Material Text Cultures

Antique Letters as a Means of Communication


current staff members

Teilprojektleiter Dr. Rodney Ast
akademische Mitarbeiterin Dr. Loreleï Vanderheyden

former staff members

akademische Mitarbeiterin Dr. Antonia Sarri
akademische Mitarbeiterin Fatma Hamouda




This project continues its analysis of the 8,000 Greek and Latin letters preserved mainly on papyrus, but also on wood and lead tablets and ostraca, and dating from the period between the third century B.C. and the seventh century A.D. This includes a variety of private and business letters that have been written in and outside Egypt (for example in Vindolanda, Greece, North Africa). Point of departure is the thesis that letter writing is to be regarded as a complex social action, the understanding of which requires close examination of more than just the content of letters themselves, but also their material profiles, layout and formatting conventions, protagonists, methods of delivery and reception.

This picture is a Coptic letter with Greek greetings from the 6th century, coming from a bilingual milieu of Middle Egypt. Photo: Loreleï Vanderheyden

Cooperation Partner

  • Dr. Isabelle Marthot, University of Basel, Department of Ancient Civilisations, SNSF Ambizione project "Reuniting fragments, identifying scribes and characterizing scripts: the Digital paleography of Greek and Coptic papyri"
  • Prof. Dr. Jean-Luc Fournet and his team, Chaire Culture écrite de l'antiquité tardive et papyrologie byzantine, Collège de France, Paris.
  • Dr. Maria Chiara Scappaticcio, ERC-StG project n°636983 - PLATINUM (Papyri and Latin Texts: INsights and Updated Methodologies. Towards a philological, literary, and historical approach to Latin papyri), University of Naples ‘Federico II’.
  • Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia), Ancient Cultures Research Centre  'Knowledge Transfer and Administrative Professionalism in a Pre-Typographic Society: Observing the Scribe at Work in Roman and Early Islamic Egypt' ( - Malcolm Choat
  • New York University, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World - Roger S. Bagnall and Tom Elliott
  • Duke University, Duke Collaborative for Classics Computing (DC3) - Joshua Sosin
  • Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Trismegistos Project ( - Mark Depauw


18. Juni 2019
Gastvortrag: Dr. Marco Fressur, "Informal and documentary hands for Latin and Latin-Greek books" (in Kooperation mit TP A08)

28. Mai 2019
Gastvortrag: Dr. Serena Ammirati, "How to write a letter: Latin everyday‘script from abecedaries to epistolography"

13. February 2019
Gastvortrag: Dr. Loreleï Vanderheyden, "Greek-Coptic bilingualism and digraphism in the archive of Dioscorus of Aphrodito (6th century CE, Egypt)"

7. März 2018
Gastvortrag: Prof. Dr. Giuseppina Azzarello, "ἀρχὴ μεγίστη τοῦ βίου τὰ γράμματα: Überlegungen zur Schreibfähigkeit im Griechisch-Römischen und spätantiken Ägypten"

28.-29. September 2017
2-tägige Tagung zum Thema "Uniformity and Regionalism in Latin Writing Culture in the First Millennium of the Common Era"

Juni/Juli 2015 
2 Vorträge - Alexander Jones, Professor of the History of the Exact Sciences in Antiquity in the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, "The Materiality of Time in Antiquity" (zusammen mit A03) und Workshop zum Thema "The Materiality of Time in Antiquity"

09.-11. Dezember 2014
3-tägiger Workshop Prof. Malcolm Choat (Macquarie University, Sydney), "Creating Authority. Documents as Artifacts in the Greco-Roman World"


  • Sarri, A. (2018). "Material Aspects of Letter-Writing in the Greco-Roman World (c. 500 BC to c. 300 AD)", Berlin/München/Boston (MTK).
  • Sarri, A. (2016). "Handshifts in Letters", Proceedings of the 27th International Congress of Papyrology at Warsaw, 2013
  • Sarri, A. (2014). "A Letter of Proklos and Asklepiades. P.Lond. inv. 2553 + P.Col. VIII 211," Greek Roman and Byzantine Studies 54, 37-44.
  • Ast, Rodney (2018), „Telling Them by Their Hands: What Paleography Has to Offer Prosopography“, in: Francisca A.J. Hoogendijk u. Steffie van Gompel (Hgg.), The Materiality of Texts from Ancient Egypt. New Ap-proaches to the Study of Textual Material from the Early Pharaonic to the Late Antique Period (Papyrologica Lugduno-Batava 35), Leiden, 27–34. 87.
  • Ast, R. (2017). "Signs of Culture and Learning in Greek Documents: the Case of spiritus asper," in G.N. Macedo und M.C. Scappaticcio (eds.) Actes du colloque international “Signes dans les textes, textes sur les signes”, Université de Liège, 6 et 7 septembre 2013 (ca. 15 Seiten).
  • Ast, Rodney (2015), „Writing and the City in Later Roman Egypt. Towards a Social History of the Ancient ‘Scribe’“, in: Center for Hellenic Studies Research Bulletin 4 (1), Washington D.C. (
  • Ast, Rodney/Berkes, Lajos (2015), „A Letter from Athanasios the Scholastikos Mentioning Constantinople,“ in: (;2015;1).
  • Ast, R. (2014). "The Hand of P. Mich. III 165 and P.Bagnall 3," Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 190, 231-233.
  • Ast, R. und G. Azzarello (2013). "New Perspectives on the Gemellus Archive: Sabinus and His Correspondence," in: Carolin Arlt u. Martin A. Stadler (Hgg.), Das Fayyum im Hellenismus und Kaiserzeit: Fallstudien zu multikulturellem Leben in der Antike, Wiesbaden, 19-17.
  • Ast, R. und G. Azzarello (2012). "A Roman verteran and his skilful administrator. Gemellus in light of unpublished papyri," in: P. Schubert (Hg.), Proceedings of the 26th International Congress of Papyrology, Geneva 2010, Genf, 67-71.
  • Ast, R. und R.S. Bagnall (2012). "A Letter from Taos to Markos," in: Diletta Minutoli (Hg.), Inediti offerti a Rosario Pintaudi per il suo 65˚ compleanno, Florenz, 233-236.
  • Hamouda, Fatma (2018), "Communication and the Circulation of Letters in Roman Egypt" (Dissertation).
  • Vanderheyden, Loreleï (2018), "Lettre" (edition of the P.Heid.Kopt. inv.174 = P.Heid.Kopt. 15), in Coptica Palatina. Koptische Texte, bearbeitet auf der 4. Internationalen Sommerschule für Koptische Papyrologie. Veröffentlichungen aus der Heidelberger Papyrussammlung. A. Boud’hors, A. Delattre, T. S. Richter, G. Schenke & G. Schmelz (ed.), Universitätsverlag Carl Winter, 2018, p. 96-101.
  • Vanderheyden, Loreleï (2019*), "The figure of Apollôs, father of Dioscorus, in the light of Coptic letters from Aphrodito (6th c. CE)", in Living the End of Antiquity – Individual Histories from Byzantine to Islamic Egypt (Basel, 18th-20th may 2017), S. Huebner (ed.), Basel University (accepted for publication, peer-reviewed).
  • Vanderheyden, Loreleï (in Druck), "Les lettres coptes des archives de Dioscore d’Aphroditê (P.Aphrod.LettresCopt. I)", Paris.

The members of the sub-project A02 also participate in a total of seven articels in the collected volume MTK 1: Layouten und Gestalten; Metall; Papyrus; Sammeln, Ordnen und Archivieren; Textkulturen; Ton; Wachs.



Subprojects of the 3rd Funding Period

A01 A02 A03 A05 A06 A08 A09 A10 A11 A12 B01 B04 B09 B10 B13 B14 B15 C05 C07 C08 C09 C10 INF Ö2 Z



Completed Subprojects

A01 A03 A04 B02 B03 B06 B07 B11 B12 C01 C02 C03 C04 C06 IGK Ö1



Members of the CRC

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