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Papyrology: Herculaneum Project

Resources for research in papyrology in the Lee Library and elsewhere

Herculaneum and BYU

The ancient city of Pompeii, near modern-day Naples, Italy, was famously destroyed--and at the same time preserved--by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Less well known are the other villages on the mountainside that were also buried in the catastrophe. One of these, Herculaneum, contained a wealthy Roman's house now known as the Villa dei Papiri because it contained a substantial library written on papyrus scrolls. Along with the rest of the village the Villa dei Papiri was buried by a deep layer of ash which solidified to rock. The fiery event carbonized the scrolls but the instant burial in ash also kept them intact and they were rediscovered in the 18th century. Since that time attempts have been made to open and read the scrolls, with little success.

During the 1990s researchers at Brigham Young University turned a technique originally designed for the study of extraterrestrial planetary surfaces, multi-spectral imaging, to the study of ancient documents that were difficult to read for one reason or another (click here for an article about the project). One of the great successes of this project has been the revelation of the texts of the documents from Herculaneum.

The Herculaneum project is directed by Roger Macfarlane of the Department of Humanities, Classics, and Comparative Literature. The project is one of several papyrus-related projects being undertaken by BYU's Ancient Textual Imaging Group. For a list of other projects, click here.

Materials related to the Herculaneum project, including digital images of the newly discovered texts, are housed in the Library's L. Tom Perry Special Collections. These images will become part of the Library's Digital Collections as soon as rights issues are resolved.

Herculaneum in the Library

The Library collects materials related to the Herculaneum papyri, including editions of the texts. These can be found by searching the Library's catalog. Three searches are particularly useful.

1. Most of the monographic editions are published in the series La scuola di Epicuro.

Go to the catalog
Enter "Scuola di Epicuro" in the search box
Click Alphabetic Search
Click Series

2. The editions are all based on texts owned by the Officina dei papiri ercolanesi, and many are published by the Centro internazionale per lo studio dei papiri ercolanesi.

Go to the catalog
Enter "Officina dei papiri ercolanesi" or "Centro internazionale per lo studio dei papiri ercolanesi" in the search box
Click Alphabetic Search
Click Author

3. Most of the editions are identified by the abbreviation PHerc

Go to the catalog
Enter "PHerc" in the search box
Click Keyword Search (or leave it as is--Keyword is the default search)
Click Search All

4. Most shorter editions are published in the journal Cronache Ercolanesi, which is indexed. Cronache ercolanesi is located in Ancient Studies, PA 3317 .C947.

Secondary materials about Herculaneum and its papyri can be found by performing one of the following SUBJECT searches in the catalog. (Note: in the current Library system, omit dashes or parentheses from the search):

Excavations (Archaeology)--Italy--Herculaneum (Extinct city)
Herculaneum (Extinct city)
Inscriptions, Latin--Italy--Herculaneum (Extinct city)
Libraries--Italy--Herculaneum (Extinct city)
Manuscripts, Greek (Papyri)--Italy--Herculaneum (Extinct city)
Villa of the Papyri (Herculaneum)

For a less precise search, perform a KEYWORD search using "Search All" on the term "Herculaneum."

Related Materials

Out of the Ashes : Recovering the Lost Library of Herculaneum

56 minute documentary film  featuring BYU scholars and others.

Related materials

Centro Internazionale per lo Studio dei Papiri Ercolanesi

C.I.S.P.E. was formed with the dual purpose of working toward the resumption of the excavation of the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum and of promoting the renewal of studies on the texts of Herculaneum, which are now housed in the Officina dei Papiri of the National Library 'Vittorio Emanuele III' of Naples.

Friends of Herculaneum Society

Society created in 2004 to promote education about, research into, and conservation of artifacts and buildings from Herculaneum. They maintain a bibliography, Books from Herculaneum. An image database is also available.

Herculaneum World Heritage Site

Herculaneum has been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations.