The Adler Papyri, an archive of documents detailing the life of a man who lived almost a century and a half before Jesus, provided a surprise top lot in Sotheby's Schoyen Collection auction yesterday (July 10).
The documents, written in ancient Greek and Demotic, provide a remarkably personal portrait of Horus, son of Nechoutes and his immediate family, who served as mercenaries to the Ptolemaic pharaohs.
Described as being of "middle size" with "honey coloured, curly hair" and having his left ear pierced, Horus was a member of the military garrison stationed near Gebelien in Egypt in the wake of the Theban rebellion in 186 BC, but later retired and focused himself on his estates. Dating from 134-89 BC, the documents in the sale detail Horus' acquisition of property, marriages within the family and disputes over access to land.
While a handful of other archives survive from ancient Egypt, such as the Zenon and Dryton Papyri, almost all of them have been split up and distributed in single leaves between museums and private collections. The Adler Papyri remains one of the only complete collections, boasting 23 sheets in Greek cursive hand and a further 30 in Demotic.
A spectacular find, each document was unrolled and mounted by the British Museum conservator and noted Anglo-Jewish author Elkan Nathan Adler. The astonishing archive sold for £457,250 ($709,514) against a £150,000-200,000 estimate, showing an impressive 128.6% increase.
Also featuring from the Schoyen collection was the De Laude Virginitatis, a document written circa 800 AD in Latin to promote chastity to young Essex, UK nuns. It achieved the auction's second highest bids, selling for £337,250 against an estimate of £300,000-500,000. Read more about this fascinating - and amusing -manuscript here.
Learn about Martin Schoyen's vast collection with our feature article.
Paul Fraser Collectibles has an incredible selection of historic manuscripts on offer. This personal divorce plea from Henry VIII marks the start of a process that would change the face of history forever.