Papyri, Syriac

Throughout its long history (more than two millennia), the Syriac language has been written on a variety of different mediums. The two most common are parchment for the early period and paper for the later period (see Manuscripts). Syriac has, however, also been set in tile mosaic, inked onto stoneware, and incised into stone, wood, and metal. In addition, Syriac has occasionally been written on papyrus.

The earliest surviving example of Syriac written on papyrus is associated with the three 3rd-cent. Syriac parchments (see Old Syriac documents). While all three of these documents are parchments, the two from the Middle Euphrates region were found with a cache of Greek texts, some of which are papyri. On two of these papyri (viz. P. Euphrates 3 and 4), the following writing in Syriac occurs after the Greek text of the petition: ʾwrls ʿbšwṭʾ ktbt ‘I, PN, sign’ (ed. Feissel and Gascou, 94–107).

The only Syriac documentary text written on papyrus that has yet been edited is a partially-preserved letter possibly from the 7th cent. (P. Berol. Inv. 8285; ed. Brashear 96–100 with pl. XIII; important corrections in Brock 1999). Though the context of the text is not entirely clear due to its state of preservation, the writer of the letter seems to be a person in authority who is addressing an inferior. The text is written in a cursive script similar to Serṭo.

In addition to documentary texts, literary texts were also written in Syriac on papyrus. In 1985, J.-M. Sauget published a single folio of a papyrus fragment conserved in Florence (PSI Inv. 3020). This fragment, which he dated to the 9th cent., contains a section of the Didascalia Apostolorum. In 1995, S. P. Brock identified an additional papyrus folio of the same text in the Schøyen collection (no. 1644/1; ed. Brock 1995, 9–14). At one time, these two folios, which follow one another sequentially, must have belonged to a single papyrus ms. In addition to the Didascalia Apostolorum, the Schøyen fragment also contains a text by a certain Mar Yoʾanis, who may possibly be John Chrysostom.

An additional fragmentary Syriac papyrus is found among the holdings of the Schøyen collection (no. 1644/2; ed. Brock 1995, 18–22). This fragment, which again may date from the 9th cent., contains the Peshitta version of Acts 8:40–9:14 (recto) and Acts 9:16–9:27 (verso).

Among the many textual finds from Kellis in the Dakhla Oasis are several Manichaean Syriac papyri, now labeled P. KellisSyr. 1, which almost certainly consists of three distinct papyri (ed. in Gardner, vol. 1, 127–8 with pl. 19), and P. KellisSyr. 2 (ed. in Gardner, vol. 2, 136–137 with pl. 38). According to the editors, these papyri are probably literary, but their current fragmentary state mitigates any further description or identification. In addition to these monolingual Syriac papyri, a personal name is written in Syriac on the verso of a Greek letter on papyrus from Kellis (P. KellisGr. 67; see Gardner 2007). Along with the Syriac-Coptic glossaries on wood boards, these Syriac papyri — and the Syriac address on a Greek papyrus — point to the use of Syriac in the Manichaean community at Kellis.

In addition to these texts, which have been edited, a number of other Syriac papyri are known to exist. In 1975, ca. 50 Syriac papyrus fragments were found at the Monastery of St. Catherine (see Digbassanis). Most of the papyri are said to date from the 5th–7th cent., and at least two contain sections of the OT. In 1998, a number of Syriac papyrus fragments were found at Dayr al-Suryān in Egypt, a monastery which is well-known for having provided a large number of early Syriac mss. According to Bigoul el-Souriany and Van Rompay, the Dayr al-Suryān papyrus fragments most likely come from a codex that contained an as of yet unidentified ascetical text. Based on paleography, a 9th- cent. date has been tentatively suggested, though a (slightly) earlier date cannot be ruled out. Alongside these two larger caches, a few Syriac papyri are also said to be found in collections in Oxford (Bodleian Library), Vienna, Heidelberg, and Cheltenham (for full references, see Brashear, 91 n. 24).

While their number pales in comparison to the thousands of Syriac texts on parchment and paper, the Syriac papyri add yet a further dimension to Syriac language and writing. The Syriac papyri also speak directly to Syriac’s continuity with the earlier Aramaic heritage. Aramaic papyri survive from as early as the mid-6th cent. BC. The Syriac papyri then represent the last stage of a long tradition of writing Aramaic on papyrus.

See Fig. 96.


  • W. M.  Brashear, ‘Syriaca’, Archiv für Papyrusforschung 44 (1998), 86–127 with pl. XIII.
  • S. P.  Brock, ‘Two Syriac papyrus fragments from the Schøyen Collection’, OC 79 (1995), 9–22.
  • S. P.  Brock, ‘A Syriac Letter on Papyrus: P.Berol.Inv.8285,’ Hugoye 2.2 (1999).
  • D.  Digbassanis, ‘The Sinai Papyri’, in Proceedings of the XVIII  International Congress of Papyrology. Athens, 25–31 May 1986 (1988), vol. 1, 71–90.
  • D. Feissel and J. Gascou, ‘Documents d’archives romains inédits du Moyen Euphrate (IIIe s. après J.-C.). I. Les pétitions (P. Euphr. 1 à 5)’, Journal des Savants 1995, 65–119.
  • I.  Gardner, Kellis Literary Texts, 1–2 (Dakhleh Oasis Project 4, 15; 1996, 2007).
  • I.  Gardner, ‘P. Kellis I 67 revisited’, ZPE 159 (2007), 223–8. (includes plate)
  • J.-M.  Sauget, ‘Le fragment de papyrus syriaque conservé à Florence’, AION 45 (1985), 1–16 with 2 plates.
  • Bigoul el-Souriany and L. Van Rompay, ‘Syriac papyrus fragments recently discovered in Deir al-Surian (Egypt)’, Hugoye 4.1 (2001). (includes several images)

How to Cite This Entry

Aaron M. Butts , “Papyri, Syriac,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay,

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Aaron M. Butts , “Papyri, Syriac,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018),

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Butts, Aaron M. “Papyri, Syriac.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018.

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