Education and Reading in Graeco-Roman Egypt

A one-day workshop was held at the Centre on 7 June to discuss aspects of education and reading in Graeco-Roman Egypt. The conference was jointly organised by the Centre's Honorary Visiting Fellow, Prof. R.S. Bagnall, and by the Director, Dr. A.K. Bowman. Short papers were offered by Dr. Raffaella Cribiore (Columbia University), Dr. Teresa Morgan (St.John's College, Cambridge), Mr. S.Bucking (Trinity College Cambridge), and Ms. Daniela Colomo (St. John's College).

Among the highlights of the Workshop was a preview presented by Dr. K.A. Worp of the University of Amsterdam of a new literary papyrus from the Dakleh Oasis preserving part of an oration by Isokrates.

Dr. Cribiore has provided a summary of her paper for the Newsletter:

Letter Writing in the Schools

We do not know to what extent learning to write epistles was part of the school curriculum in Graeco-Roman Egypt. Handbooks of model letters used in the training of professional letter writers existed, as two collections, the Typoi Epistolikoi of Pseudo-Demetrius and the Epistolimaioi Charakteres of Pseudo-Libanius, testify. Another collection, P. Bon. 5, was found in Egypt. It was probably meant for professional writers or students who were trained in chancery or business schools. Another papyrus, P.Par. 63, evokes a similar scenario of professional education. In rhetorical schools letter writing seems to have remained on the fringe of formal instruction. The evidence from Graeco-Roman Egypt is not completely clear. Thus, for instance, O.Edfu II 306 contains a letter that could be a progymnasma based on the novel of Ninus.

Among the Greek school exercises only an early Byzantine example, MPER NS XV 73, shows a beginner copying the initial part of a letter to a brother. It is striking to observe that in schools that taught Coptic beginners who were learning to write were often required to practise epistolary formulaic expressions in their writing exercises. This practice testifies to a practical aspect of Coptic education, where the teaching of literacy addressed more immediate needs.

When students were away at school, they often corresponded with their families back home, as P.Oxy. III 531 and P.Oxy. VI 930 testify. In the Philogelos, a collection of ancient anecdotes dated to the late Roman period, two anecdotes, 54 and 55, speak of students away at school writing to their fathers. Letters served to maintain some contact between members of a family who were separated. It also seems that students away at school were expected to write to their families to demonstrate the results of the education they were receiving. Is it possible that some of the letters written home by students might be school exercises and genuine epistles at the same time? The student Aurelios Dios reassures his father about his own learning in P.Oxy. X 1296. In SB III 6262 Thonis writes to his father Arion urging him to come to visit, to see whether or not his son's new teacher pays attention to Thonis. In P.Oxy. XVIII 2190, Neilos writes to his father to provide him with a good overview of the state of his education. Another letter, P.Ryl. IV 624, also seems to have been conceived in school, and has the precise aim of filling a father with pride and showing him that he is spending his money well. A Byzantine letter written by a father to a teacher, SB V 7655, may provide the missing link to show that teachers were somehow involved in the correspondence of students with their parents.

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CSAD News and Activities

Imaging Project

The Centre's project to create an archive of digitised images of its squeeze collection has completed its first year. Over 100 images are currently available from the Centre's WWW site ( out of a total of 1,000 images created during the year. The number of images available should increase rapidly during the course of 1996/7 as more on-line capacity becomes available (see WWW Site story below).

Much has been learnt during the year. The process of image capture and creation has been streamlined and harmonised. The initial A4-sized images made with the Centre's flatbed scanner at a resolution of 300 dpi are stored as uncompressed TIFF files. These files are then either cropped, in the case of small squeezes, or, for larger squeezes, composited to form images of the whole inscription. Corrections are made for orientation and scales and captions are added. The completed image is stored as a 300 dpi file from which smaller 150 and 72 dpi JPEG images suitable for publication on the WWW are derived. 72 dpi images are standardly passed through the Unsharp Mask filter in Adobe Photoshop to ensure crispness of detail. Details of the process of image capture are recorded in a separate database. Samples of this information will eventually be made available with each image.

Scanned image of a squeeze of an inscription from Chios recording the sale of a priesthood, deposited in the Centre by Prof. W.G. Forrest (Plassart & Picard, BCH 37 (1913), 224-228, 31)

The problem of storing the large volume of image data generated by the project has been solved by the commissioning of the University's Hierarchical File Server, as reported in Newsletter no. 2.

Copyright issues have also had to be confronted. Images in the database will eventually all carry a digital watermark identifying the Centre's copyright, although it is intended that they should remain freely available for scholarly purposes.

The project is now showing signs of fulfilling some of the promise with which it was undertaken-of making more widely and immediately available to scholars basic resources for carrying out independent epigraphical work. The availability of digital images of squeezes-or, at least, the possibility of rapidly creating them-has opened up the Centre's squeeze collection to a much wider audience. Requests from graduate students in the USA and Australia, for example, have been answered in the past month by the creation and electronic transfer of digital images.

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The Centre's WWW site is about to move from the University's computers to a dedicated Internet server, although the current URL ( will continue to provide a jumping-off point. The new server will enable a much larger and more varied range of material from the Centre's resources to be brought on-line-including a selection of the published Vindolanda tablets photographed in London at the end of September. It is also intended that texts and translation should eventually be made available to complement the images.

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A Digital Epigraphical Sourcebook

Excellent selections of Greek historical inscriptions are currently available in standard compilations such as Meiggs and Lewis's Greek Historical Inscriptions and Pouilloux's Choix d'inscriptions grecques or Moretti's Iscrizioni storiche ellenistiche. Illustration of the texts collected in these volumes, however, is necessarily either very limited or entirely absent. One way in which the Centre's imaging project is to be extended over the coming year is to make available digitised images of as many texts in these collections as possible. The Centre will also be experimenting during 1996/97 with possible formats for an on-line epigraphical sourcebook integrating text, translation, image and a hypertextual genetic lemma. The aim of this project would be to provide a resource that could be used at a range of different levels-from reading a translation to exploring the different layers in the construction of the text itself.

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This page was created on 12 October 1996