Tandem Project

Arabic Papyri – Chances for Future Research

Feasibility Study

The aim of this project is to contribute to the chances of future research on Arabic papyri worldwide. With this tandem project, the Egyptologist and Papyrus expert Prof. Dr. Verena Lepper and the Arabic Philology Expert Prof. Dr. Bilal Orfali focus on accessing ancient Arabic papyri for future research.

Arabic papyri are highly neglected in international scholarship. The reason for this is that most of the objects are not accessible. They are stored away in Egypt for example in the Museum of Islamic Art and in the National Library or in individual collections in America (Ann Arbor) or Europe (Vienna, Berlin). The aim of this project is to contribute to the possibilities of future research on Arabic papyri around the world. In this study, Arabic papyri are digitized and made available to the academic community and the general public for future research.

Papyrology is a wide field of studies, comprising a large variety of scripts and languages used or spoken in Ancient Egypt, from hieroglyphics, hieratic, demotic, Aramaic, Greek, Latin and Coptic, all the way through to Arabic, which was the last language written on papyri. The papyri are kept in a variety of institutions in Egypt, Europe and the US. The Papyrussammlung of the Ägyptisches Museum Berlin is home to more than 1,000 Arabic papyri, of which only a small part has been deciphered and published.

As a feasibility study, this project is making these papyri accessible to the academic community and the global public. These efforts seek to enable a better understanding of the beginnings of Islam in Egypt and the culture and history of the first centuries of Islamic Egypt. The field of Arabic papyrology is very small. In March 2018, the seventh International Society for Arabic Papyrology Conference was held in Berlin, organised by the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, the Humboldt Universität, the Freie Universität Berlin and the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. As a result of this congress, it became clear that there is a strong need for the digitization of Arabic papyri around the world. Following this call, in collaboration with several partners, the research team Bilal Orfali and Verena Lepper conducted this project aimed at digitizing the Berlin papyri.

The team collaborated with the Ministry of Antiquities in Egypt (Ahmed Kamal, head of the department of Arabic papyri) in order to discuss documentation standards. The international centres of Arabic papyrology (Leiden, Munich and Paris) were also involved. In addition, digitization has been made a central element of all contemporary work on papyri. To this end, the expertise from the field of the digital humanities has been an important component of the project.

The project continues. The results and the digital data base will be made accessible here


Example of Arabic papyri

Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung

Project Title
Arabic Papyri – Chances for Future Research
Funding Scheme
Tandem Project
Countries Involved
Germany, Lebanon, Egypt