Miscellaneous Egyptian manuscripts in the Bodleian Library

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 161 MSS. Egypt a. 1 (P), 2, 3-42 (P), b. 2-3 (P), 4, 5-22 (P), c. 1-12 (P), d. 7-16 (P), 18-21 (P), e. 1-4 (P), 5 (R), f. 1, 2-4 (P), g. 1-3 (P)
  • Dates of Creation
      6th century BC-19th century
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      Egyptian (Ancient).
  • Physical Description
      101 shelfmarks

Scope and Content

The collection contains texts in all three written forms of the Egyptian language: hieroglyphic, hieratic and demotic. A large number of the papyri are burnt fragments, mostly demotic, found by Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) at the ancient city of Tanis in Lower Egypt in 1884. There are also some funerary papyri, including texts from the Book of the Dead, the Underworld Books and the Documents of Breathing, some of which may date from the third intermediate period (11th-8th century BC). The earliest dated item is a marriage contract from 527 BC.

Administrative / Biographical History

Professor Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) first visited Egypt in 1880 to survey the Great Pyramid of Khufu in Giza. He spent the next fifty years excavating in Egypt, before turning his attention to Palestine in 1926. Several of the papyri in this collection are from Petrie's excavation at Tanis in 1884, which was sponsored by the Egypt Exploration Fund, now Society, established in 1882 by Amelia Edwards to explore, survey, and excavate ancient sites in Egypt and Sudan, and to publish the results of this work. See the Dictionary of National Biography for an account of Petrie.

Funerary papyri were given by Rev. Greville John Chester (1831-92), graduate of Balliol College, Oxford, and author of the Catalogue of the Egyptian antiquities in the Ashmolean museum, Oxford (Oxford, 1881); and by Rev. Vivian Eccles Skrine (1850-1925), who studied at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, graduating BA in 1875, and MA in 1877. See Who Was Who in Egyptology for details.

Details for two other donors, Archibald Henry Sayce (1845-1933), Professor of Assyriology at Oxford, and Arthur Cayley Headlam (1862-1947), Bishop of Gloucester, may be found in the Dictionary of National Biography.

Access Information

Entry to read in the Library is permitted only on presentation of a valid reader's card (for admissions procedures see http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk).

Acquisition Information

Most of the papyri are those discovered by Petrie, and given to the Library by the Egypt Exploration Fund in June 1918. Other sources include: Rev. G.J. Chester, who gave papyri in 1889-90; Professor A.H. Sayce who sold papyri to the Library in 1888, and bequeathed others in 1933; Rev. V.E. Skrine, who gave a small group of papyri in 1912, obtained from his brother-in-law Colonel Vivian who acquired them during the battle of Tell el-Kabir in 1882; and A.C. Headlam, who gave some papyri in 1895.


Collection level description created by Susan Thomas, Department of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts.

Other Finding Aids

The manuscripts are summarily described in the card catalogue, arranged by language, located in the Oriental Reading Room.

Related Material

The bequest of Francis Douce in 1834 also contains some Egyptian funerary papyri (MSS. Douce Or. b. 10 (P), d. 7-12 (P)).


Colin Wakefield 'The Egyptian Papyri in the Bodleian Library', Bodleian Library Record, 16/6 (1991), pp. 94-7.

Marc Coenen 'The Egyptian Funerary Papyri in the Bodleian Library', Bodleian Library Record, 16/6 (1999), pp. 450-69.

Corporate Names