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UC4 Classical Greek visit to College Archives
10th August 2022

The UC4 Classical Greek GCSE students went on a mini-adventure just after their exams. We didn’t go very far afield; just down the Marble Corridor to Archives to see some remarkable items we are lucky to have in our collection at College which are written in Greek. The first is a 2,000-year-old papyrus letter from Egypt. This was discovered in the 1920s in the rubbish dump of the ancient town of Oxyrhyncus along with many thousands of other documents. These texts constitute a remarkable record of the everyday lives of the inhabitants of Egypt in the first few centuries AD, many of whom spoke Greek because of the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great several hundred years earlier. This particular letter was donated to College as a thank you for financial support of the excavations at Oxyrhyncus: the majority of papyri from the site are now held by the University of Oxford where they are still being published. Our letter is written by a man named Ammonius to his friends telling them he is coming to visit, and saying that he hopes they don’t think he is a ‘barbarian’. This may not be the most exciting news from the ancient world, but it is nonetheless a close personal connection to a group of individuals going about their daily lives thousands of years ago, lives which were at the same time very similar and very different to our own. The other item is a beautifully illustrated manuscript of the Gospels in the original Greek, given to College by John Ruskin at the end of the 19th century. This was written around a thousand years after our papyrus letter in around AD 1100, probably in Byzantium (now Istanbul). The type of Greek these documents are written in is a little different to that of the 5th century BC the girls are learning for their qualification, but they are a reminder of the amazing history of Greek and its status as the European language with the longest continuously recorded history. Greek was once spoken over a huge area around the Mediterranean and in the Near East, and is recorded in written form as early as the Bronze Age. We are very thankful to Archives for hosting us, and hope that the next big trip might be to Athens itself to see some of the places studied as part of the GCSE in real life. Dr A Coker, Teacher of Classics