Houghton Library’s collection of papyri consists of 84 manuscripts dating from the 3rd century BC to the 6th century AD.
Most of the papyri come from Oxyrhynchus, but there are also papyri from Hibeh and from the Fayûm.
The collection comprises both literary and documentary texts. They are all written in Greek except for one (P. Oxy. 6.987), which is a bookplate written in Coptic.
These papyri were given to the Semitic Museum at Harvard by the Egypt Exploration Fund, London, between 1901 and 1909. The Semitic Museum received this “gift” in return for the purchase of a life membership in the Egypt Exploration Fund for $125 by Jacob H. Schiff, the museum’s principal benefactor. In 1960, the papyri were transferred to Houghton Library.
The papyri from Oxyrhynchus were first published by B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt in the first six volumes of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (London, 1898-1908).
The papyri from Fayûm were published by B.P. Grenfell, A.S. Hunt and D.G. Hogarth in Fayûm Towns and their Papyri (London, 1900).
Those from Hibeh were published by B.P. Grenfell and A.S. Hunt in The Hibeh Papyri, I (London, 1906).
Among the literary texts, the most notable and best preserved is a papyrus of the Panegyricus of Isocrates (SM 6162).
This collection holds also papyri of Homer, Plato, Thucydides, Demosthenes, Menander, and the Gospels.
The documentary texts include contracts, petitions, lists, tax receipts, letters and other types of documents. They are primary sources for the study of the political, administrative and social history of the Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt.