The Institute draws its origins from the “Società Italiana per la ricerca dei Papiri greci e latini in Egitto” (Italian Society for the Search of Greek and Latin Papyri in Egypt), a non-profit entity financed through the contribution of its members, founded in Florence on June, 1st 1908 on the initiative of Girolamo Vitelli. At that time he was the most eminent Italian Hellenist, full professor of Greek Literature at the Istituto di Studi Superiori di Firenze, which later, in 1924, became the University of Florence.
For about twenty years, the “Società Italiana” went on successfully with its programme of excavation and buying campaigns, in order to acquire papyri in Egypt for studying and publishing purposes: the most important result is properly represented by the first eight volumes of Papiri della Società Italiana (PSI), published between 1912 and 1927. However, in 1927, the “Società Italiana” deliberated its dissolution, and in 1928 the Istituto Papirologico was established within the University of Florence, and the first director was Girolamo Vitelli.
The Institute inherited the tasks and the study materials from the “Società Italiana”: between 1929 and 1935 the volumes IX, X and XI of the PSI were published; the initiatives and activities of excavations were fostered and for this reason the Institute became one of the most important centres for papyrology at international level.
In 1939 the Institute adopted its present name to pay honour to the memory of Vitelli, who died at 86, on September 2nd, 1935.
In spite of the partial slowdown occurred during the 2nd World War, the activities went on with the publication of further volumes of PSI (vol. XII fasc. 1, 1943; fasc. 2, 1951; vol. XIII, fasc. 1, 1949; fasc. 2, 1953; vol. XIV 1957), and of many other texts published outside the official series.
Excavations and acquisitions, instead, were stopped for a long time and were resumed only in 1964, thanks to Vittorio Bartoletti. The activity went on almost unrelentingly until today, and the excavation at Antinoopolis is still active.
After Girolamo Vitelli, the Institute was directed by Medea Norsa (1935-1949), Nicola Terzaghi (1949-1963), Vittorio Bartoletti (1963-1967) and Manfredo Manfredi (1968-1991).
In 1991 the Institute was acknowledged Ente Nazionale di Ricerca non Strumentale, with Manfredo Manfredi (1991-1998) designed as President, and then, after a few months of vice-presidency held by Angelo Casanova, Guido Bastianini.
Finally, on October 8th, 2004, with a decree by the Italian Prime Minister, the Istituto Papirologico became part of the University of Florence as a scientific structure linked to the Humanities faculty, with the status of Study Centre.
Since November 2019 the Director is Francesca Maltomini, professor in Papyrology at the University of Florence.