With the exception of Egypt, where frequent use was made of the numerous pot sherds, papyrus was the most widely used writing material in the ancient cultures around the Mediterranean Sea. Other material, such as parchment and wax or wooden tablets, were much less important, and only in the 8th century AD was papyrus gradually replaced by paper made from rags.
The aim of papyrology is the study of Greek and Latin papyri and ostraca; texts in the Egyptian language are left to the specialists within Egyptology. The most important duty of papyrology is the careful deciphering of the text of a papyrus and the making of a transcription. Scholars are often confronted with missing sections which can sometimes be reconstructed by comparisons with other texts. This reconstruction is then used as the basis for a translation, with any peculiarities being discussed in a commentary. The main aim of papyrology is the publication of the source material, thus making it available for further study.
Papyrology is important for the history of Ancient Egypt because it provides a lot of information about life in Egypt during the Ptolemaic Period and the Roman Period. For example, we can get an idea of the everyday conditions in the villages, and also of the larger economic developments during those periods, or of the development of the legal system. The papyri are interesting for the history of the Egyptian religion because they are a source of information for the study of personal piety in the form of songs, prayers and magical spells, or for the study of early Christianity. In addition, the papyri provide information about the development of the Greek language and script.
Papyrology as a scientific discipline has recently celebrated its hundredth anniversary. It has provided an enormous amount of information, and consultation of direct sources instead of relying on famous ancient authors is now taken for granted.