Parchment Book Covers for Papyrus Rolls

In a series of earlier posts, I examined some of the vocabulary used to describe papyrus rolls, especially those deluxe literary rolls described by Latin poets. One additional feature of these rolls that is sometimes mentioned is a parchment cover. For example,

Tibullus [Lygdamus], Elegiae 3.1.9:

lutea sed niveum involvat membrana libellum

"But let yellow parchment wrap the snowy white roll"

What seems to be envisioned here is a protokollon (the first sheet in the roll) made of parchment that would serve as a cover by wrapping (involvere) the closed roll. I am not aware of surviving examples of this phenomenon for literary texts (I’m happy to be corrected in the comments if anyone knows of examples). But there appears to be a very nicely preserved example of this in the form of an official document of the prefect of Egypt, Subatianus Aquila copied in 209 CE, P.Berol. inv. 11532:

P.Berol. inv. 11532; image source: Berliner Papyrusdatenbank

This document is quite short (it is fully preserved), which would explain the relatively small size of the parchment cover; the rolled up document would not produce a very thick cylinder. A longer literary roll would presumably have a correspondingly larger parchment cover.

The writing on the papyrus is inscribed along the horizontal fibers, but at the point at which the parchment is joined to the papyrus, a large proportion of the vertical fibers appear to be missing. It appears that they were missing when the parchment was originally attached to the papyrus (it would be hard to explain their loss otherwise, since the horizontal fibers would presumably have “protected” the vertical fibers beneath them). This seems curious to me:

Detail of P.Berol. inv. 11532; image source: Berliner Papyrusdatenbank

This papyrus was published in 1910, and it is actually quite famous because of its striking handwriting–a neat upright chancery hand, sometimes called (with this papyrus as the paradigmatic example) the script of Subatianus Aquila. The papyrus is therefore reproduced with some frequency in handbooks, but the parchment strip is usually (or always?) cropped out. So, this interesting feature can go unnoticed.

It’s always nice to see an uncropped image (or better yet, the object itself!).

This entry was posted in Book covers, Palaeography, Voluminology. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Parchment Book Covers for Papyrus Rolls

  1. Mike Sampson says:

    I’ve not seen anything like this before!
    Another curiosity is that, with papyrus protokolla (as with kolleseis, generally) the kollema at left is pasted atop the fibers of the kollema at right. But on your Berlin example, the protokollon is pasted underneath the next kollema. Is the logic in this case that the parchment was tougher and more resistant to wear and tear?

  2. Pingback: Parchment Book Covers for Papyrus Rolls — Variant Readings | Talmidimblogging

  3. Pingback: Chancery Writing and Greek Literature | Variant Readings

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