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Transformation of an ancient society: Research project on administration in multicultural Egypt

The University of Cologne and Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) are being funded by the German Research Foundation in a long-term project over 12 years / Researchers reconstruct the administrative processes of ancient Egyptian society using papyrus texts

Papyrus | Foto: Markus Scholz, Uni Halle

A new DFG long-term project in papyrology at the University of Cologne (Prof Charikleia Armoni, Prof Jürgen Hammerstaedt) and the Institute for Antiquity Studies (Ancient History) at MLU is dedicated to the investigation of the organization “of the administration in the multicultural kingdom of Egypt during the Hellenistic period (330–30 BC). The aim is to create an overall view of the administration of a highly organized pre-modern state for the first time in the next twelve years. This has only been made possible in the Egyptian geographical area in the era before the early modern period due to the dry desert climate, which preserved thousands of administrative documents on papyrus. With this long-term programme, the German Research Foundation (DFG) supports research projects in the humanities and social sciences that require continuous funding of at least seven years. The DFG considers longer-term funding to be justified for these projects due to their central scientific significance, their thorough preparation and well-conceived planning as well as their professional management.

Since the time of Alexander the Great, Egypt was under Greek foreign rule. Under the foreign pharaohs’ rule, the country on the Nile experienced unprecedented and ongoing immigration from the north-eastern Mediterranean. This 'New World' of antiquity was in a constant process of transformation. As in a lab experiment, the emergence and development of a multicultural society can be observed here because researchers have plenty of sources solely from Egypt that are almost completely lacking in all other regions of the pre-modern world up to and including the High Middle Ages. This is mainly due to the thousands and thousands of texts from ancient everyday life that have been handed down on papyrus and potsherds (ostraca). The Institute for Antiquity Studies of the University of Cologne also has one of the world's largest and most important university collections of this kind, which includes several thousands of original objects. Such texts provide an unadulterated insight into the administrative and legal organization of an ancient society as a whole. “The long-term project will enable us, for the first time, to record the totality of the administrative institutions and the processes they manage in Hellenistic Egypt on the basis of Greek papyrus documents,” said Prof Charikleia Armoni, coordinator of the long-term project and curator of the papyrus collection of the Cologne Institute for Antiquity Studies.

The long-term project was approved by the DFG in June of this year and will collect and analyze about 6,500 papyri published since the 19th century over the next 12 years. The content of the everyday testimonies found in Egypt offers a unique opportunity to identify the origins of numerous principles and practices of ruling administration and influence and to make their continued impact visible. The aim of the project is to find out how ancient ruling administration was organized. In an interdisciplinary approach, not only Papyrology in Cologne and Ancient History in Halle work together, but also the Cologne Center for eHumanities (CCeH). The sources will be revised, historically evaluated and translated. Together with images of the original documents and various meta data, they are to be incorporated into a dynamic digital text corpus. The results of the historical evaluation will be presented in a monographic work in several volumes, which refers to the digital text catalogue.

Media contact:

Prof Dr Chariklea Armoni 

Institute for Antiquity Studies

+49 221 470 3025

Prof Dr Jürgen Hammerstaedt

Institute for Antiquity Studies

+49 221 470 2242


Press and Communications Team:

Jan Voelkel

+49 221 470 2356

Further information (only available in German):