Thursday, November 3, 2016


Stefan Pfeiffer, Griechische und lateinische Inschriften zum Ptolemäerreich und zur römischen Provinz Aegyptus. Einführungen und Quellentexte zur Ägyptologie, Bd 9. Münster; Berlin; Wien; Zürich; London: LIT Verlag, 2015. Pp. vi, 376. ISBN 9783643130969. €34.90 (pb).

Reviewed by Peter Nadig, Mekelle University; Freie Universität Berlin (

Version at BMCR home site


The ninth volume of this series of introductions and source texts to Egyptology published in German contains Greek and Latin inscriptions from Egypt as well as other regions that relate primarily to the Ptolemaic kingdom and the Roman province Aegyptus.1 Previous volumes have covered a wide range of subjects such as ancient Egyptian literature, history of Egyptian law, religion in Greco-Roman times (Temple texts as well as Demotic sources) and even an introduction to Meroitic studies. Due to its focus on Greek and Latin-inscriptions as well as graffiti and dipinti the present volume may appear on the fringe of this series. Indeed, most of the selected sources are more within the domain of the ancient historian or classicist rather than the Egyptologist. As the author points out this volume embraces a very small range of sources since many other epigraphic texts in Egyptian script (in hieroglyphic and Demotic) are excluded, as well as the abundance of Greek papyri from this period. Still, a few Egyptian texts—either bi-lingual or just in translation—are included here.

The first ten chapters (pp. 1-17) offer a succinct introduction to the culture of Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt. Chapter 1 is a general preface explaining the structure of how the sources are being presented. The layout of each entry consists of five components: (1) title of document followed by a summary of the most relevant editions including previous translations and the reference number in TM ( as well as the present location if known; (2) a short introduction to the document; (3) text and translation in two columns; (4) a commentary to highlight the often complicated terminology and the historical context as well as to elucidate possible conclusions and inspire further research; and (5) a selected bibliography to assist further reading. The following chapters introduce the term Greco-Roman Egypt along with a general bibliography, the use of different languages in this region, epigraphy in Egypt, the Leiden Conventions, the Ptolemaic aulic titulature, the calendar system, and a chronology of the Ptolemaic kings.2 Chapter 11, the core of the book, offers a selection of 82 inscriptions in chronological order with an equal number each for the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. The earliest text is a dedication by Alexander the Great in the temple of Baharia in 332/1 BC and the last is about the sacrifice of a donkey by an association of metal workers from the temple of Hatshepsut in Deir el-Bahari in AD 324. Included are some famous texts, but also some lesser known documents. The subjects vary: there are decrees by kings, priests and prefects, dedicatory inscriptions of statues, legal texts, epigrams, petitions, funerary inscriptions, a list of tariffs, and visitor graffiti to name a few. The Greek version of several well-known trilingual inscriptions such as the priestly decrees of Canopus (238 BC) and Memphis (Raphia-Decree of 217 BC and Rosetta- Decree of 196 BC) are covered here. Most interesting is the inclusion of the priestly decree of Alexandria (243 BC), which was found in 1999/2000 in Upper Egypt and is now in the Museum of Akhmim (No. 13). It is the oldest known priestly decree from Egypt. The hieroglyphic and Demotic texts are complete while the Greek text is lost. The missing portion, however, can be reconstructed from fragments already known from other places and the focus is primarily on it. Another trilingual—this time in Latin, Greek, and Hieroglyphic—is the Victory-Stele of C. Cornelius Gallus (29 BC). One of the more remarkable texts is a brief graffito (No. 20) from Abydos dating to year 6 of the Counter-Pharaoh Haronnophris (Horwenenefer) from the Upper Egyptian Secession (201/200 BC). The script is Greek, but the language is actually Demotic. A hypothetical transliteration of the reconstructed Demotic is added. Another text worth mentioning is an edict by the prefect Tiberius Iulius Alexander (No. 58 [AD 68]; pp. 257-272) from the temple of Hibis in Charga Oasis. It contains various measures and is also one of the longest known epigraphic texts in Greek from Egypt. Also included are the epigrams of Julia Balbilla (No. 66) which commemorate Hadrian's visit to Egypt in AD 130. They were inscribed on the legs of the northern statue of the two so-called Colossi of Memnon that stand at the entrance to the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III.3 A small inscription (No. 73 = I. Did. 87) on a brick now in Berlin from the Roman period illustrates the diversity of the selection: a dedication by a Roman soldier who was prompted by a dream to organize a symposium on behalf of the god Sarapis—a possible reference to a local oracle on the road to the Red Sea.

The book ends with several instruments that prove helpful to the user, beginning with two concordances (printed editions and inventory numbers in museums). A thorough general index follows, as well as indices of places, persons, gods and mythological figures, inscriptions, papyri, and literary sources. The indexing system has one minor flaw, as it only refers to the entry numbers, with the result that some keywords in the introductory pages have been left out. Also, in the case of longer entries the user may have to thumb through several pages to find the desired reference; it would have been more useful to give the entry numbers in bold face followed by references to page numbers in italics where necessary. All bibliographical information is confined to the introduction pages and individual entries. Several photos, illustrations, and line drawings end the book.4

Specialists may not always agree with the choice of texts included here, but Pfeiffer has succeeded in providing an adequate and diverse mix of well known, lesser known and even recently discovered inscriptions. His highly recommendable contribution therefore stands above older similar collections concerning Greco-Roman Egypt in any modern language.


1.   Cf. f.e. Nos 4, 6, 11 (Adulis inscription of Ptolemy III), 16, 18, 24 (supposed testament of Ptolemy VIII from Cyrene), 35, 43, 47, 48, 71, and 74.
2.   To avoid confusion Pfeiffer fortunately advocates the traditional numbering of some kings and queens against the chronology proposed by Werner Huß , who thinks that Ptolemy VI was not survived by a son who was briefly king—often referred to as Ptolemy VII Neos Philopator. Thus Huß adjusts the numbering of all following kings from Ptolemy VIII onward. The same goes for Cleopatra Berenice III who becomes Cleopatra VI Berenice III.
3.   In his introduction (p. 293) Pfeiffer refers to Amenhotep III's throne name (Nebmaatre [Lord of Truth is Re]), yet mistakenly adds the personal name (Amenhotep Heqa Waset) in transliteration. In the Amarna Letters Nebmaatre is Nibmuarea or Mimmuwareya/ Mimmuria. Based on an interpretation by Gardiner (JEA 47) Mimmuria was later understood to refer to mythological Ethiopian king Memnon.
4.   One entry to the possibly spurious Ptolemy VII for text 26 is not found there, but is instead of page 15. Some minor repetitions cannot be avoided, but there are usually many cross-references to other entries, though not to particular pages. These queries, however, are meant as encouragements for improvement if there would ever be a second edition, which Pfeiffer's book definitely deserves.

No comments:

Post a Comment