Papyrus was an important writing material. Thanks to its special qualities, the Constitutio Antoniniana still exists 1800 years after it was put down in writing.

The Constitutio Antoniniana is part of the Papyrus Gissensis 40. This Greek translation of the original Latin text is the only copy of the edict to have survived. The papyrus document was made in 215 AD. Next to the Constitutio Antoniniana written on the left side (sixteen lines), the papyrus contains the texts of two other edicts also issued by Emperor Caracalla in a second column on the right side (29 lines); this part of the papyrus is in much better condition. On the top right is an amnesty edict from 212 AD and on the bottom right an order to expel (rebellious) Egyptians from the coastal city of Alexandria in Egypt in 215 AD. For more detailed information, please see Kuhlmann (1994/2006), 240–255.

The Papyrus Gissensis 40, together with another 150 papyri, was acquired in 1902 from a merchant in El Ashmunein, Egypt. It is a single page measuring 27 cm in height and 46 cm in width. The damage to the papyrus, especially on the left side, is due primarily to worm damage, folding, and mold.

Soon after being brought to Germany, the papyrus was enclosed between plates of glass. Due to groundwater flooding at its storage site during World War II (a basement bank vault in Giessen’s city center), it suffered damage in 1945 and 1946. More fragments were lost, and the papyrus was affected by mold; as a result, it adheres inseparably to the front glass plate that touchs the document. A layer of paper originally placed under the reverse side of the papyrus to stabilize it can also no longer be removed.

Constitutio Antoniniana in Klimavitrine, by Frank Waldschmidt-Dietz [CC BY-SA 4.0]
Constitutio Antoniniana in Klimavitrine, by Frank Waldschmidt-Dietz [CC BY-SA 4.0]

The papyrus is kept together with the entire Giessen papyrus collection in a climate-controlled special depository equipped with alarm systems in the library building of the University of Giessen. The depository is kept darkened and maintained at a constant temperature of 18 degrees centigrade and a constant level of 45 percent humidity.

You will find more information on the known history of the Papyrus Gissensis 40 in the >>next section<<.