Thursday, February 5, 2015


Rodney Ast, Hélène Cuvigny, Todd M. Hickey, Julia Lougovaya (ed.), Papyrological Texts in Honor of Roger S. Bagnall. American Studies in Papyrology, 53. Durham, NC: American Society of Papyrologists, 2013. Pp. xiv, 378. ISBN 9780979975868. $69.95.

Reviewed by Jennifer Cromwell, Macquarie University (

Version at BMCR home site

Roger Bagnall, the honorand of this volume, is one of the most important scholars of late antique Egypt, although his contribution to our knowledge of the ancient world is by no means restricted to fourth-century Egypt. His publications (almost 40 books, 9 edited volumes, and over 250 articles and book chapters) cover Ptolemaic to early Arabic Egypt, as well as elsewhere in the Graeco-Roman East, and are essential reading for those interested in economic, administrative, judicial, and social life. As is common in papyrological Festschrifts, this volume contains no essays on historical topics, but comprises editions—in English, French, German, and Italian—of 70 texts, written mostly on papyrus with some ostraca (potsherds), by 45 scholars. Throughout, close textual analysis of original source material is placed at the core, highlighting the contribution of papyrology to the broader field of ancient world studies (cf. p. VIII). Most of these texts are previously unpublished; some have received a cursory description beforehand, while a small number are re-edited in the light of new understandings or as a result of joining fragments that were originally published separately (no concordance is given of previously published fragments).

It is not possible to mention, let alone discuss, all 70 texts. Instead, I aim to provide a broad overview of the material collected in this volume, highlighting select texts and topics. To ease discussion, texts are referred to where possible by their editor, although it is more convenient in some instances to refer to them by the number assigned to them by the volume editors, e.g. #1. All dates are CE, unless otherwise stated.

The contributions reflect Roger Bagnall's wide interests, focussing primarily on Greek texts from Roman and late antique Egypt (46 texts date from the 1st to 4th centuries), yet extending from 630 BCE to 860 and incorporating texts in Latin (#3), Arabic (#53), and different phases of the Egyptian language, i.e. Middle Egyptian (#57), Demotic (#14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 24, 42, 49, including bilingual Greek-Demotic texts), and Coptic (#39). Geographically, documents from the Arsinoite, Hermopolite, and Oxyrhynchite nomes predominate, which reflects broader trends in the provenance of papyrological material. Documents also come from Memphis, Aphrodito, the east and west banks of Thebes, Elephantine, and from Nubia, at Qasr Ibrim. The eastern desert is represented by Mons Claudianus and Xeron Pelagos. What is notable, given Bagnall's most recent work at Amheida,1 is the lack of any text from the western desert.

Most of the texts are non-literary in nature (ca. 85%), but literary and technical genres are represented. The oldest document (Wilfong) is a fragment of the Book of the Dead of Khamhor in Michigan, which is part of a hieratic manuscript divided between collections in the US and Italy. Two damaged epigrams (Lougovaya), possibly connected by an equine theme, have been recovered from cartonnage. A late 1st century BCE fragment from Book V of the Iliad (Derda and Łatjar), seemingly following the recension of Zenodotus, contains an epithet of Aries. From 6th century Aphrodito comes a draft version—as shown by corrections and additions—of the encomium of the arrival (adventus) of Kallinikos, dux of the Thebaid (Fournet). Technical texts cover several areas of knowledge. Two grammatical treatises deal with noun declension, specifically peculiarities in the formation of the genitive (McNamee), and adverbs, possessive adjectives, and prepositions (Renner). Geometrical problems, specifically how to determine the area of fields of irregular quadrilateral shapes, are dealt with by Jones (a re-edition of P.Cornell inv. 68, based on a vital re-interpretation of an abbreviated word). One school text (Cribiore) comes from a 4th century Christian context, while another (#64) may be an explanation of odd words. Medical works are edited by Andorlini, a list of symptoms, and Schubert, a list of bones, which has parallels in well-known treatises, e.g. Rufus' (of Ephesus) On the Names of Parts of the Human Body.

The non-literary material includes letters, petitions, receipts, legal documents, and census declarations, which touch on matters of private property and legal concerns, land management, demographics, crime, religion, and taxes. Indeed, texts concerning taxation form the largest category, with 20 of the 70 texts (albeit normally the shortest texts) dealing with it in some capacity. A dozen receipts from 3rd century BCE Elephantine are for the salt-tax (Duttenhöfer, #14–25). The 1st and 2nd century receipts from Karnak (Worp, #58–66) are for a variety of taxes, including the poll, dyke, and bath taxes. Additionally, #45 (Pintaudi) is a report for the strategos of Oxyrhynchus about taxes, and #70 (Yiftach-Firanko), a register of letters, includes two monthly reports issued by tax collectors.

One topic that covers the chronological span of this volume is land management. From the Fayum in the 2nd century BCE, Clarysse edits a register of unused land, noting specifically what the different plots are unfit for (e.g. cereal crops, vines, gardens) and #46 by Rathbone, Thompson, and Verhoogt is a cadastral survey written by Menches, the village scribe of Kerkeosiris (this combines the previously published P.Tebt. I 84b + IV 1117c, as part of a re-study of such texts). Also in the Fayum, but four centuries later, #30 (one of three texts edited by Hagedorn and Kramer) is a penthemeros-receipt, concerning canal maintenance. Moving to the late 7th century, the Coptic letter edited by MacCoull concerns a half-portion of some farm produce, and is the only document in the volume from a monastic context (others, namely #10 and 44 are from a Christian context, but probably ecclesiastic rather than monastic). The latest document in the collection (Sijpesteijn) is an Arabic lease of land in the Fayum, which can be used for anything except greens and sugar cane and has higher than average rent.

Matters connected with crime and punishment provide evidence for senior officials. A translation of an original Latin prefectural letter, addressed to the procurator Caesaris Probus (known from other Mons Claudianus texts), #8 (Bülow-Jacobsen) concerns two soldiers who abandoned their comrades under attack from unarmed Barbarians. A previously unattested late 4th century governor of the Thebaid (NN Simplicus) is the recipient of a complaint (Gascou) by an official sent to Hermopolis to arrest certain men, who is prevented from doing so and assaulted. In #29, the royal scribe of Diopolites parvus, Antonius Minor, reports upon the transport of bound and unbound prisoners.

One of Bagnall's most essential tools is his survey of the demography of Roman Egypt (co-authored with Bruce Frier). 2 Several well-attested late antique individuals appear in this volume. The account of ox and money (Azzarello and Reiter) is an important addition to our knowledge of the economic activities of L. Bellienus Gemellos (1st/2nd century, Fayum). A letter from Theophanes (Thomas), an influential man in 4th century Hermopolis, joins a small published fragment from Manchester with a larger unpublished fragment in Oxford. The census declaration of Herouos and Pathotes (van Minnen) belongs to the archive of Theognestes, from 2nd century Hermopolis, which is known from almost 30 published and unpublished documents. This document also improves the data collected for the family in Bagnall's and Frier's volume. Other texts add to our knowledge of Roman demographics, including #38 (Luijendijk), the bottom of an Oxyrhynchus census declaration preserving the section naming the women.

A number of texts that I have not mentioned above stand out for different reasons, principally because of their language and date. An early 8th century list of goods needed by the Arab fleet (Gonis) adds to a larger corpus from Aphrodito (P.Lond. IV) that is invaluable for the study of the early Islamic administration in Egypt. A damaged Demotic text (Monson) records rules for an association of Soknebtunis in the 3rd century BCE. These note fines for breaking the rules: transgressions include refusing to serve as its representative and opposing the representative in his duties. An acknowledgement of indebtedness (Richter), is one of the last surviving Demotic ostraca (1st/2nd century) and contains the title Felix (flgys), the use of which as a non-royal personal name is discussed.

Additionally, a few contributors include lengthy excursions on matters pertinent to their texts. Ast examines the Greek evidence for days of the week after his edition of a schedule of work days. Papaconstantinou explores the late antique building industry based on an inventory of columns in Oxyrhynchus (a re-edition of P.Lond. III 785), as well as archival practices and the re-use of papyrus, as this inventory was written on the other side of three petitions to the Prefect that were produced in Arsinoe. The evidence for the conductor praesidii and the operation of garrisons in the eastern desert is central to Cuvigny's edition of two texts from Xeron Pelagos, on the road to Berenike.

Concerning some practical matters, a couple of points are of note. Photographs are provided for every text, usually placed opposite their transcriptions or following the commentary. The inclusion of a map, showing the provenance of the documents—which would show, at a glance, the geographic dispersal of what is here collected—would have been useful. The most frustrating omission by the editors is the lack of an index of non-Greek and non-Latin words. The single Latin text (Aubert), which preserves only six incomplete lines, has a separate index. Yet, the other languages do not, although many provide a greater amount of linguistic material: the Saite Middle Egyptian fragment (Wilfong) has two columns, each with five broken lines; the Coptic letter (MacCoull) has twelve mostly complete lines; the Arabic contract (Sijpesteijn) has fifteen lines; and then there is Demotic, which certainly requires its own indices. The two Demotic-only texts (Monson and Richter) comprise eight and nine lines respectively, while the eight bilingual texts (see above for numbers) include names and dates in Demotic. Scholars searching for particular words or names in any of these languages therefore have to search the entire volume (and also realise that there are bilingual texts here), rather than look through just a couple of pages. A bit more effort would have increased the utility of the volume for non-Greek and non-Latin scholars.

This criticism affects one aspect of the utility of this volume, but it does not diminish the excellent quality of the editions and their accompanying commentary. The diverse texts touch upon many aspects of everyday life in Egypt over the 1400 years in question. In addition to what has already been mentioned, the following points will interest some readers: the (re-)use of papyrus (#5, 43); the processes involved in text production (through drafts, addenda, or copies, e.g. #8, 26, 47); contributions to our understanding of obscure or rare—or indeed previously unattested—terms (e.g. poêtra 'manufacturing costs' in #6, and telônarxai 'customs officer' in #54); the roles of different officials (e.g. the epitêroi of #70); and archives and notarial offices (including the first attestation of Memphis' office in #34). Further, some of the studies collect all published evidence for the text types in question. These are easy to overlook, but they are convenient and highly useful additions, including: salt-tax receipts of the 3rd century BCE (#14–25); penthemeros-certificates from Theadelphia (#30); known cheirographic contracts with initial epei-clauses (#47); and bath-tax collectors in Theban texts (#58–69). In sum, amongst these pieces of 'everyday writing'3 there is something for almost every Egyptian historian, philologist, papyrologist, and indeed scholar of the ancient Mediterranean world.


1.   See. e.g. most recently R. S. Bagnall and G. R. Ruffini, Amheida I. Ostraka from Trimithis, Volume 1, New York, 2012.
2.   R. S. Bagnall and B. W. Frier, The Demography of Roman Egypt, 2nd edition with addenda, Cambridge, 2006.
3.   The term that is used by Bagnall in R. S. Bagnall, Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East, Berkeley, 2010.

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