Praying Like a Pharaoh

The oldest books in the Princeton University Library are a group of Pharaonic rolls written in Hieroglyphic and Hieratic script, preserved among more than a thousand ancient Egyptian papyri in the Manuscripts Division. Among the most interesting of these rolls has now been published in a scholarly edition by a Swiss Egyptologist: Sandrine Vuilleumier, Un rituel osirien en faveur de particuliers à l’époque ptolémaïque: Papyrus Princeton Pharaonic Roll 10, Studien zur spätägyptischen Religion, 15 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2016), 593 pages; 25 color plates. Her research began as a graduate student at the University of Geneva. She studied the roll at Princeton with the help of a Princeton University Library Research Grant (2004-5). Vuilleumier’s book contains transcriptions, translations, commentaries, and color images, as well as a final chapter on the rituals, ceremonies, and other aspects of Egyptian religion.

Pharaonic Roll no. 10 dates from the Ptolemaic Era—the period between the death of Alexander the Great (323 BCE) and the Roman conquest of Egypt (30 BCE). Lacking its first part, the roll contains portions of seven chapters arranged in twenty-two columns of Hieratic texts, some of which are known from other sources and others not. Performance of ancient Egyptian rituals for the gods Osiris (god of the afterlife) and Ptah-Sokar-Osiris is central to the texts. The roll is unusual in that it was a ritual compilation from different sources and was used for burial instead of a Book of the Dead, the most common of Pharaonic funerary texts interred with mummies. Embedded in the text are the personal names of two men, Padihorpakhered and Mesreduwief, who were perhaps brothers. The surviving text in Pharaonic Roll no. 10 has seven chapters, dealing with processions, destruction of enemies, navigation, ritual of offerings, litanies, formulas, officiants and beneficiaries, and other subjects.

Robert Garrett (1875-1961), Class of 1897, among the Library’s greatest benefactors, probably purchased the roll in the 1920s. It was then still fully rolled, as it had been for two thousand years, and the roll remained that way after Garrett donated his extensive collection of manuscripts to the Library in 1942. Pharaonic Roll no. 10 was not opened, conserved, and mounted until 1998, as part of the multi-institutional APIS (Advanced Papyrological Information System) Project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, was the Library’s project director; Ted Stanley, Paper Conservator, supervised the unrolling and mounting of the roll in the Library’s Preservation Office; and Leonard H. Lesko, Charles Edwin Wilbour Professor of Egyptology, Brown University, served as textual consultant. Several other Pharaonic rolls were also unrolled and conserved as part of the APIS project, including several Hieroglyphic Books of the Dead, an almost-intact Hieratic Book of Breathings, and other texts. Scholarly articles have been published about several of Princeton’s Pharaonic rolls.

Descriptions of the Pharaonic rolls (with bibliographic citations) are found in the Descriptive Inventory in the Princeton University Library Papyrus Home Page. Selected Pharaonic rolls may be viewed online in the Princeton University Digital Library (PUDL), where they can be found by searching for the keyword “Pharaonic.” For more information, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, at