The largest Polish collection of ancient papyri is housed in the Department of Papyrology at the University of Warsaw. It comprises several dozens of Greek, Demotic and Coptic papyri and ostraca from Egypt.
The history of this collection dates back to 1932, when the University purchased 49 Greek and Coptic papyri in the Fayyum. Together with four ostraca from the Thebaid, they were all published by Jerzy Manteuffel as Papyri Varsovienses, Warsaw 1935, repr. in 1974 with an addendum by Zbigniew Borkowski.
More papyri and ostraca were found during Polish-French excavations in Edfou and added to the collection just before the outbreak of the Second World War. The vast majority of the assemblage was destroyed by fire in September 1939, in the bombing of the University.
This loss was, however, in some way compensated by the acquisition of several dozen papyri from the collection of K÷nigliche Museen zu Berlin that found their way to Poland in the turmoil of the war and its aftermath.
After the war the Chair of Papyrology (modern-day Department of Papyrology) of the University of Warsaw purchased the Berlin papyri from various private persons who came into their possession in unclear circumstances. Since these papyri were encountered along the Toru˝-Brodnica-Olsztyn train route, it is fairly certain that they were part of Soviet shipments going from Berlin to K÷ningsberg (Kalliningrad) via Pozna˝, Toru˝ and Olsztyn. According to one report, Polish railwaymen found them lying by the tracks as if they had been thrown off the trains. However, considering that most of the objects remain in their original glass panes, we can imagine that Soviet soldiers guarding the trains traded the papyri, or rather their bindings, for food and other supplies.
The saving of the lot of papyri looted by Soviet troops from Berlin is owed to several persons, above all to Jerzy Manteuffel, to Zbigniew Borkowski and to the Head of the Local Museum in Brodnica. Manteuffel purchased the first papyri shortly after the war and Borkowski travelled to Brodnica and vicinity several times in the 1960s and 1970s. As an anecdote he used to tell how he had found one papyrus still between its glass panes, serving as a window in a local peasant's stable.
Ever since, the papyri have been kept in the Department of Papyrology. The Department also houses 49 papyri known as P. Vratislavienses, a deposit from the University of Wroclaw, as well as 28 ostraca from Edfou. A significant part of the Wroclaw papyri and the Edfou ostraca remains unpublished.
The Berlin papyri kept in Warsaw were published in the first volumes of the Berliner Griechische Urkunden series. The edition consisted of a transcription with a minimal commentary and was never accompanied by photographic images.
This website gives access to digitized images of published papyri that are in possession of the Department of Papyrology. The author of the colour slides and greyscale negatives is Ms Teresa Żółtowska-Huszcza. The images were digitised and processed by Ewa Wipszycka, Tomasz Derda, Jakub Urbanik, Tomasz Markiewicz and Bartosz Wojciechowski.