Leipzig University Library owns the biggest papyrus scroll devoted to ancient Egyptian medicine and the only one to have been completely preserved. It was acquired for the library in 1873 by the Leipzig Egyptologist Georg Ebers. In 1875, he had a facsimile edition of the text written in hieratic script published.
The entire text complete with translations of all the prescriptions into German and English has been online since 2017. In 2021, a replica of the scroll, which is 18.63 metres long, went on display in a separate showroom in the foyer of Bibliotheca Albertina. (Publication on the Ebers Papyrus showroom, German and English)
Today, the utmost attention is paid to preserving the Ebers Papyrus. Light and too much humidity pose the biggest threats to texts on papyrus. With this in mind, in the nineteenth century the scroll was cut into 29 sections, placed under glass, and kept inside a separate cabinet. Plates XXVIII and XXIX were joined together to make a plate with a length of about 2.50 metres and put on permanent display in Bibliotheca Albertina, probably in the 1920s and 1930s.
During the Second World War, the Ebers Papyrus was initially safeguarded in the vault of Deutsche Bank’s Leipzig branch. It was later removed 60 kilometres southeast of Leipzig to Rochlitz Castle. Following its recovery in 1945, a number of columns were damaged or lost.
The Ebers Papyrus (apart from the final plate and the lost parts) is thought to have been kept under the original glass from 1873 until it was first replaced in 2001. This conservation work became necessary when it emerged that the manner of its conservation was no longer safe or climate-proof. The reason is that the 28 sections (with the exception of plate I with the calendar on the back as well as the two plates XXVIII and XXIX with additional text on the reverse) had been glued to cardboard containing acid and largely sealed airtight in wooden picture frames. This led to tension in the glued joints, causing slight cracks to appear in the fragmentary parts. Damaged remaining fragments still kept under temporary glass dating back to when the scroll was taken out of storage during the war were also renewed at this time. This newer glazing also included breathable corner pieces without glued joints. Following the latest findings on preserving items under glass without the risk of unwanted chemical reactions, it was decided to replace the glass protecting the Ebers Papyrus again in 2020 with chemically stable safety glass. Today, the original Ebers Papyrus is preserved in shockproof packaging in the vault of Bibliotheca Albertina.
The original Ebers Papyrus has been safeguarded under constant climatic conditions in the vault of Bibliotheca Albertina since 1998. It was displayed in exhibitions in 2002 and 2010.
The digital replica of the Ebers Papyrus (www.papyrusebers.de) was created in 2016 using IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework) technology. This allows it to be shown as a virtually assembled scroll, and also enables continuous magnification so that any part can be seen in great detail. The parts of the text that have been missing since 1946 and have been added from the 1875 print are indicated by their lighter background. Users can click on any text to see its German or English translation. This digital replica was kindly made possible by various sponsors. In 2021, the German translation by Lutz Popko (and the English translation from the German) were added.
The physical replica of the Ebers Papyrus was completed in 2021 and can be seen in its own showroom in the foyer of Bibliotheca Albertina. This replica was produced as a screen print on real papyrus to create a faithful impression of the entire scroll as it might have looked when it was first completed. The replica of the Ebers Papyrus can be seen completely rolled out on both sides of a display case with a length of 11 metres.
The showcase for the replica of the Ebers Papyrus was financed by a fundraising campaign in 2019 and 2020. Four main sponsors and more than 80 donors kindly provided a high five-figure sum for the project.
The various replicas of the Ebers Papyrus duplicate the achievement of Georg Ebers, who first had the text of the papyrus scroll he found, purchased and brought to Leipzig printed in 1875. In addition to the digital replica and the physical one in the showroom, in 2021 a printed facsimile of the columns with new translations by Lutz Popko complete with explanatory essays by Lutz Popko, Ulrich Johannes Schneider and Reinhold Scholl was published by Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft in Darmstadt.
Lutz Popko, Ulrich Johannes Schneider, Reinhold Scholl: Papyrus Ebers. Die größte Schriftrolle zur altägyptischen Heilkunst, Darmstadt 2021
Wolfhart Westendorf: Handbuch der altägyptischen Medizin, Köln 1999
Thierry Bardinet: Les papyrus médicaux de l’Égypte pharaonique. Traduction intégrale et commentaire, Paris 1995
Paul Ghalioungui: The Ebers Papyrus. A New English Translation, Commentaries and Glossaries, Kairo 1987
www.papyrusebers.de (with Lutz Popko’s translation into German, and a German–English translation by Andrea Sinclair)
Papyros Ebers. Das hermetische Buch über die Arzneimittel der alten Ägypter in hieratischer Schrift, herausgegeben, mit Inhaltsangabe und Einleitung versehen von Georg Ebers. Mit hieroglyphisch-lateinischem Glossar von Ludwig Stern, 2 Bände, Leipzig 1875
Das Buch in Antike, Mittelalter und Neuzeit. Sonderbestände der Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig, hg. v. Thomas Fuchs, Christoph Mackert und Reinhold Scholl, Wiesbaden 2012 (Schriften und Zeugnisse zur Buchgeschichte 20), v. a. S. 37-70
Reinhold Scholl: Der Papyrus Ebers. Die größte Buchrolle zur Heilkunde Altägyptens (Schriften aus der Universitätsbibliothek 7), Leipzig 2002
The Ebers Papyrus can be examined online on the website of the Papyrus and Ostraka Project carried out by the Leipzig University Library together with libraries in Halle and Jena. The translation by Lutz Popko into German and the German–English translation by Andrea Sinclair can be viewed on this website.
- Egyptian Museum of Leipzig University