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date: 28 October 2020


  • Walter Eric Harold Cockle


  • Greek and Roman Archaeology

Ostraca are potsherds used for writing. Almost all found in Greece are incised; in Athens they were used particularly in voting in ostracism. In Egypt the great majority are written with pen and ink. There the preferred fabric is the neck or shoulders of an amphora. The discrepancy is probably due to humid conditions of survival in Europe. In Egypt the Ptolemaic ostraca from the Nile valley are mainly tax receipts written in abbreviated form; later, orders and lists are common. Letters, school exercises, and religious texts, pagan and Christian, increase. The military ostraca from Mons Claudianus and the Wadi Fawakhir in the Eastern Desert are of a different character: documents and letters are more extensive, there is more Latin, and ostraca are used where papyrus would have been the norm in the Nile valley. The Greek-Demotic Archive of Hor from Saqqara provides important evidence for the chronology of Antiochus IV Epiphanes' invasion of Egypt. The Thebaid is the most prolific source in all periods. Outside Egypt Latin ostraca have been found in Tripolitania, Carthage and Masada. The commonest sources are rubbish mounds or house ruins. See pottery (greek), inscriptions on.


  • M. L. Lang, The Athenian Agora 25—Ostraca (1990).
  • Ink ostraca in Rhodes: Archaeological Reports 34 (1988), 81–83.
  • U. Wilcken, Griechische Ostraka aus Ägypten und Nubien (1899)—the standard introduction.
  • Earlier publications listed in J. F. Oates and others, Checklist of Editions of Greek Papyri and Ostraca3, Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists suppl. 4 (1985).
  • J. C. Shelton, Greek Ostraca in the Ashmolean Museum from Oxyrhynchus (1988).
  • C. Gallazzi and others, Ostraka greci del Museo egizio del Cairo (1988).
  • H. Cuvigny and G. Wagner, Ostraca grecs de Douch ( = Kysis) (1986– ).
  • J. Bingen and W. Clarysse, Elkab III ( = Eileithuias Polis) (1989).
  • J. D. Ray, Archive of Hor (1976).
  • R. S. Bagnall, “Papyri and Ostraka from Quseir al-Qadim (Leukos Limen),” Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 23 (1986), 1–60.
  • C. Tsiparis, Ostraca Lundensia (1979).
  • C. Gallazzi, Ostraka da Tebtynis dell' Univ. di Padova (1979– ).
  • O. Guéraud, ‘Ostraca de la Wadi Eawâkhir’, Bulletin de l'Institut français d' Archéologie Orientale 41 (1942), 141–196.
  • R. Marichal, “Ostraca de Bu Njem,” Comptes rendus de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-lettres 1979, 436–52.
  • R. Cagnat and A. Merlin, ‘Ostraka latins de Carthage’, Journal des savants 1911, 514.
  • H. M. Cotton and J. Geiger, Masada II (1989).