Monday, March 26, 2007

New Book on Oxyrhynchus

I have just received an interesting new book: Peter Parsons, City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish: Greek Lives in Roman Egypt (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007). [HT: What's New in Papyrology with a link to Blackwell's]

This book is about Oxyrhynchus - the city of the sharp-nosed fish (see picture) and is a book for 'the general reader', which will 'illustrate some aspects of life in Oxyrhynchos, a Greek city under Roman rule, from the original documents'.

It has some lovely photos (of documents, mummy masks, locations etc.), and should be of interest to people interested in early New Testament documents.

Here is the blurb:
In 1897 two Oxford archaeologists began digging a low sand-covered mound a hundred miles south of Cairo. When they had finally finished, ten years later, they had uncovered 500,000 fragments of papyri. Shipped back to Oxford, the meticulous and scholarly work of deciphering these fragments began. It is still going on today. As well as Christian writings from totally unknown gospels and Greek poems not seen by human eyes since the fall of Rome, there are tax returns, petitions, private letters, sales documents, leases, wills and shopping lists. What they found was the entire life of a flourishing market-town - Oxyrhynchos ( the city of the sharp-nosed fish' ), on a side branch of the Nile - encapsulated in its waste paper. The total lack of rain in this part of Egypt had preserved the papyrus beneath the sand, as nowhere else in the Roman Empire. We hear the voices of barbers, bee-keepers and boat-makers, dyers and donkey-drivers, plasterers and poets, weavers and wine-merchants, set against the great events of late antiquity: the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and the coming of Christianity, as well as the all-important annual flooding of the Nile. The result is an extraordinary and unique picture of everyday life in the Nile Valley between Alexander the Great in 300 BC and the Arab conquest a thousand years later.

Parsons was Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford (1989-2003) and directed the Oxyrhychus Papyri Project for many years. He also once wrote me a very nice letter.

He also refers to the proceedings of the centenary conference in 1998 as forthcoming: A.K. Bowman, et al (eds), Oxyrhynchus: A City and its Texts (London, forthcoming, 2007).


  1. Peter - do you have a date and publisher for the conference volume?


  2. Well Parsons gives 2007 as a date. As for publisher I am not sure. We have noted the contents before here: