1. Structure
  2. Format
  3. Layout

An invitation is a privately produced document asking the recipient to attend a celebration. There are about fifty invitations on papyrus currently published, see [Montserrat 1992 : 302, n. 2] for a list, and add [128897; 128898, both II-III CE]. These invitations are written on small pieces of papyri, with the minimum amount of information, and in a consistent fashion. The majority are invitations to religious celebrations, specifically cult dinners in honour of Serapis [25119 I-II CE; 26515 II CE], less frequently for Isis [78608; 128897, both II-III CE], and one instance of a banquet for the god Anubis [32188 III CE]. There are also invitations to celebrations of status recognition (ἐπίκρισις) [30389; 30177, both III CE], weddings [27501 II-III CE; 30428 III CE], birthdays [28253 II-III CE; 31344 III-IV CE], and the ‘crowning’ (στέψις) of an official [30218 III-IV CE].


There has been some discussion of the purpose of these written invitations given that generally invitations were more likely delivered orally by messenger, see [P.Yale I : 260 (P.Yale 1 85); Skeat 1975 : 253; Kim 1975 : 397; Montserrat 1992 : 303, n. 8]. That they were mass-produced is evidenced by [128898], a papyrus with two identical invitations meant to be cut up the middle; see also the letter traces in the top and left hand margins of [28950 II-III CE].


The majority of preserved invitations have been found in Oxyrhynchus, a small number from the Arsinoite nome, and the remainder are of unknown provenance. There is rarely a full date written on any of these papyri, and as the writing is seldom very distinctive, they are paleographically dated from the I-IV CE. The examples in this description are from Oxyrhynchus unless otherwise stated.



There is no opening address or closing formula. The invitation is a single sentence beginning ἐρωτᾷ / καλεῖ σε [name <nom.>]N requests/asks you’ with only the host’s name specified, followed by the particular celebration, e.g. εἰς γάμους ‘to the wedding’ [30428 l.2] or δειπνῆσαι εἰς κλίνην τοῦ κυρίου Σαράπιδος ‘to dine at the banquet of the lord Serapis’ [28950 l.2-3]. The place of the event is then detailed, e.g. τὴν ἰδίαν οἰκίαν ‘our house’ [30389 l.4], or ἐν τῶι Σαραπείῳ ‘in the Serapeum’ [25119 l.3]. The date may be noted as σήμερον ‘today’ [78611 l.5, III CE] or αὔριον ‘tomorrow’ [31321 l.3, III CE] and be further clarified by a number usually written alpha-numerically, or sometimes in full [26515 l.6]; or simply state the number [25119 l.3]. The month is rarely mentioned, but see [30428 l.3]. The time the event begins often includes an abbreviation for ὥρας ‘hour’ in the form of a monogram [30428 l.4; 28950 l.4]. The ninth hour (ὥρας θ), between 2 and 3pm, is the most attested, but so also are the seventh [28997 II-III CE], eighth [30389; 27501], and tenth [31356 III CE] hours [Montserrat 1992 : 303].


There are some exceptions to this general structure. A I CE invitation [9252 I CE, Arsinoite nome] is written in the form of a Private Letter with the introductory formula [from name <nom.>] [to name <dat.>] [χαίρειν]; the main text – a request to join the host for a celebration, but with no further details – is followed by a closing salutation [ἔρρωσο], with a full [date@end]. In a more formal invitation from Oxyrhynchus [15332 218-225 CE], the inhabitants of a village, on behalf of the god Ammon, invite the strategos to a religious celebration. The formal address is presented in ὑπόμνημα format: [to name <dat.>][from παρά + name <gen.>]; this introduction, and the brevity of the information provided, is similar to that of the Business Note in structure, except that there is no date at the end of the document; only the day and month of the event is mentioned. Two III-IV CE invitations are also presented as letters, with a more informal address and a closing salutation. One invites a woman to a religious festival [31344] and wishes to organise her transport; the other [28253] is a birthday invitation, among some other matters also mentioned.



Invitations tend to be written on small slips of papyrus – many are transversa charta [30428; 30389], or in this orientation with the writing along horizontal fibres [28950; 78608]. One is in pagina format, written with the fibres [26925 II CE], and there are some squarish examples written with [28601; 26739, both II CE] and against [26515; 30090 III CE] the fibres. The I CE invitation written as a private letter [9252] is in pagina format, the writing with the fibres, and measures H. 19 x W. 8cm. The example written as a business note [15332] is squarish, but larger than others invitations with this orientation at H. 11.1 x W. 12.4cm, compare [26515, H. 5.2 x W. 5.7cm] and [27501, H. 5.5 x W. 5cm].



Invitations are written as one block of text in a single sentence. They are particularly uniform and rarely display ekthesis or eisthesis, compare e.g. the uniformity of [26515; 78611; 26672; 28601] with [78612; 128897]. There is occasionally an enlarged first letter [30389; 78608], but the most interesting feature is the often used monogram abbreviation for ὥρας [78608; 27501; 30090]; unabbreviated [26515; 26672].


How to Cite

Ferretti, L., Fogarty, S., Nury, E., Schubert, P. Description of Greek Documentary Papyri: Invitation. grammateus project. DOI: 10.26037/yareta:7s65smriq5bglgwxo6dpsr4kj4