaɪrəs/) (Rhymes: )is a thick paper-like material produced from the
pithof the papyrus plant, " Cyperus papyrus", a wetland sedge that was once abundant in the Nile Deltaof Egypt. Papyrus usually grow 2–3 meters (5–9 ft) tall. Papyrus is first known to have been used in ancient Egypt(at least as far back as the First dynasty), but it was also used throughout the Mediterranean region. Ancient Egypt used this plant for boats, mattresses, mats and paper.
In the first centuries BC and AD, papyrus scrolls gained a rival as a writing surface in the form of
parchment, which was prepared from animal skins. Sheets of parchment were folded to form quires from which book-form codices were fashioned. Early Christian writers soon adopted the codex form, and in the Græco-Roman world it became common to cut sheets from papyrus rolls in order to form codices.
Codices were an improvement on the papyrus scroll as the papyrus was not strong enough to fold without cracking and a long roll, or scroll, was required to create large volume texts. Papyrus had the advantage of being relatively cheap and easy to produce, but it was fragile and susceptible to both moisture and excessive dryness. Unless the papyrus was of good quality, the writing surface was irregular, and the range of media that could be used was also limited.
By AD 800 the use of
parchmentand vellumhad replaced papyrus in many areas, though its use in Egypt continued until it was replaced by more inexpensive paper introduced by Arabs. The reasons for this switch include the significantly higher durability of the hide-derived materials, particularly in moist climates, and the fact that they can be manufactured anywhere. The latest certain dates for the use of papyrus are 1057 for a papal decree (typically conservative, all papal "bulls" were on papyrus until 1022) and 1087 for an Arabic document. Papyrus was used as late as the 1100s in the Byzantine Empire, but there are no surviving examples. Although its uses had transferred to parchment, papyrus therefore just overlapped with the use of paperin Europe, which began in the 11th century.
The English word "papyrus" derives, via
Latin, from Greek πάπυρος "papyros". Greek has a second word for "papyrus", βύβλος "byblos" (said to derive from the name of the Phoenician city of Byblos). The Greek writer Theophrastus, who flourished during the 4th century BC, uses "papuros" when referring to the plant used as a foodstuff and "bublos" for the same plant when used for non-food products, such as cordage, basketry, or a writing surface. The more specific term βίβλος "biblos", which finds its way into English in such words as "bibliography", "bibliophile", and "bible", refers to the inner bark of the papyrus plant. "Papyrus" is also the etymon of "paper", a similar substance.
It is often claimed that Egyptians referred to papyrus as "pa-per-aa" ["p3y pr-ˁ3"] (lit., "that which is of
Pharaoh"), apparently denoting that the Egyptian crown owned a monopoly on papyrus production. However no actual ancient text using this term is known. In the Egyptian language, papyrus was known by the terms "wadj" ["w3ḏ"] , "tjufy" ["ṯwfy"] , and "djet" ["ḏt"] . The Greek word "papyros" has no known relationship to any Egyptian word or phrase.
Documents written on papyrus
The word for the material "papyrus" is also used to designate documents written on sheets of it, often rolled up into scrolls. The plural for such documents is "papyri". Historical papyri are given identifying names—generally the name of the discoverer, first owner or institution where it is kept—and numbered, such as "
Papyrus Harris I". Often an abbreviated form is used such as "pHarris I".
Manufacture and use
Papyrus is made from the stem of the plant. The outer rind is first stripped off, and the sticky fibrous inner
pithis cut lengthwise into thin strips of about 40 cm long. The strips are then placed side by side on a hard surface with their edges slightly overlapping, and then another layer of strips is laid on top at a right angle. The strips may have been soaked in water long enough for decompositionto begin, perhaps increasing adhesion, but this is not certain. While still moist, the two layers are hammered together, mashing the layers into a single sheet. The sheet is then dried under pressure. After drying, the sheet of papyrus is polished with some rounded object, possibly a stone or seashell or round hard wood.
To form the long strip that a scroll required, a number of such sheets were united, placed so that all the horizontal fibres parallel with the roll's length were on one side and all the vertical fibres on the other. Normally, texts were first written on the "
recto", the lines following the fibres, parallel to the long edges of the scroll. Secondarily, papyrus was often reused, writing across the fibres on the " verso" [http://www-user.uni-bremen.de/~wie/Egerton/BellSkeat2.html] Pliny the Elderdescribes the methods of preparing papyrus in his Naturalis Historia.
In a dry
climatelike that of Egypt, papyrus is stable, formed as it is of highly rot-resistant cellulose; but storage in humid conditions can result in molds attacking and destroying the material. In European conditions, papyrus seems only to have lasted a matter of decades; a 200–year-old papyrus was considered extraordinary. Imported papyrus that was once commonplace in Greeceand Italyhas since deteriorated beyond repair, but papyrus is still being found in Egypt; extraordinary examples include the Elephantine papyriand the famous finds at Oxyrhynchusand Nag Hammadi. The Villa of the Papyriat Herculaneum, containing the library of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, Julius Caesar's father-in-law, was preserved by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, but has only been partially excavated.
There have been sporadic attempts to revive the manufacture of papyrus during the past 250 years. The Scottish explorer
James Bruceexperimented in the late eighteenth centurywith papyrus plants from the Sudan, for papyrus had become extinct in Egypt. Also in the eighteenth century, a Sicilian named Saverio Landolina manufactured papyrus at Syracuse, where papyrus plants had continued to grow in the wild. The modern technique of papyrus production used in Egypt for the tourist trade was developed in 1962by the Egyptian engineer Hassan Ragabusing plants that had been reintroduced into Egypt in 1872from France. Both Sicily and Egypt have centres of limited papyrus production.
Papyrus is still used by communities living in the vicinity of swamps, to the extent that rural householders derive up to 75% of their income from swamp goods (Maclean et al. 2003b; c). Particularly in East and Central Africa, people harvest papyrus, which is used to manufacture items that are sold or used locally. Examples include baskets, hats, fish traps, trays or winnowing mats and floor mats. Papyrus is also used to make roofs, ceilings, rope and fences, or as fuel (Maclean 2003c). Although alternatives such as
eucalyptusare increasingly available, papyrus is still used as fuel.
Pliny the Elder
Papyrus sanitary pad
*For Egyptian papyri:
List of ancient Egyptian Papyri
Nag Hammadi library
**New Testament papyri
*The papyrus plant in Egyptian art
Palm leaf manuscriptIndia
Paperinvented in Han DynastyChina
* [http://www-user.uni-bremen.de/~wie/Egerton/BellSkeat2.html H. Idris Bell and T.C. Skeat, 1935. "Papyrus and its uses"] (
* Bierbrier, Morris Leonard, ed. 1986. "Papyrus: Structure and Usage". British Museum Occasional Papers 60, ser. ed. Anne Marriott. London: British Museum Press.
* Černý, Jaroslav. 1952. "Paper and Books in Aancient Egypt: An Inaugural Lecture Delivered at University College London,
29 May 1947". London: H. K. Lewis. (Reprinted Chicago: Ares Publishers Inc., 1977).
* Langdon, S. 2000. "Papyrus and its Uses in Modern Day Russia", Vol. 1, pp. 56-59.
* Leach, Bridget, and William John Tait. 2000. "Papyrus". In "Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology", edited by Paul T. Nicholson and Ian Shaw. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 227–253. Thorough technical discussion with extensive bibliography.
* Leach, Bridget, and William John Tait. 2001. "Papyrus". In "The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt", edited by Donald Bruce Redford. Vol. 3 of 3 vols. Oxford, New York, and Cairo: Oxford University Press and The American University in Cairo Press. 22–24.
* Parkinson, Richard Bruce, and Stephen G. J. Quirke. 1995. "Papyrus". Egyptian Bookshelf. London: British Museum Press. General overview for a popular reading audience.
* [http://lhpc.arts.kuleuven.ac.be/index.html Leuven Homepage of Papyrus Collections]
* [http://www.papyrusinstitute.com/asp/Index.asp Papyrus Institute] : Homepage of the company founded by Dr. Hassan Ragab.
* [http://www-user.uni-bremen.de/~wie/texte/Papyri-list.html Complete List of Greek NT Papyri]
* [http://www.aldokkan.com/art/papyrus.htm Ancient Egyptian Papyrus - Aldokkan]
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