Description

The school of the philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE) researched and recorded the constitutions of 158 ancient Greek city-states. These were used by Aristotle to write his Politics, and were apparently well-known in antiquity, before disappearing from view. In the late 19th century, however, four papyrus scrolls were discovered in Egypt containing text that was quickly identified as preserving the bulk of the Constitution of the Athenians. This text has had a major impact in our knowledge of the development of Athenian democracy and the workings of the Athenian city-state in antiquity.

The copy recorded on these papyrus scrolls dates from around 100 CE and were written in or near the town of Hermopolis, Egypt. The scrolls were originally used to record farm accounts for an estate near Hermopolis in 78-79 CE. Later, the blank versos were used to record the Aristotelian text.

Some other notes relating to Callimachus (c. 305 BCE-c. 240 BCE) and Demosthenes (384-322 BCE) are also written on the first scroll. Several different scribes were involved in copying out each of these texts, and the manuscript likely formed part of a small private library.

The scrolls were purchased for the British Museum in two stages by E. A. Wallis Budge (1857-1934) in 1889 and 1890.

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