Ostraca

Ostracon
Ostracon 14186. Egypt (Thebes or Elephantine), 1st-4th century AD.

The British Library holds about 4000 Greek ostraca.

About the collection

About 4000 ostraca (potsherds with writing) in Greek were transferred to the British Library from the Department of Egyptian Antiquities of the British Museum in 1932, 1933 and 1967, and still retain the inventory numbers allotted to them in that Department.

They are numbered 5790-63859 although not all of the numbers between these are in the Manuscript Collections, as the Department of Egyptian Antiquities retain those that are not in Greek (e.g. in demotic). There are also 15 Egerton ostraca.

What is available online?

The ostraca are not yet included on the online catalogue. Details of published ostraca held by the British Library can be found on Trismegistos.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Access to the ostraca is restricted. Readers wishing to view ostraca should contact the Manuscripts and Maps Reference Team in the first instance.

There is no printed catalogue of the ostraca, but 300 of them were published in Ulrich Wilcken, Griechische Ostraka aus Aegypten und Nubien, 2 vols. Leipzig and Berlin, 1899. Staff library only.

What is available in other organisations?

Ostraca in Egyptian languages, e.g. hieroglyphics and demotic, are preserved in the Department of Egyptian Antiquities of the British Museum.

How to guides

Find papyri

How to identify papyri and request them

How to get a Reader Pass if you are Under 18

How to apply for an under-18 Reader Pass

Get a Reader Pass

A guide to how to obtain a British Library Reader Pass to use our reading rooms