Definition of papyrus in English:


nounpapyri, papyruses

  • 1mass noun A material prepared in ancient Egypt from the pithy stem of a water plant, used in sheets throughout the ancient Mediterranean world for writing or painting on and also for making articles such as rope.

    ‘the text was preserved, probably on papyrus’
    as modifier ‘a papyrus scroll’
    • ‘The ramps were built out of clay, wood and papyrus.’
    • ‘The ancient Egyptians either engraved the hieroglyphs in the stonework of their temples or painted them on the walls of the burial chamber or inscribed them with a reed pen on rolls of papyrus, the antecedent of our paper.’
    • ‘The documents of the early medieval period in Italy take the following shape: no more than about fifty documents survive from the sixth and seventh centuries, nearly all on papyrus, and nearly all from Ravenna.’
    • ‘He noted down on a papyrus or an ostraka a full record of the grain measured so that a definite tax liability could be determined.’
    • ‘Documents written on papyri were found in some pyramid temples, especially at Abusir.’
    1. 1.1count noun A document written on papyrus.
      ‘a remarkable papyrus recently acquired by the British Museum’
      • ‘The Anonymus Londinensis papyrus points to an ancient confusion about the historical Hippocrates' pathological doctrines.’
      • ‘The dates are calculated from ancient lists, especially the Turin royal papyrus, and from various other sources.’
      • ‘A papyrus from Ancient Egypt cites juniper berries as an ingredient for a medicine to treat tape worms and juniper is still widely used by the pharmaceutical industry today.’
      • ‘The papyri contain remarkable information written by Philodemus describing the arguments of his teacher Zeno with the Stoics.’
      • ‘One of the oldest surviving mathematical writings is the Rhind papyrus, named after the Scottish Egyptologist A Henry Rhind who purchased it in Luxor in 1858.’
  • 2The tall aquatic sedge from which papyrus is obtained, native to central Africa and the Nile valley.

    Cyperus papyrus, family Cyperaceae

    • ‘Set the lily at the bottom of the container; the papyrus and forget-me-not should be positioned on stacked bricks so that their crowns are two-to-four inches below the water's surface.’
    • ‘We had beached along a spot in the Nile heavy with papyri, a small tributary.’
    • ‘His first design was created in a low bowl with fatsia leaves, Scots pine, oak leaves, strelitzia leaves and papyrus, then three large alliums and Singapore orchids were placed with skeletonised tenax leaves and some moss.’
    • ‘Some farmers cleared papyrus from the lower wetlands to cultivate rice, not realising that by releasing an oil on the water's surface, the papyrus had acted as a barrier against certain mosquitoes.’
    • ‘Around 3000 B.C., the Egyptians developed a writing material using papyrus, the plant for which paper is named.’


Late Middle English (in papyrus (sense 2)): via Latin from Greek papuros. Sense 1 dates from the early 18th century.