The University Library’s Papyrus Collection

This section of the website provides more detail on the university library’s papyrus collection, which comprises several partial collections. You will find information on where digitized copies of papyri and ostraca are accessible online and on how originals are stored.

Giessen’s papyrus collection, which encompasses more than 2,300 objects, is the fifth largest in Germany. It comprises four partial collections: the Papyri Gissenses, the Ostraca Gissensia, the Papyri bibliothecae universitatis Gissensis, and the Papyri Iandanae.

The information on this page is taken mainly from an article by Dr. Olaf Schneider.

Online accessibility

All items in the collections have been digitized and can be viewed online.
You will more information on these collections on the university library’s website (available in German only):

A detailed database with descriptions and digitized material was set up as part of a research project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and can be accessed through Leipzig University. This link will take you directly to the Constitutio Antoniniana.

1 - Papyri Gissenses

The oldest partial collection is the Papyri Gissenses (P.Giss.). In 1902, Ernst Kornemann (1886–1946) acquired the first 150 pieces (including the Constitutio Antoniniana) from a merchant in El Ashmunein (Hermopolis Magna) in Egypt. This was financed by a patron in Giessen, the industrialist Wilhelm Gail (1854–1925). In 1908, Kornemann joined the German Papyrus Cartel in Berlin to make further acquisitions, and he reserved the right of first publication for all items. The collection was also referred as the “Papyri im Museum des Oberhessischen Geschichtsvereins” after the location where they were first stored. Completed in 1913, the collection today is in the possession of the city of Giessen und comprises nearly 600 inventory numbers.

2 - Ostraca Gissensia

The Ostraca Gissensia (O.Giss.)—pottery sherds with text inscriptions—were acquired in Thebes in Egypt mostly in 1903 and also at Kornemann’s initiative, to complement the Papyri Gissensis. Initially stored in the Altes Schloss (Old Castle), the approximately 550 pieces today also belong to the city of Giessen.

3 - Papyri bibliothecae universitatis Gissensis

The Papyri bibliothecae universitatis Gissensis (P.B.U.G.), the papyri of the University Library of Giessen, were collected in 1908–1913 and 1928 in order to establish a collection for university research and teaching. The classical philologists Otto Immisch (1897–1913 in Giessen) and Alfred Körte (1906–1914) initiated the collection. Acquisitions were made through the Papyrus Cartel, to which the library belonged as of 1908. The collection was financed by patrons and the Giessener Hochschulgesellschaft (Society of Friends of Giessen University). It was also at first housed in the Altes Schloss (Old Castler) and comprised nearly 600 pieces. Classical philologist Karl Kalbfleisch (1868–1946) was its curator, beginning in 1913.

4 - Papyri Iandanae

Karl Kalbfleisch established his own private papyrus collection, the Papyri Iandanae (P.Iand.), in 1905–1913 and 1926–1927, and named it after his grandfather, Reinhold Janda of Gelnhausen. Kalbfleisch also belonged to the Papyrus Cartel. The collection was moved to the university library on Bismarckstrasse early on and was eventually bequeathed to the library in 1953. Today it encompasses more than 1,150 inventory numbers

Storage and restoration

Hugo Ibscher (1874–1943), at the time a world-renowned restorer of papyrus on Berlin’s Museum Island, glazed a large number of papyri from all three Giessen collections. Non-glazed pieces were usually stored between sheets of absorbent paper. The Papyri Gissenses, the Ostraca Gissensia, and the Papyri bibliothecae universitatis Gissensis were moved to the manuscript room at the university library on Bismarckstrasse in 1930 to offer access to all ancient collections in Giessen at a single site. Kalbfleisch was the curator of these collections until the Altes Schloss and the university library building were destroyed in December 1944.

In November 1939, all collections were moved to the basement level of the university library. To enhance their protection, the P.Giss. and the P.B.U.G. were moved, in 1940, to the basement vault of the Dresdner Bank, located at that time on Johannesstrasse across from the Johanneskirche. They remained undamaged there until the Wieseck River flooded in February 1945 and groundwater entered the vault. The damage was not discovered until the spring of 1946. The papyri were immediately retrieved and taken to the ruins of the library, where the staff of the book bindery and Hans Georg Gundel (1912–1999), a classical historian in Giessen who had become the new curator, began restoration work. Many of the non-glazed pieces were destroyed or severely damaged. Most of the previously glazed papyri were, for the most part, saved and preserved.

In 1958, all of these collections were transferred to a special papyrus room in the new library building constructed on the site of the old library. In 1984, the collections were moved to the new university library on the humanities campus. In the context of two projects funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), all papyri and ostraca were digitized between 1998 and 2003 and made freely available in an online database ( At the same time, all remaining fragments that could still be preserved were protected under glass.

Access to papyri in the special reading room

Giessen’s entire papyrus collection is kept in the university library in a darkened, climate-controlled special vault equipped with alarms. The Giessener Hochschulgesellschaft (Society of Friends of Giessen University) funded new cabinets in 2014. Users pursuing relevant research who made arrangements with the library in advance can view the papyri during regular opening hours in the special reading room of the university library.

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