Fragment of an illuminated papyrus


A small fragment is all that survives of an ancient illuminated book (whether it was a roll or codex is unclear). The scene depicts a bear in the arena, apparently jumping towards a pair of human legs, visible in the top left of the fragment. In the absence of other information, it is impossible to say more about the context in which this image would have appeared. Even its date is uncertain – although it was discovered among documents dating from the 3rd century, on stylistic grounds it could be placed anywhere between the 3rd and 6th centuries.

The papyrus was found at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, during the extensive excavations undertaken there in the late 19th century by the Egypt Exploration Society. It was presented to the British Museum in November 1962.

Full title:
Fragment of an illuminated papyrus
3rd century–6th century
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Papyrus 3053

Full catalogue details

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Article by:
Cillian O’Hogan
Art, The makers of Greek manuscripts, Papyri

The history of illuminated manuscripts goes back to antiquity. In this article, Cillian O’Hogan describes the surviving fragments of ancient and late antique illuminated Greek books now held in the British Library.