Abbreviations and Symbols

Dear indomitable Ancient Lives warriors,

thank you for your renewed support. We are currently working on putting more images into the system by the end of the year. Technical problems still persist, but we plan on addressing these issues in conjunction with the uploading of new images. Again, we thank you for your patience in this matter. In the meantime, there are still a lot of papyri that are just waiting to be transcribed!

Today, I would like to provide you with some examples of abbreviations and symbols. Noumenon, paratsoukli, and sftommy have already discussed this topic in Talk, and realized that, unfortunately, a systematic study on abbreviations in documentary papyri is still not available. The most accessible sources of information in this respect are O. Montevecchi, La papirologia (Milan 1988, 2nd edition; it is just a list, you don’t need to read Italian!) and N. Gonis, ‘Abbreviations and Symbols’, in R. Bagnall’s Oxford Handbook of Papyrology (Oxford-New York 2009, pages 170-178). Do not feel discouraged if you cannot find the character(s) that you are looking for. Papyrology is not an exact science, our texts being subject to a number of scribal idiosincracies.

First, make sure the character you are examining is really an abbreviated form of a word, and not, say, a couple of letters in ligatures. The most common example of ligature in documentary papyri is the cursive rendering of the conjunction kai “and”, made in one movement and shaped like a letter-pair (k + ai). See below P.Oxy. LXIII 4383 line 2 Mero-/baudou to b’’ kai. Another frequent abbreviation is visible at the end of line 5, where the name of Oxyrhynchus is represented by its first four letters.

Other standard forms of abbreviation are contained in examples of private and official correspondence. In P.Oxy. LXIII 4375 line 1, a lady called Nonnas orders her assistant (boetho) Serenus to provide a certain amount of wine. Here, both the preposition para“from”, and the verb for “greet” chairein have been reduced to their first letter.

Texts such as payment orders and receipts are very likely to contain abbreviations. In P.Oxy. LXI 4123 the total amount due is expressed in line 7: see the accusative drachmas chilias “one thousand drachmas” followed by the verb gignontai “that is, makes” abbreviated into gi(), and a wavy vertical standing for drachmai: “give [him] … one thousand drachmas, total drachmai 1000” (both in numeric and written form, like in modern checks!).

P.Oxy. LXII 4348, a tax schedule from the IV century, consists of three columns of text. In column three (lines 1-5, 7, 9), you should easily recognize a symbol closely resembling a long-tailed Y: it stands for a unit of value, the talanton “talent”. In the second column two units of measure occur: the symbol for arourain lines 1, 4, 5, 7, 9 and the one for litra in lines 2 and 3, both followed by numbers.

Some of you may already have noticed the symbol for etous“on (the) year (of)” on the panel of our website containing the non-alphabetical signs. This character is generally shaped like a modern L with a prolonged horizontal stroke. It may, however, coincide with the above-mentioned symbol for drachmai, as in P.Oxy. LXXV 5053 line 1. The etous symbol may precede or follow the year number: 12 in this case, composed of the letter iota (=10) + a nice example of open-topped beta (=2).

We will try to extend and update the list of non-alphabetical signs on our Transcribe interface. In the meantime, do not hesitate to contact me for any further information. Keep up the good work, and enjoy Ancient Lives.

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4 responses to “Abbreviations and Symbols”

  1. Majid says :

    Dear sirs,
    thank you for your useful and technical site. But I have some problem with rotation of images. I can not rotate many of photos. Plz see the problem and solve it.

  2. bz says :

    Sorry, but since I don’t read Greek, your abbreviated references to the abbreviations that are ‘hidden’ somewhere in the example images are useless to me.
    It would help if you highlighted or pointed out exactly what you are talking about in the image.
    One way to highlight would be to reduce the contrast on most of the image, leaving only the symbols you are pointing out ’emphasized’.

    Another way would be to increase the contrast in that portion of the image.
    Another way would be to draw a box around the portion.
    Another would be to change the color of the character in question so as to emphasis it.

    All of the above are fairly easy to accomplish in most image manipulating software.

    Showing the abbreviation/symbol ‘in context’ IS important, but making it clear exactly what you are talking about is also important.

    In any case, thanks for a ‘computer game’ that we can play that can contribute to science.

    Oh, if ‘examples’ of the ‘abbreviations’ and ‘accents’ could be shown in the transcription ‘hover’ mode as is done with the letters, it would help a lot.

  3. mpvgl says :

    Thanks, especially with reference to the century of usage!

  4. mpvgl says :

    P.S. Don’t know where the addition “Your comment is awaiting moderation” in the above message comes from.

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