HANDBOOK OF GREEK & LATIN PALAEOGRAPHY by Sir E M Thompson. 3rd edition, published 1906. Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co Ltd, London.

CHAPTER X. Greek Palaeography (continued).

Cursive Writing in Papyri, etc.

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We now leave the Book-hand and turn to the examination of Cursive Greek writing as found in papyri, ostraka, tablets, etc. For this branch of palæography there is comparatively larger material, which is being increased every day by the numerous fragments which are rapidly making their way from Egypt into European libraries. But yet, while in the aggregate the material is abundant, there are certain periods, notably the first century B.C., which are but scantily represented.

For the earliest specimens of cursive Greek writing, as for the principal early examples of the book-hand, we turn to the fragments discovered by Mr. Petrie at Gurob in the Fayoum. As already stated, the coffin-makers, in order to form the cartonnage of mummy-cases, made use of much cursively written material, documents of all kinds, and more particularly of a register or registers of wills entered up periodically by different scribes, and therefore affording the most valuable evidences of the handwriting of the third century B.C. The oldest fragment as yet discovered among these remains is assigned to the year 268 B.C. The hands vary from the most cursive scrawls to what may be termed the careful official hand. But throughout them all a most striking feature is the strength and facility of the writing, besides in many cases its boldness and breadth. The general characteristic of the letters, more especially in the clerical or official hands of the registers, is great width or flatness, which is very apparent in such letters as Δ, Μ, Ν, Π, ← Coptic capital OOU. In other documents this is less apparent, and the writing does not seem far removed in style from that of the next Century. Some independent pieces, such as correspondence, are written in very cursive characters which. have a peculiar ragged appearance and are often difficult to read.

These documents, however, are not the only specimens of cursive writing of the third Century B.C. within our reach. A few scattered pieces have already for many years been stored in the various museums of Europe, but the antiquity of some of them has not been recognized, and they have been thought to belong to the period of the Roman occupation of Egypt. At Leyden there is a papyrus (Pap. Q), containing a receipt of the 26th year of Ptolemy Philadelphus, 260 B.C. At Berlin, Paris, and London there are three wooden lablets inscribed with deeds relating to a loan of the 31th and 31st years of the same king, about 254 B.C. Among the papyri of the British Museum, three, formerly ascribed to a later date, are now more correctly placed in the third Century, viz., a petition for redress of grievances (Pap. cvi.) of the 25th year, apparently, of Ptolemy Euergetes I., B.C. 223 ; and two others (1. and li.A) without dates. The Paris collection also contains a long money account for public works (Not. et Extr. xviii. 2, pl. xliv.) of the same Century, which has been incorrectly assigned to the Roman period. A facsimile of a letter of introduction, evidently of this time, is given by Passalacqua. Catalogue Raisonnédes Antiquités découvertes en Egypte, Paris, 1826. Also described in Notices et Extraits des MSS. xviii., p. 399. Egger describes a papyrus at Athens, Journal des Savants, 1873, pp. 30, 97. and various Greek endorsements and dockets on Demotic papyri are noticed by Revillout. Chrestomathie Démotique, 1880, pp. 24-1, 277 ; Revue Egypt. ii. Ostraka or potsherds also have been found with inscriptions of this period.

Of cursive writing of the second Century B.C. we have abundant material in the great collections of London, Paris, Leyden, etc., referred to above (p. 107) ; of the first Century B.C. very little has yet been found, except in ostraka; of the first century of our era, several papyri have recently come to light, and there are numerous ostraka; and of the later centuries there are abundant specimens at Vienna and Berlin, and an ever increasing number in Paris and London and other places, the searches in the Fayoum continually adding to the stock.

Greek cursive writing, as found in papyri, has been divided (Wilcken, Tafela, 1890) into three groups: the Ptolemaic, the Roman, and the Byzantine. Roughly, the Ptolemaic comprises documents down to about the end of the first century B.C. ; the Roman, those of the first three centuries of the Christian era; and the Byzantine, those of later date.

The character of Ptolemaic writing, as seen in papyri of the third and second centuries B.C. is unmistakeable.

For the first century B.C. there is not material to enable us to form a judgment; but it must have been a period of marked transition, if we may judge from the great difference between the writing of the first century of our era and that of the second century B.C. And the documents of the later centuries, of the Byzantine period, show as much distinctiveness of character, when compared with those of the Roman period of the early centuries after Christ.

Our first example of cursive writing of the third century B.C. is taken from one of the entries in the registers of wills found at Gurob, being the will of Demetrius, the son of Deinon, dated in the year 237 B.C. (Mahaffy, Petrie Papyri, pl. xiv.).

This is a remarkably fine hand, to which the facsimile hardly does justice, and may be classed as a good example of the official writing of the time, penned by a skilful and experienced registrar. While not as cursive as many other specimens of the period, and while the letters are in general deliberately formed and are not much connected with one another, there are certain characters which appear in the most cursive shapes, side by side with their more formal representations.

Will of Demetrius
Will of Demetrius.—237 B.C.
[βα]σιλευοντος πτολεμαιου του πτ— | [α]δελφων ετους ι εφ ιερεως αττολλωνιδου— | Θεων αδελφων και θεων ευεργε-τ[ων]— | [φίλαδ]ελφου μενεκρατειας της φιλαμ[μονος]— | κροκοδιλων πολει του αρσινοιτου ν[ομου]— | δημητριος δεινωνος χρηστηρι[ος]—

In the third line, in the word και, we have the cursive angle-shaped alpha, that letter being elsewhere more normally formed ; and in the termination ων, there is a tendency to flatten out the omega into a mere line after the initial curve, and to write the nu in a crooked stroke.

We next take a section from a document of the 13th year of Ptolemy Philopator, 211 or 210 B.C., recording the payment of a tax at Thebes (Pal. Soc. ii. pl. 143).

Tax Receipt
Tax-receipt.—211 or 210 B.C.
ετους ιγ τυβι δ ττεπτωκεν επι το— | τελωνιον του εγκυκλιον εφ ου ερ[μοκλης]— | βασιλει παρα θοτευτος του ψεμμιν[ιος]— [πε]τεχωσσις αθανιωνος το γινομενο[ν] | εγκυκλιου προσοδον αρουρων ενδεκ[α]— | εν πεστενεμενωφε του παθυριτ[ου]—

In this specimen of the elegant cursire, which is not easy to read, we have the angle-shaped alpha consistently employed, and very cursive combinations of the terminations ων and αv, besides instances of the more rapidly written forms of eta, lambda, and pi. How very cursive this style of writing might become is seen in the two last words of the facsimile.

As a contrast to the two carefully written examples which have just been given, our third specimen of the writing of the third century B.C. is selected from a rough letter of a steward addressed to his employer (Mahaffy, Petrie Papyri, pl. xxix.).

Letter of a steward
Letter of a Steward.—3rd century B.C.
εχει δυνις γ εχρησαμην | δε και τταρα δηνεως αρτα | βας δ κριθοπυρων αυτου | επαγγελομενου και φιλοτιμου | ουτος γινωσκε δε και οτι | υδωρ εκαστος των ορων την | αμπελον φυτευομενην προτερον ← 4 As the letter has more than a palaeographical interest, Professor Mahaffy's translation is quoted : " ... to Sosiphanes, greeting. I give much thanks to the gods if you are well. Lonikos also is well. The whole vineyard has been planted, viz., 300 stocks, and the climbing vines attended to. But the olive-yard has yielded six measures, of which Dynis has got three. Also I have borrowed from Dynis four artabae of bearded wheat, which he offered, was pressing to lend. Know also that each of the watchers says that the planted vines want water first, and that they have none. We are making conduits and watering. The third of the first month (ρ). Good-bye."

The style of writing is similar to that of the Leyden papyrus Q., which was written in the 26th year of Ptolemy Philadelphus, B.C. 260 ; and our letter may well be as early as the middle of the century. It will be seen that the letters are not linked together, but that they are hastily and roughly formed. The writer, though not a good penman, was evidently so far skilled that he could write rapidly and with ease ; and the document may be regarded as a sample of the rough business hand of the period. Among the individual letters, the thoroughly cursive forms of eta, lambda, nu, tau, upsilon, and omega, are to be distinguished. The letter iota, with the thickening on the right-hand side of the top of the letter, which has already been referred to as a mark of antiquity, and the very small size of theta and omikron, may also be noticed.

The more carefully written documents of the second century B.C., do not differ so much from those of the same style of the preceding century as might have been expected. As far, however, as an opinion can be formed from extant remains, it appears that the practice of linking together the letters, particularly by slight horizontal strokes attached to their tops, becomes more prevalent. This is seen to best advantage in some of the elegantly written papyri of this period, the links imparting a certain grace and finish to the line of writing.

The first example is taken from an official circular or instruction on the mode of collecting the taxes, written probably in the year 170 B.C. (Not. et Extr., pl. xl., no. 62).

Here we have a very fine official hand, to be compared with that of the will of Demetrius, of 237 B.C., given above, of which it may claim to be an almost direct descendant. In this writing there is a greater tendency than in that of the earlier period to break up the letters, that is, to form their several limbs by distinct strokes. Thus we see the tau, often distinctly formed in two portions, the first consisting of the left half of the horizontal and the vertical, and the second of the right half of the horizontal. Ths upsilon is also made on the same plan.

Treasury Circular
Treasury Circular.—B.C. 170 (?).
[καταποσ]ταλησοται μετα φυλακης | —[γ]eγραμμενων γνωμης | —[υπ]αρξει εις την εγληψιν

The system of linking referred to above is here very noticeable, such letters as partially consist of horizontal strokes naturally adapting themselves to the practice, while others not so formed are supplied with links, as in the case of eta and nu.

Letter on Egyptian contracts
Letter on Egyptian Contracts.— B.C. 146.
—[πε]ποηνται οικονομιαν και τα | [ονοματ]α αυτων πατροθεν εντασσειν | —[γραφ]ειν ημας εντεταχεναι εις | [χρηματισ]μον δηλωσαντες τον τε

A more cursively written specimen of this time is found in a letter of a certain Paniscus regarding the execution of Egyptian contracts, ascribed to the year 146 B.C. (Not. et Extr., pl. xliii., no. 65 bis).

Here we have a full cursive alphabet in use, with numerous examples of rapid combinations of letters, as αι, αν, ων, εν, ειν, and a tendency to write in curves without lifting the pen, as exemplified by the gamma-shaped tau, and the epsilon with the cross-stroke run on in continuation of the lower curve.

The great papyrus at Paris, known as the Casati contract, referring to a sale of property at Thebes, is written in a rather closely-packed hand, of which a specimen is here given. The date of the document is 114 B.C. (Not. et Extr., pl. xiii., no. 5).

Casati Contract
Casati Contract.— B.C. 114.
αυτωι μερος εβδομον ης γειτονες— | ωικοδομημεvov πηχεως τριτον— I και εν πμουνεμουνει aπ οικιας— | μενεους λιβος οικια ζμανρ[εους]

It will be observed that the letters are not altogether so cursive as those of the last specimen, and that the general appearance of the writing is more compact, although continuous. This effect is chiefly produced by the linking of the letters, both in the natural manner and by the employaient of added links after such letters as eta, iota, nu, pi, and upsilon.

It is curious that hitherto scarcely any dated Greek writing of the first Century B.C. has come to light. But, judging by the documents of the beginning of the first Century of our era, the progress rnade in the development of cursive writing in the previous hundred years must have been very considerable. For example, if we examine such a document as that given in facsimile in Wiener Studien, iv. (1882), p. 175, of A.D. 8, the advance made in the cursive character of several letters is very apparent (see Table of Letters).

We now give a specimen from a receipt, found in the Fayoum, for rent paid in kind in the 8th year of Tiberius, A.D. 20. (Pal. Soc. ii. pl. 144).

Receipt.—A.D. 20.
του θ ετους κατα μηδεν μου ελατου | μενου υττερ ων οφιλει μοι μαρρης | πετοσιριος ετερα εκφορια ετους η τιβερι[ου] | κλαυδιου καισαρος σεβαστου | γερμανικου αυτοκρατορος μηνος I καισαρηου λ

The handwriting is rough and irregular, and there is a general slackness in the formation of the letters which marks the late period of the writing, as compared with the cursive specimens which have already been examined. The prevailing use of the epsilon having its cross-stroke drawn, without lifting the pen, in continuation of the upper curve of the letter should be remarked, as this form now becomes very common.

The papyrus on the back of which the recently discovered text of Aristotle's work on the Constitution of Athens was transcribed, was first used, as already stated, to receive the farm accounts of land in the district of Hermopolis in Egypt, in the reign of Vespasian, A.D. 78-79. The following facsimile represents a portion of one of the headings (Cat. Gk. Papyri in Brit. Mus.).

Farm Account
Farm Account.—A.D. 78-79.
ετους ενδεκατου αυτοκ[ρατορος]— | ουεσπασιανου σεβαστου μ[ηνος]— | δαπαναι του μηνος χοιαχ— | το δι αυτου επιμαχου εμου δ[ιδυμου]

This is a good example of the light and graceful hand in which many of the tax rolls and other accounts are found to be written. Among individual letters, attention should be drawn to the much-curved sigma with its head bent down, a form which, though found occasionally, particularly at the end of a word or line, in earlier papyri, now comes into more general use.

The first of the cursive hands employed upon the Constitution of Athens is next represented. The date is probably not much later than that of the farm account, and may reasonably be placed about A.D. 100.

Aristotle- Constitution of Athens
Aristotle, Constitution of Athens.—about A.D. 100.
προς τους εξεταζειν τα γενη βουλομ[εν]ους επε[ιτα]— | πεντηκοντα εξ εκαστ[ης] φυλης τοτε δ ησαν εκα[τον]— | [συμ]βαινηι μεριζειν προς (corr. κ[ατα]) τας προϋπαρχουσας τριτ[τυς]— | αναμισγεσθ[αι] το πληθο[ς] διενειμε δ[ε] κ[αι] τ[ην] χωραν κ[ατα]— | δ[ε]κα δ[ε] τ[ης] μεσογειο[υ] κ[αι] | ταυτας επονομασας τριττ[υς]— | [παντ[ων] τ[ων] τοπων κ[αι] δημοτας εποιησεν αλλη[λων]— | προσαγορευοντες εξελεγχωσιν τους νεοπολι[τας]

The hand is cramped and employs many abbreviations (see above, p. 90). The prevalent use of the epsilon referred to under the facsimile of the receipt of A.D. 20, and the occurrence of a peculiar form of eta, somewhat resembling upsilon (see e.g. 1. 2, πεντηκοντα ), should be noticed. This form probably came first into use in the first Century B.C., as it is quite established at the beginning of our era.

Deed of Sale
Deed of Sale.—A.D. 154.
μητρος ταναπωλις τω[ν]— | [μ]ερει και του μετηλλαχοτος— | [τ]ο υπαρχον αυτω μερος ημ[ισον]— | ερμωνος ακολουθως τη

Our next example, of the middle of the second Century, is taken from a deed of sale, from Elephantine, of the 17th year of Antoninus Pius, A.D. 154 (Not. et Extr., pl. xxi., no. 17).

Here there is a considerable advance on the writing of the previous century, the letters being carelessly formed aud misshapen, but still without any marked exaggeration.

The following is a facsimile from a fragmentary papyrus of official documents of the reign of Alexander Severus, A.D. 233 (Not. et Extr., pl. xlvi., no. 69 e).

Official Deed
Official Deed.—A.D. 233.
—στρατηγος υπο νυκτα— | —τω γυμνασιω αμα αυρ[ηλιω] — I —[ε]στεψεν εις γυμνασιαρ[χον]— | —ελαιαν αρπαησιος ιερ—

Being an official hand, the writing is more regular than the last specimen, the vertical position of the strokes lending it an archaic appearance, with which however the loose formation of certain letters is inconsistent.

The cursive writing of the Byzantine period is generally distinguished by its loose and flourished style, in which we see the development of the long strokes of certain of the minuscule letters of mediæval writing, as the ordinary delta (δ), the h-shaped eta, and the long lambda drawn below the line. The following three specimens must suffice to illustrate the writing of this period.

(1) Α section from an act of manumission of A.D. 355 (Young, Hieroglyphics, pl. 46).

Manumission.—A.D. 355.
[π]ροευπον και νεμεσθε— | —πειθεσθαι, εμε την ελευ[θερουντα]— | —[ελευθε]ρουμενοις καθως π— | —[ειτ]ε επι ετεροις εκγονοις— | —ακωλυτον εσται της δου[λειας]


(2) Portions of a few lines of a deed of sale at Panopolis, A.D. 599 (Not. et Extr., pl. xlviii., no. 21 ter ).

Deed of Sale
Deed of Sale.—A.D. 599.
—ης της αυτης oiκια[ς] | —[α]δελφην κατα το υττυλοι[πον] I —[πα]τρβας ημων διαδοχ[ης]


(3) Another example from a similar deed of sale of A.D. 616 (Not. et Extr., pl. xxiv., no. 21).

Deed of Sale
Deed of Sale.—A.D. 616.
εξης υπογραφοντος— | καταγραφήν καθ αττλ[ην]— | ταυτη τη εννομω πρ[ασι]— | δια παντος—

Reference to the Table of Letters will convey some idea of the variety of the handwritings of this period.

The last document from which a facsimile is selected to illustrate the division of early Greek Cursive writing is the fragmentary papyrus, inscribed with a letter from the Emperor, apparently to Pepin le Bref, on the occasion of his war against the Lombards in A.D. 756 ← In a notice of this document in the Revue Archéologique, tom. xix., 1892, Monsieur Omont is inclined to date it as Iate as A.D. 839. (Wattenbach, Script. Græc. Specim., pl. xiv.-xv.).

Imperial; Letter
Imperial Letter.—A.D. 756.
—εστω μεθ υμων' και περι το[υ]— | —αρμοδιον σοι εστιν και υπομ— | —[ειρην]ευειν τω προδηλωθευτ[ι]—

In this specimen of the writing of the Imperial Chancery, most carefully written, we have the prototype of the minuscule literary hand of the ninth Century. Making allowance for the flourishes permissible in a hand of this style, the letters are almost identical. A fragment of similar writing is in the British Museum (Pap. xxxii.).

A glance at the accompanying Table of Alphabets, selected from documents written more or less cursively on papyrus and dating from about B.C. 260 to A.D. 756, will satisfy us of the danger of assuming that some particular form of a letter belongs to a fixed period. The not infrequent recurrence of old forms at later times forbids us to set up such criteria. On the other hand, the birth and growth of particular forms can be usually traced, and the use of some such form may assist us in placing an anterior limit to the date of the document in which it is found. Thus, the occurrence of the open c-shaped epsilon might confirm an opinion that Ihe document was not earlier than the first Century B.C., the time when the letter, probably, took that shape ; but, at the same time, the occurrence of the old simple form would be no criterion of age, as that form keeps reappearing in all times. So, too, the down-curved sigma appears in MSS. whick may be assigned to the first Century B.C. ; yet the old form continued in common use for centuries later. The character of the writing, however, distinctly changes with the lapse of time ; and, though particular letters may be archaic in shapes, the true age of the text, judged by its general appearance, can usually be fixed with fair accuracy. The natural tendency to slackness and flourishing as time advances is suffieiently apparent to the eye as it passes along the lines of letters in the Table; still more so if it passes over a series of documents, in which the juxtaposition of the letters and the links which join them into words are so many aids to forming a judgment.

Viewed as representative of three periods, Ptolemaic, Roman, and Byzantine, the series of letters are fairly distinguishable and capable of being grouped. The first three columns, of the Ptolemaic period, stand quite apart in their simple forms from those of the Roman period which begins with the fourth column ; and this distinction is made more striking by the absence of anything to represent the first Century B.C. The columns of the Roman period blend more gradually into those of the Byzantine period ; but taken in their entirety the flourished alphabets of the late centuries afford a sufficient contrast to the less untrammelled columns of the middle, Roman, period.

Certain letters are seen to change in form in a comparatively slight degree during the nine hundred years covered by the Table, exclusive of the last column ; some are letters which are not very frequently used, others are such as do not very readily run on to following letters. How far the natural tendency of a cursive writer to link together his letters could affect their shapes is seen in even some of the earliest forms, For example, the occasional horizontal position of the last limb of alpha or lambda, was due to its connection with a following letter in the upper level of the line of writing ; and the opening of the lower right-hand angle of delta and the lifting of the right-hand stroke into a more or less elevated position was owing to the same cause. To the same tendency are due the artificial links which appear attached so early to such letters as eta, kappa, nu, pi ; and in the case of tau this linking may have decided the ulterior shape of the letter (as a cursive), having the cross-bar extending also to the right above the vertical, as in its normal form, instead of being kept only to the left, as seen in the earliest examples in the Table.

How soon certain letters in their most cursive fornis might become so alike that they might be mistaken for each other is illustrated by the pretty close resemblance between the curved early forms of lambda, mu, and pi ; and, again, there is very little difference between the ordinary gamma and the lambda with horizontal final stroke. Such similarities naturally increased as the letters assumed more flexible shapes in the Roman period. The v-shaped cursive beta and the w-shaped cursive kappa are nearly identical ; and the u-shaped forms of the same letters are very similar. Nu and pi likewise bear a close resemblance in more than one of their forms ; and the γ-shaped tau and the long upsilon are not unlike.

We may examine the course of change of some of the letters in detail :—

The capital form of alpha written quickly falls naturally into the uncial shape, in which the cross-bar is connected by a continuous stroke of the pen with the base of the first limb. To throw away the final limb and leave the letter as a mere acute angle was a natural step for the quick writer to take ; and perhaps there is no better example to prove the very great age of cursive Greek writing than this form of the letter which is found in the earliest documents of the Table.

The history of beta, is the history of a struggle between a eapital form and a cursive form. Throughout the whole course of the nine hundred years from B.C. 260 to A.D. 633, the two forms stand side by side. The variations of the cursive form are interesting; at first it slurred the bows of the capital by a downward action of the pen, the letter being thus n-shaped, closed at the top and generally open at the base : in the Roman period the action of the pen was reversed, and the letter became u-shaped, open above and closed at the base.

In delta we see quite early a tendency to lengthen the apex in a line; but it was only in the Byzantine period that it took the exaggerated form, at first resembling a Roman d, from which was finally evolved the minuscule letter which we write to the present day.

That epsilon, the letter more frequently used than any other in the Greek alphabet, should have been liable to many changes is only to be expected. In the Table the most radical alteration of its shape from the formal semicircle with the cross-bar, to the c-shape in which the cross-bar survives only as a link-stroke, is seen under the first century ; and this is the period when this latter form evidently became most prevalent, although it no doubt existed earlier.

From the first, eta, in its cursive form, had already assumed the shape of a truncated Roman h, the main limb of which was extended in the Byzantine period to the full height of that letter, to which it bears an exact resemblance in the last columns of the Table. The curious shape which it is frequently found to assume in the first century, like the numeral 7 or, rather, the Hebrew ד, appears, as far as we can judge from existing documents, to have been restricted to about that period.

The shifing of the bent head of iota from the right to the left in the course of time has already been noticed.

In kappa we have again, as in the case of beta, a continued struggle between the capital and the cursive forms, both holding their ground to the end.

The flat and wide-spread forms of mu in the Ptolemaic period are very distinctive. The letter appears in the Roman period to have kept very much to its normal capital shape, and only at a later time to have developed its first limb into the long stroke with which it is always provided as a minuscule.

The early cursive form of nu, of the Ptolemaic period, in which the last limb is thrown high up above the line, did not hold its ground against the square forms, the resemblance of which to certain forms of pi has already been referred to. The variety of shapes of both these letters is remarkable.

It might perhaps have been expected that sigma would have developed the late round minuscule σ sooner than it did. One sees an approach to it in certain forms of the first Century. The down-curving letter of that period might have led directly to it ; and it is remarkable that the normal C-shape should have lasted to so late a period as the common form of the letter.

With regard to the closing letters of the alphabet, which appear to have been less subject to variation than most of those which precede them, little need be said. It may be noticed how early the main-stroke of phi was drawn outside the loop ; and that, in its earliest stage, omega was generally in the form of an unfinished ω, wanting the final curve, or even not far removed from the epigraphic Ω.