Find papyri

Sophocles, Ichneutae, fragments

Guide to finding ancient documents written on papyrus and requesting them to the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Published date:

British Library papyri are numbered from Papyrus 1 onwards. The Egerton Papyri form a separate sequence. Many items are catalogued on Explore Archives and Manuscripts; others are only documented in printed catalogues. Papyri can be ordered in the same way as other manuscript and archive material, by accessing Request Other Items: Western Manuscripts Collection and entering the reference for the papyrus in the field.

To order a papyrus, you must know the correct inventory number, which often differs from the publication number (e.g. P. Lond. 1419; P. Oxy. 7, etc.). The inventory number will be Papyrus (followed by a number) or Egerton Papyrus (followed by a number). If you only know the publication number, you will need to find the inventory number before ordering. The easiest way to do this is to look it up using Trismegistos Advanced Search. For instance, searching on this page for P. Oxy. 7 will bring you to the Trismegistos page for the British Library’s Sappho papyrus, and there you will find the inventory number is 739. To order this papyrus, you simply need to request Papyrus 739.

Most papyri are mounted under glass. The 0-series of papyri contains unglazed fragments; access to these is by permission only. For a brief description, see T. S. Pattie, ‘A Little-known collection of papyri in the British Library’ in Proceedings of the XVIII International Congress of Papyrology 1986 (Athens, 1988), vol. 1, pp. 147–150 (= departmental pamphlet no. 3746).

It is important to note that many papyri have been divided into several parts, with an extra number in brackets signalling the part. A separate ticket is required for each part: for example, separate requests must be made for ‘Papyrus 263 (1)’ and ‘Papyrus 263 (2)’. In some cases, the published catalogue does not indicate the separate parts. In these cases, the Manuscripts and Maps Reference Team can advise as to how many parts exist for a given papyrus.

If you cannot access Trismegistos, reference staff also have access to an offline concordance of British Library papyri. Alternatively, the following items are available on the open shelves in the Manuscripts Reading Room or in the Humanities Reading Room:

P. Abinn.
refers to The Abinnaeus Archive, edited by H. I. Bell, V. Martin, E. G. Turner, D. van Berchem (Oxford, 1962). Copy available in the Humanities Reading Room (floor 1). Concordance on p. xiii (e.g. P. Abinn. 1 = P. London. 447, which is Papyrus 447).
P. Fam. Tebt.
refers to A Family Archive from Tebtunis, ed. B.A. van Groningen (Leiden 1950).
P. Fay.
refers to Fayum Towns and their Papyri, edited by Grenfell, Hunt and Hogarth (London, 1990). Copy available in the Humanities Reading Room (floor 1). Consult R. A. Coles, Location-list of the Oxyrhynchus papryi, for correct references to our Papyrus number.
P. Hib.
refers to Hibeh Papyri, 2 vols: vol. I, Grenfell and Hunt; vol. II, Turner and Lenger (London, 1906). Copy available in the Humanities Reading Room (floor 1). Consult R. A. Coles, Location-list of the Oxyrhynchus papryi, for correct references to our Papyrus number.
P. Jews
refers to H. I. Bell, Jews and Christians in Egypt … illustrated by texts from Greek Papyri in the British Museum (1924). The catalogue numbers continue from P. Lond. V, e.g. P. Jews 1912 = Pap. 2248 verso. (Also called P. Lond. VI.)
P. Lit. Lond.
refers to H. J. M. Milne, Catalogue of the Literary Papyri in the British Museum (London, 1927).
P. Lond.
refers to the Catalogue of Greek Papyri in the British Museum. Where the catalogue and inventory numbers differ, convert the catalogue numbers (in bold figures) to the inventory numbers (in light figures) in the following way:
  1. Vols. I–III: In these catalogues, the catalogue number is the same as the inventory number, which is also the same as the Papyrus number, e.g. P. Lond. I, xxxiii = Pap. 33. The papyri in the first two volumes are numbered with Roman numerals.

  2. In Vols. IV–VII, the catalogue number has to be converted to an inventory number by consulting the volume, e.g. P. Lond. IV, 1333 = Pap. 1333, but P. Lond. 1420 = Pap. 1441. Remember to convert catalogue to inventory numbers, not the inventory to catalogue numbers, and to replace he word inventory by Papyrus when making a request.

P. Lond. Christ.
refers to H. I. Bell and T. C. Skeat, Fragments of an unknown Gospel and other early Christian Papyri (London, 1935).
P. Oxy.
refers to Grenfell, Hunt, et al, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri (London, 1898–). Reference is usually made in the form of P. Oxy. 2477 (=Pap. 3060) or P. Oxy. IV 659 (= Pap. 1533). The correct reference to our Papyrus number can be found by consulting R. A. Coles, Location-list of the Oxyrhynchus papryi (London, 1974). If necessary, the departmental copies of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri (which have manuscript annotations of present locations up to Vol. XIV, and thereafter of British Museum/British Library papyri only) can be consulted by staff. A set is also available in the Humanities Reading Room (floor 1).
P. Tebt.
refers to Tebtunis Papyri, edited by Grenfell, Hunt and Smyly, Vols. I, II, III.1, III.2., IV (Oxford, 1902–76). Copy available in the Humanities Reading Room (floor 1).
New Testament papyri
are referred to by the letter P followed by a superscript number (e.g. P5), and are listed with their inventory numbers in Kurt Aland, Kurzgefasste Liste der Griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments, I. Gesamtübersicht, 2nd edn (Berlin, 1994).

For other collections, see the Checklist of Editions of Greek, Latin, Demotic, and Coptic Papyri, Ostraca, and Tablets.

Collection guides

Classical Latin manuscripts

We have substantial collection of manuscripts of classical and late antique Latin authors

Greek manuscripts

We have one of the largest and most important resources outside Greece for the study of Hellenic culture

The Burney manuscripts

One of the most significant collections of classical material in the British Library

Papers of classical scholars

A number of important sets of papers belonging to classical scholars can be found within our collections

Early printed copies of classical texts

Our collection of incunabula is the largest in the world

Ostraca

The British Library holds about 4000 Greek ostraca

Greek and Latin papyri

The British Library holds one of the most important collections of papyri in the world

Arundel manuscripts

Medieval and early modern manuscripts collected by Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel

Cotton manuscripts

Some of the greatest treasures from British literature and history

Harley manuscripts

More than 7,000 manuscripts, 14,000 charters and 500 rolls purchased by Robert Harley

King's manuscripts

A distinguished collection of medieval and post-medieval manuscripts and topographical material.

Sloane manuscripts

Manuscripts and artefacts gathered by the physician Sir Hans Sloane

Lansdowne manuscripts

A collection of modern political papers and material relating to topography and heraldry

Royal manuscripts

Manuscripts collected by English sovereigns from Edward IV onwards

Stowe manuscripts

Manuscripts collected by the 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos at Stowe House