Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Alain Delattre, Sarah J. Clackson, Papyrus grecs et coptes de Baouît conservés au musée du Louvre P. Louvre Bawit 1-83. Bibliothèque d'études coptes, 22. Le Caire: Institut français d'archéologie orientale, 2014. Pp. 183. ISBN 9782724706468.

Reviewed by Anne Boud'hors, Institut de recherche et d'Histoire des Textes (CNRS) (

Version at BMCR home site

The Monastery of Apa Apollo at Bawit, in Middle Egypt, was probably one of the most important in the Nile Valley. The site itself, which extended over 40 hectares, has been only partially excavated (between 5 and 10%), first by the French archaeologist Jean Clédat in the early 20th century and, after a long interruption, since 2003 under the joint auspices of the Louvre and the Institut français d'archéologie orientale (Baouît). The monastery's economic activities are documented for the period of the 6th to 9th centuries by Greek and Coptic papyri and ostraca (potsherds). Most of these documents, however, do not come from official excavations, but rather are preserved in various collections that they entered through the antiquities market, most likely from "wild excavations." It was the great merit of the English papyrologist Sarah Clackson, who died prematurely in 2003, to undertake the reconstruction of this archive.1 After identifying several recurring formulas in the papyri mentioning the monastery, she hypothesized that these formulas were typical for this place; she was then able to find other parallel documents in many other collections. Soon after, Alain Delattre also engaged in a search of the same kind in the collections in Brussels.2 In the late 1980s, the donation to the Louvre by the family of Jean Clédat of his excavation diaries made it possible to confirm that some of the ostraca kept at the museum (in the Coptic section of the Egyptology department) came from Clédat's excavations in Bawit.3 As part of this donation there were also some 75 papyrus fragments coming from the excavations (500 other fragments are still in the hands of Clédat's heirs): these fragments make up the matter of this book, a publication started by Sarah Clackson and continued by Alain Delattre, today the scholar with the best knowledge of the economic life at the monastery.

It is important to have all these facts in mind in order to understand the value of a book like this. Despite the sometimes desperately small size of the fragments contained in the volume, this publication represents a further step towards a synthesis of the economic activities of the monastery, which A. Delattre has been patiently building for several years. His intimate knowledge of the archive allows him to classify the fragments. Some of them (1-15) involve the administrative authorities of the monastery, especially the superior and the steward. These documents date to after the Arab conquest and concern the circulation and distribution of food to various beneficiaries (the monks themselves, but also workers employed by the monastery, recipients of requisitions imposed by the Arab administration), or relate to taxation, since at that time the monks also paid the poll tax (called andrismos in this documentation), which a team of monks was responsible for collecting and centralizing. Other documents are of private order (16-24), mainly contracts involving members of the monastery (loan contracts, sales for future delivery). The third category contains accounts and lists (25-37), a particularly difficult category, but whose judicious use provides basic numerical indications on the resources of the monastery, the number of inhabitants of the site, etc. For instance No. 28 shows the delivery of 31 wine convoys to the monastery in one day—a total volume of around 6,000 liters. No. 29 contains an excerpt from an account giving the names of fifteen agricultural estates belonging to the monastery. No. 30 is a list of the income in kind the monastery received from some of its properties.

A large number of fragments (38-61) come from letters. Letters are the most difficult material to use because, except for the greetings, they do not follow formulas that could help to fill the lacunae; besides, the information they provide is often allusive and not easy to interpret. The fragments preserve two kinds of letters: some can be described as administrative and are often "orders" (e.g. 37 and 38, with a new formula that seems to be characteristic for Bawit); others are more clearly private. One of these letters deserves special attention, since it comes from a pagarchos, that is to say the head of a provincial district, but his relationship with the monastery remains uncertain. Be that as it may, the more or less sixty letters from Bawit now published certainly deserve a comprehensive study.

After a few texts with various contents such as are encountered in many archives (exercises, magical texts), only seventeen fragments (67-83) remain unidentified. It is a true achievement, given the size of the pieces. Those who wish to try to decipher the remaining fragments can do so, thanks to the high quality of the color photographs inserted beside each text. I have failed to bring any improvement.

The greatest contribution of A. Delattre's the book may eventually lie in its Appendix, a list of the published papyri and ostraca from the monastery. It summarizes more than 700 Greek and Coptic documents coming from around twenty collections, and also mentions the corrections and new editions. This list, which in itself allows the reader to realize the extent of the activities of the monastery, is an essential tool for future research on the monastery of Bawit.


1.   S. Clackson, Coptic and Greek Texts Relating to the Hermopolite Monastery of Apa Apollo, Oxford 2000.
2.   A. Delattre, Papyrus coptes et grecs du monastère d'Apa Apollô de Baouît conservés aux Musées royaux d'Art et d'Histoire de Bruxelles, Brussels 2007.
3.   Publication of these diaries in J. Clédat, Le monastère et la nécropole de Baouît. Notes mises en œuvre par D. Bénazeth, M.-H. Rutschowscaya, Cairo 1999.

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