Music for the Masses

Mark de Kreij

In this time of social distancing, enjoying music in public seems a distant memory, and since social get-togethers and musical events are all currently off the table, the study of song and festival in the ancient world can at least provide us with vicarious cultural experiences! The following texts all offer glimpses into the soundscape of Graeco-Roman Egypt, a topic that the current literature pays little to no attention to (a fact that I hope to soon rectify!). 
The first text contains the minutes of the meeting of a social club in Philadelphia, a village in the Fayum. There is much of interest in this little text, a fragment of a longer document containing the minutes of multiple meetings, which took place at least once a month. To start with, the meeting took place in the tack room, where saddles, bridles, and other riding accoutrements are kept. In combination with the peculiar names of the attendants, this location for a meeting suggests that this was a dining club consisting of slaves. 

[.] Choiak. In the tack room.
Dikaios to perform the rites.
Present: Hermias, Bakchos, Demas, Karpos, Kamax, Psammetichos, Dikaios.
Free entry: Hermias.
Money spent on:
Memphite wine 2̣[  ̣]
Hellanicus the flute-player [  ]
And the cinaedus [  ]

Edgar 1925 = C.Ptol.Sklav. I 91

Hermias presided over the club for this year, and was therefore exempt from contribution. Not so for Dikaios, whose turn it was to be the hieropoios for this meeting – probably the one to (provide and?) perform a small sacrifice or libation at the start of the meeting. As the final entries show, this was to be an evening (or afternoon) of drinks and entertainment. The participants shared wine from Memphis as they enjoyed the song and dance of a cinaedus (a male performer in effeminate dress) to the accompaniment of the flute-player’s music. Even among these least wealthy of people, entertainment was enough of a priority to spend money on at least once a month.
During the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, when these texts were written, Egypt had an intricate multi-faceted society, where layers of Egyptian tradition, imported Greek culture, and superimposed Roman bureaucracy clashed and interwove in complex ways. One could witness this phenomenon especially clearly in the religious enclosures in villages and towns all over Egypt. The very fragmentary hymn preserved on a papyrus in the Vienna collection gives us a tantalising glimpse:

P.Vindob.Gr. 29248b (c) Papyrussammlung der Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

In the annual […] of Bacchus [
where blessed Sarap[is
of great hymns [
(…)

MPER III 28 (= P.Vindob.Gr. 29248b)

Bacchus is a designation of Dionysus, but also the Roman name for said god. Here he is mentioned in concert with Sarapis, an Egyptian name (syncretism of the gods Osiris and Apis) given to the hybrid Egyptian-Greek god whose worship emerged in the Ptolemaic period. Unlike Egyptian gods, the image of Sarapis was completely anthropomorphic (that is, only ever shown in human form), under the influence of the Ptolemaic rulers who pushed the cult. The papyrus that preserves these scanty verses is written in a hasty hand, illustrating the ephemeral nature of such texts. Unlike the classics of literature and song, occasional hymns rarely made it into any form of manuscript tradition, so the papyrological record is our only hope for any evidence of such performance events. We can only speculate where and when such a song may have been performed: perhaps during an annual festival of Bacchus, or in one of the many of the smaller sanctuaries of Sarapis spread throughout Egypt.

Bronze bust of Zeus-Serapis, from Alexandria – 19 cm in height! (c) The British Museum (inv. 1970,0216.1)

The performances we read about are all lost, but we can get an idea about their effect on the audience by an unusual and evocative document from Oxyrhynchus. Contained in it are a letter and its response (in reverse order), dated 3rd November 182 AD, concerning a tragic accident in the village Senepta.

Hierax, strategus of the Oxyrhynchite nome, to Claudius Serenus, assistant. A copy of the application which has been presented to me by Leonides also called Serenus is herewith sent to you. Take a public physician and view the dead body referred to, and having delivered it over for burial make a report in writing. Signed by me. The 23rd year of Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Caesar the lord, Athyr 7.
To Hierax, strategus, from Leonides also called Serenus, whose mother is stated as Tauris, of Senepta. At a late hour of yesterday the 6th, while a festival was taking place at Senepta and the castanet-players were giving their customary performance at the house of Plution my son-in-law…, his slave Epaphroditus, aged about 8 years, wishing to lean out from the bed-chamber of said house and see the castanet-players, fell and was killed…

P.Oxy. III 475

From the flute-player and mime performing at an informal symposium, to priests singing hymns to Greek and Egyptian gods alike, and castanet-players dancing in a village courtyard, music was an integral part of the culture of Graeco-Roman Egypt. The ephemeral nature of musical performance makes it easily forgotten, but it is worth exploring the traces it has left in the papyrological record.  We learn about this lost song culture from documents as varied as village club minutes, rough copies of religious hymns, and official correspondence. Despite its virtual absence in the handbooks, we would be wise to assume that song was no less important to the people of Graeco-Roman Egypt than it is to us.

*Editor’s note: for the survival of musical instruments from Roman Egypt, see the work taken as part of the project ‘Roman and Late Antique Artefacts from Egypt’, which included an exhibition on instruments in the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology (‘Sounds of Roman Egypt’), which you can read about here.

Technical Details 
Provenance: Egypt: Philadelphia (texts 1), Soknopaiou Nesos(?text 2), and Oxyrhynchus (text 3)
Date: 2nd century BCE – 2nd century CE
Language: Greek
Collection: Text 1: Istituto Papirologico ‘Vitelli’ (?); Text 2: Papyrussammlung der Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (P.Vindob.Gr. 29248b); Text 3: Charterhouse School 
Designation: Text 1: C.Ptol.Sklav. I 91 (=SB 3 7182); Text 2: MPER III 28; Text 3: P.Oxy. III 475 (according to the Checklist of Editions)
Bibliography: C.C. Edgar, ‘Records of a village club,’ in Raccolta di scritti in onore di Giacomo Lumbroso, ed. by A.E.R. Boak (Milan, 1925) pp. 369-377 [text 1]. Note that Text 3 has received attention for reasons other than music and song, and you can see the bibliography connected to these aspects in the Trismegistos database (TM 20611).

Jesus Christ before me, Iao Sabaoth Adonai behind me: A Prayer for Good Luck and Protection

Ágnes Mihálykó

What would you ask from God in a morning prayer? Success for your business? No fights with your husband/wife/children/boss? Or, quite simply having God in front of you, behind you, by your left and by your right, to guide you and protect you throughout the day? A Christian by the name of Besodoros, writing in the fourth or fifth century, asked for all of this. 
The papyrus that preserves his prayer, Pap.Graec.Mag. P21 (now kept in the papyrus collection of the Czech National Library in Prague), has been considered by scholars a magical text, a so-called charitesion,a good-luck charm. This type of charm goes back to pre-Christian traditions and was popular among Christian Coptic magical papyri as well. This text indeed stands in this tradition, as it asks God to send the petitioner

your [holy] archangels, who stand opposite your holy altar, and are appointed for your holy services, Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Saruel, Raguel, Nuriel, Anael. And let them accompany me today, during all the hours of day and night, and grant me victories, favour, good luck with N., success with all people, small and great, whom I may encounter today, during all the hours of day and night. 

Translation from Meyer and Smith 1999

However, there are elements in the text that imply that the text might not be a simple good-luck charm, recited whenever an excess of good luck was needed – just as Harry Potter takes the lucky potion when he needs to obtain an important memory. Here the luck and victory are asked for the entire day, for all of its hours, day and night. This may suggest that the text is conceived as a text to be recited on a regular, perhaps daily basis, to secure good luck for every day. Moreover, the prayer asks for more than just good luck. Its second half focuses on protection:

“For I have before me Jesus Christ, who attends me and accompanies me; behind me Iao Sabaoth Ado[nai]; on my right and [left] the god of Ab[raham, Isaac, and Jacob]; over [my] face [and] my heart Ga[briel, Michael],Raphael, Saruel, [Raguel], Nuriel, Anael: [Protect] me from every [demon, male or female, and from] every stratagem and from every name, for I am sheltered under the wings of the cherubim.” 

Translation from Meyer and Smith 1999
PGM P21, Prague, National Library, P. Wessely Prag. Gr. 1 (source: Hopfner, Archiv Orientální 7 (1935) pl. XLV.

The statement that Jesus, God and the archangels surround the petitioner finds a parallel in a fragmented test from the same period, P.Mich. inv. 6427 (image below), which after a long sequence of praise asks God to stand before, behind, to the right and the left of the petitioner, as well as to give him his daily bread, and grant him salvation and the fulfilment all his requests. The papyrus contains on the other side the Canticle of the Three Children from the biblical Book of Daniel (Dan. 3:52ff), a morning chant that, according to the church father Rufinus of Aquileia towards the end of the fourth century, Christians sung in all churches of the world. Thus its presence on the papyrus implies that this prayer might also have been destined for the morning prayer of a Christian individual. The pattern of invoking the archangels and God to surround the petitioner in prayer is furthermore attested in some variants of the Jewish bedtime ‘Shema’, the prayer to be recited before going to bed; similar requests for angelic protection also appears in Aramaic incantation bowls and was extended in Coptic magical rituals to include all seven archangels. Furthermore, Irish protective prayers from the early middle ages, such as the so-called Lorica of St Patrick, also ask God to be present by the four sides of the petitioner. The geographical distance of the attestations suggests that this formula, derived from Jewish piety, may have been employed widely in Christian prayers for protection.
Though its requests are unusual, in its structure the text relies on the conventional structure of Christian prayer that starts with the praise of God, includes requests, and finishes with glorification in the form of a doxology. The opening praise is conventional; it cites the Eucharistic prayers that Christians in Egypt heard every week. The final doxology, however, is once again unorthodox. It invokes Jesus Christ, “king of all the aeons, almighty, inexpressible creator, nurturer, Lord almighty, noble child, kindly son, my unutterable and inexpressible name, truly true form, unseen [for] ever and ever.” These expressions can be compared to those found in books of the Valentinians, a Christian group that, by the fourth century, was universally denounced by the official church as heretic, though their ideas continued to circulate.
If Besodoros’ bishop would have heard what he was praying in the morning, he would probably have reproached him and recommended the Psalms or the Canticles instead. But, as long as this prayer brought him success with the people and God by his side to protect him, Besodoros likely did not care.

Technical details
Provenance: Fayum?
Date: 4th or 5th century?
Language: Greek (with one line in Coptic)
Collection: Prague, National Library, Wessely Collection
Designation: Pap.Graec.Mag. P21
Bibliography: Theodor Hopfner (1935), “Ein neuer Griechischer Zauberpapyrus (Pap. Wessely Pragens Graec. No. 1). Mit Tafeln,” Archiv Orientální7: 355–366 [first complete edition of the text]; Karl Preisendanz (1974), Papyri Graecae Magicae: Die Griechischen Zauberpapyri(Stuttgart: Teubner), vol. 2, pp. 229–230 [no. 21 Christliches]; Marvin W. Meyer and Richard Smith (1999), Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power(Princeton: Princeton University Press), pp. 55–56 [no. 36]; Theodore de Bruyn (2013), “A Late Witness to Valentinian Devotion in Egypt?” Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum18.1: 120–133; Dan Levene, Dalia Marx, and Siam Bhayro (2014), “‘Gabriel is on their Right’: Angelic Protection in Jewish Magic and Babylonian Lore,” Studia Mesopotamica 1: 185–198.

P.Mich.inv. 6247 (c) University of Michigan Papyrus Collection

Struggling to Provide

Jennifer Cromwell

In early December, one year in the seventh century, a man called Damianos from the Fayum asked for a cash loan and was given it from another man, Shenoute. Short loan contracts such as this one are pretty common, although the amount and type of details provided vary from case to case. What is unusual in Damianos’ text is that he explicitly states that the money (half a gold coin) will be spent on food for his children.

In the name of God. First, I, Damianos son of Cosma from Pagi in the Fayum, have written to Shenoute son of Elias from Fayum City. Look, I begged you and you promised me and got half a holokottinos for me as the loan. I spent it on grain (for) my children. I am ready to repay you it by Parmoute 1. Since you have done a kind thing for me – you acknowledged the cry (of) my children – I will repay it (lit. return it to its place), with my gratitude and without disagreement. 
Written Choiak 6, indiction year 13. 
+ I, Apater the leitourgos of Pagi, bear witness. 
+ I, papa Ale, bear witness. +
Written by me, Paul son of Theodore. +

P.Mich.Copt. 19
P.Mich.Copt. 19 (c) University of Michigan Papyrus Collection (P.Mich.inv. 777)

Should this text and Damianos’ reason for the loan be taken at face value – was the loan intended to buy food to feed his family or is this hyperbole to secure the loan? Often in Coptic texts, people requesting loans simply state that it is for their need, without giving any more details. At times, the debtors are more explicit. In an unprovenanced text, SB Kopt. IV 1793, a man called Pamphilos asks for a substantial loan of 12 gold coins, adding that it is for the needs of the poor in his village. Other reasons include paying taxes, as is the case of the brethren of the monastery of Apa Apollo at Bala’izah who asked the local tax official (Abū ‘Amr) for 8 gold coins that they will repay in kind (P.Bal. II 102; early 8th century). As it is so uncommon in Coptic loan contracts for the debtor to be so explicit about why they need the loan, Damianos’ request – and his desperation – stands out all the more starkly.
We know nothing else about Damianos and his children. But, this short contract gives a brief glimpse into the challenges faced by some families. In hard financial times, the only option available to some parents to enable them to provide for – to feed – their children was to take out loans. Parmoute 1, Damianos’ repayment date, equates to 1 March, meaning that he had three months to repay this loan. Whether he was able to meet this deadline, and whether or not the hardship he faced was temporary or more long-term, is lost to us. We are left with but a brief picture of a difficult winter ahead for this family.

Technical Details 
Provenance: Fayum, Egypt
Date: 2/3 December (unknown year, probably 7th century)
Language: Coptic (Fayumic)
Collection: University of Michigan Papyrus Collection, Ann Arbor (P.Mich. inv. 777)
DesignationP.Mich.Copt. 19 (according to the Checklist of Editions)

An Army Family at a Time of Revolt

Jennifer Cromwell

In 297 CE, the usurper Lucius Domitius Domitianus led a revolt against the emperor Diocletian, proclaiming himself emperor and ruling Egypt for almost a year. From this same time survives an archive from an army family, consisting of nine letters written on papyrus. All nine texts were found at the village Philadelphia in the Fayum and are now in the papyrus collection of the University of Michigan, which acquired them from the antiquities dealer Maurice Nahman in 1923. This group gives us a remarkable insight into life in a military family in antiquity, with the wife at home in the Fayum and the husband stationed elsewhere. The husband in question is the man Paniskos, writing to his family from almost 600 km to the south in Coptos. The archive includes six letters between him and his wife Ploutogenia and their young daughter Heliodora, one to his brother Aion*, and two other letters written between female members of the family. And so, what was the experience like for this family, so far apart?
Before getting into the letters themselves, a quick note on their dates. None of the letters have dates beyond a month (if any date survives at all). Nevertheless, the texts can be dated relatively to each other based on their contents, at least for the most part (the letters between the female members aren’t anchored and it’s difficult to date them in relation to the letters from Paniskos). The order followed here is that proposed by Jacques Schwartz in his 1968 article on the archive. In terms of dating this group to the major events of 297, the key detail is that Ploutogenia’s brother, Hermias, is described in one of the letters (P.Mich. III 220) as being with the prefect (i.e., Domitius Domitianus), but requested to join the prefect’s deputy Achilleus. The mention of these men and the military content of the letters suggests that Paniskos was involved in the revolt, as part of Domitius’ troops.

Gold coin of Domitius Domitianus, 297 CE, minted in Alexandria (c) British Museum, BNK,R.212

In Paniskos’ first letter, we find little info about the family, except that he is away and writes to ask how they are doing. He sends wool and money to buy jewellery for his daughter and clothes for his wife. In amidst the talk of gifts, he also slips in a brief note to remind Ploutogenia of certain responsibilities, in this case seeing to matters concerning their cattle.

I wish to know if you have need of anything. … I have also sent you wool for yourself in order that if you wish you may use it for yourself. And attend also to your cattle. And as for the three holokottina(=gold coins), make anklets of them for my daughter, and prepare the accessories of your chiton and himation (=items of clothing).

P.Mich. III 218; translation from Winter 1927

In the second letter, we discover more information. Paniskos is in Coptos (modern Qift) and he instructs Ploutogenia to prepare herself to travel south should he ask her to, softening the request through mention of her siblings who live in the area. When he does send for her, he has a list of requests for her to bring along: various provisions, as well as his armour (his new shield and his helmet) and weapons (lances). And here we can infer that Paniskos is a soldier – the reference to multiple lances may suggest he’s supplying equipment rather than using them himself, but it seems more likely that the kit is for his own use. We also get a hint of the potential dangers faced by women travelling down the Nile, with Paniskos cautioning Ploutogenia not to wear her jewellery on the journey – or is this the concern of an anxious spouse, rather than a reflection of the threat of robbery?

So when you have received this letter of mine make your necessary preparations to come quickly if I send for you. And when you come bring ten shearings of wool, six jars of olives, four jars of distilled honey, and my shield, only my new one, (and) my helmet. Bring also my lances. … Bring all our clothes when you come. When you come bring your gold ornaments, but do not wear them on the boat.

P.Mich. III 214; translation from Winter 1927

Ploutogenia, however, was seemingly disinclined to leave her home, or even reply to her husband about the matter, a fact that he bemoans in a follow up message: “I am now writing you a second letter that you may come to me, and you have not come. If, then, you do not wish to come, write me a reply. Bring my shield, the new one, and my helmet, and my five lances.” (P.Mich. III 216; translation from Winter 1927). But, this entreaty also fails to receive a reply, leading Paniskos to pen the most strongly-worded letter in the group.

I enjoined you when I left, ‘do not go off to your home’, and yet you went. If you wish anything you do it, without taking account of me. … See, I have sent you three letters and you have not written me one! If you do not wish to come up to me, no one compels you. These letters I have written to you because your sister compels me to write from here. But since you do not wish (?) to write about this, at least write about yourself. I have heard things that do not become you! Send me my helmet and my shield and my five lances and my breastplate and my belt. … The letter-carrier said to me when he came to me: “when I was on the point of departing, I said to your wife and her mother, ‘give me a letter to take Paniskos,’ and they did not give it.” I have sent you one talent by Antonius from Psinestes. I pray for your welfare. 

P.Mich. III 217; translation from Winter 1927

P.Mich. III 217 (c) University of Michigan, P.Mich. inv. 1364

Paniskos’ emotions sway from reprimanding his wife for neglecting him, to saying he’s only made the request because of her sister, to concern for her – but is this concern about her or her reputation? Does hearing things not becoming of her mean slanderous gossip, or has she run into difficulties that affect her life and lifestyle – he sends her money with the letter, on top of the provisions he’s sent previously. We have no other evidence on this matter, but not replying to letters seems to be a family trait. In the letter from Ploutogenia to her mother, which may be considerably later or earlier than those from Paniskos, Ploutogenia notes that she has been in Alexandria for eight months and her mother has not written to her once: “You again consider me then not as your daughter but as your enemy!” (P.Mich. III 221). Maybe some people just aren’t good at replying to letters … 
These letters give us a peak into the life of a military family in Roman Egypt – here at a period of upheaval in the country, but separation is a common experience for soldiers and their wives and children even in quieter times. As we read one letter to the next, we see Paniskos’ changing emotions – from the messengers, he knows that his wife is alive, but aside from possible gossip he has no clue what’s happening with her and why she won’t reply or travel south. Is he overbearing and she uncaring? Or is he anxious and concerned, while she has no time – while caring for her family and their property – to find a scribe to dictate her letter to? While Ploutogenia did not send her husband a letter, we should at least remember that she saved those that she received, and that may tell us something, even without her words. 

*Addendum: or possibly Ploutogenia’s brother; see Smolders (2013) overview of the archive on Trismegistos, noted below.

Technical Details 
Provenance: Found in Philadelphia (Fayum), but written in Coptos (letters from Paniskos) and Alexandria (letter from Ploutogenia).
Date: 297 CE (most likely for the letters from Paniskos).
Language: Greek
Collection: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (the letters have inventory numbers ranging from 1362 to 1371, with some additional small fragments; records and images for all texts can be found via the papyrus collection’s online catalogue).
Designation: P.Mich. III 214–221; SB XVI 12326; P.Mich.inv. 1371+1368a (published in Heilporn 2012) (sigla according to the Checklist of Editions).
Bibliography: Roger S. Bagnall and Raffaella Cribiore (2006), Women’s Letters from Ancient Egypt, 300 BC – AD 800 (Ann Arbor), pp. 285–286 and 294–295; Paul Heilporn (2012), “Une nouvelles des Paniskos,” Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists49, pp. 119–138; Jane Rowlandson (ed.) (1998), Women and Society in Greek and Roman Egypt: A Sourcebook (Cambridge), pp. 147–151; Jacques Schwartz (1969), “Autour du dossier de Paniskos (P.Mich. 214–221),” Aegyptus 48, pp. 110–115; John G. Winter (1927), “The Family Letters of Paniskos,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 13, pp. 59–74.
See also: Online resource: Ruben Smolders (2013) “Ploutogenia, wife of Paniskos”, Trismegistos Archives (ArchID 167), which gives an overview of the whole archive. See here.

Map of Egypt showing locations of the the Fayum and Coptos, with inset of the Fayum showing the location of Philadelphia. Barrington Atlas, maps 3 and 75

A Confirmed Bachelor Wishes to Marry

Jelly Bruning

“My first words to you are those of a tradition on the authority the Prophet—God bless him and grant him peace—, which relates that …”

With these quite unusual words begins P.Khalili I 18, an Arabic letter written on papyrus in the late ninth century CE. Arabic letters of this time usually start with religious formulae asking God to bless the addressee, but here the author of this letter has good reasons to deviate from standard practice and impress the addressee with his erudition and piety. By way of this letter, he asks for the hand of the recipient’s daughter, a young woman who, a marriage broker had informed him, “seeks flawlessness”. A draft of this letter, written on the back of an account the author no longer needed, has been preserved. Despite its crossed-out passages and transposed words, the draft’s careful organisation shows that the author has almost finalised the letter. Uniquely, it consists of a short but fascinating autobiography, carefully adapted to the author’s aim: convincing the addressee that he, a middle-aged man, makes a very good son-in-law.

After narrating the partially preserved prophetic tradition and briefly indicating his interest in marrying the addressee’s daughter, the author begins his autobiography, about “who I am, my conduct, and what I am up to”. Not less than eight long lines into the letter the author introduces himself:            

“I am Ali, known as Takhshi’s secretary—may God honour you.”

Image from: Geoffrey Khan (1993), Bills, Letters and Deeds: Arabic Papyri of the 7th to 11th Centuries (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 109.

His association with this Takhshi is noteworthy. He refers here to Takhshi ibn Bilaburd, a man originally from Ferghana in Central Asia who had made his career in the army and the administration of Ahmad ibn Tulun. Between 868 and 884, Ibn Tulun ruled Egypt and Syro-Palestine almost independently of the Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad. In Egypt, Takhshi served Ibn Tulun as Chief of Police. Later, Takhshi commanded Tulunid armies in the border region that separated the Abbasid caliphate from the Byzantine empire around Tarsus, where he died ca. 878.

Takhshi’s fame and esteem may explain why Ali chooses to identify himself by his nickname, “Takhshi’s secretary”, rather than by giving his genealogy. For similar reasons, the twelfth-century historian al-Sam‘ani thought it important to indicate that someone had been “Takhshi’s nephew”. But Ali may also mention his famous employer in order to quickly pass over his lack of a genealogy. The nickname may conceal that he had entered Muslim society as a convert, as had his employer’s family. Perhaps he uses his nickname to show his affiliation to the person at whose hands he had converted without explicitly referring to his non-Muslim origins. Alternatively, the nickname may conceal that he is a freed slave. As a sign of their dependent status, slaves usually had no patronymic. In order to secure a place for themselves in Muslim society, manumitted slaves often did not use a patronymic after gaining their freedom but referred to their patron instead (usually in the form of “the freedman of so-and-so”). Converts and (ex-)slaves did not enjoy the same social standing as freeborn Arab Muslims. Explicit reference to a second-rate membership of Muslim society is surely something Ali wishes to avoid in his letter. Seemingly unable to boast about a prestigious lineage, Ali instead emphasizes his association with Takhshi ibn Bilaburd:

“I do not believe that any of the city’s (i.e., Fustat’s) notable merchants and important inhabitants fail to know me and my conduct. I was Takhshi’s secretary for fourteen years or more until he died in Tarsus—may God have mercy upon him.” 

Having indicated that his former employer is no longer alive, Ali feels that he has to mention his current sources of income. After all, the addressee needs to know that he can provide for his daughter. Ali writes that his employer’s death did not sever his ties with the deceased’s family. He manages the estates of Takhshi’s heirs for which he receives remunerations. The account he had written at an earlier occasion on the other side of the papyrus may well have been an obsolete record concerning these estates. Ali further writes that after Takhshi’s death he became a merchant and stopped working as a secretary, “seeking spiritual and material health”. His business surely was lucrative. He amassed enough wealth to buy property in various locations in Fustat, including buildings near the addressee’s house. He now lives off the rents of this property, supplemented by the money he receives from Takhshi’s family.

At this point, the letter touches upon more sensitive subjects:

“I never married. Never has a child been born to me, nor was one born still. I do not have relatives, neither a father, nor a mother, nor a sister.” 

Those who did not know him will have raised their eyebrows. Why did a well-off and respected man like him not marry? He explains that he spent his life in the happy company of his parents and siblings and that the situation has now changed.

“But after (my) father, mother, sister and brother had died—may God have mercy upon them—I remained, alone; (a situation) I never experienced before.” 

He is aware that this explanation does not suffice. Despite the presence of loved ones around him, his long unwedded life may give the impression that he did not want to engage in a more intimate relationship with a woman because he wished to hide his homosexuality or impotence. After all, a man’s unwillingness or inability to reproduce is a possible source of disgrace: it is one of the few grounds on which an Abbasid-era woman can divorce her husband. Our author therefore quickly indicates that, while his parents and siblings were still alive, he “bought one slave-girl after the other, without marriage ever being on my mind”. Whatever other tasks he assigned to these girls, here he implies that they served him as concubines who satisfied his heterosexual desires. 

The addressee will have understood the legal implications of these words, especially Ali’s statement “never was a child born to me, nor was one born still”. Concubinage could lead to a slave-girl’s pregnancy. A female slave became a so-called umm walad, “mother of a child”, when her master impregnated her, even when a miscarriage followed or when the child was stillborn. This new legal status gave a female slave many more rights than the average slave enjoyed and fully integrated her into her master’s household. For example, he could no longer sell her or remove her from him in any other way. Like the division of attention in polygamous households, a married man’s intimate relationship with an enslaved woman could cause tensions between him and his wife. Tellingly, Abbasid-era marriage contracts often stipulate that the husband cannot take a concubine or that the wife has the right to sell any of the concubines her husband buys. His addressee, Ali seems to imply, needs not to worry about the relationship between him and the woman he wants to marry. There is nothing serious that ties him to his slave-girls. With these words Ali also indicates that his children with the addressee’s daughter will enjoy the first right to his inheritance. After all, he produced no offspring with his slaves, who would have been entitled to a share in his inheritance, and has no other direct relatives.

To make sure his suitable candidacy for becoming the addressee’s son-in-law comes across, he ends his autobiographical account with the following emphatic passage:

“If I had agreed to marry into a family of those merchants in the city who […] on the condition that the bride-price be paid (for me) and my wishes be fulfilled, I could have given my word many times. They desired that, because of their knowledge of our (i.e., my) beautiful way of living and good conduct.”

This passage also serves as a bridge to the letter’s last lines, in which Ali expresses his esteem for the addressee. That he declined earlier proposals and wishes to marry the addressee’s daughter shows that he regards the addressee highly. In fact, he claims it is the latter’s reputation, his “quest for manliness and valour and what has been described to me of (his) beautiful conduct”, that led him to asking for his daughter’s hand—not the woman herself or the marriage broker’s description of her! After some pious phrases he rounds this unique letter off with a polite request:

“I wait for your answer. So, inform me—may God honour you—about your opinion so that I may become familiar with it, God willing.” 

Technical details 
Provenance: Egypt, probably Fustat
Date: After early 276 AH/889 CE (based on the dates on the account on the recto).
Language: Arabic
Collection: Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, London, UK
DesignationP.Khalili I 18; P.Khalili II 54 verso (see The Checklist of Arabic Documents)
Bibliography: Werner Diem (1993), “Philologisches zu den Khalili-Papyri”, Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 83, pp. 47–48; Werner Diem (1994), “Philologisches zu den Khalili-Papyri II”, Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 84, pp. 59–82; Geoffrey Khan (1993), Bills, Letters and Deeds: Arabic Papyri of the 7th to 11th Centuries (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 107–109 [#54 verso]; ‘Abd al-Karim ibn Muhammad al-Sam‘ani (1988), al-Ansab, ed. ‘Abdallah ‘U. al-Barudi (5 vols., Beirut: Dar al-Jinan), vol. 1, p. 435.

Ahmed ibn Tulun Mosque.. Rare Gem of Islamic Architecture
Mosque of Ibn Tulun (consecrated 884 CE), ruler at the time P.Khalili I 18 was written

A Coptic Mother-in-Law’s Curse

Ágnes Mihálykó

Adam and Eve were the luckiest couple in the world: neither of them had a mother-in-law! Many of us would heartily agree with this joke – not just in our times, but also in antiquity. Yet, among the many harpies of mother-in-laws, few are as mean as the unnamed Coptic woman who cast a particularly malevolent curse against Tnoute, the girl who (according to her) ‘separated my son from me so that he scorns me.’

The person at fault is of course Tnoute. The mother-in-law presents herself as the grieved party, a ‘miserable wretched sinner’, and applies for justice to the Christian ‘Lord God Almighty’, ‘who performs judgment for the mistreated’, as well as to His angels, Michael, Gabriel, and others. This request for divine retribution falls in the established tradition of the so-called ‘prayers of justice’, requests made to divine agents so that they avenge alleged wrongdoings. Tnoute’s wrongdoing, in the eyes of the woman who cast this curse, is separating her son from her – the eternal complaint of mother-in-laws. 

What role Tnoute really had in the deterioration of the mother-son relationship is of course impossible to determine now, but the burning hatred of the mother-in-law survived the centuries that passed. As a punishment for her grievances she begs God to bring a series of misfortunes on her son’s companion: 

You must make her without hope in this world. You must strike her womb and make her barren. You must make her consume the fruit of her womb. You must make a demon descend upon her, [who will cast] her into troublesome illness and great affliction. You must bring a fever upon her, and a [… and a] chill and a numbness of heart and an itching. Bring upon her the twelve […] a worm and blood flow out of her all the days of her life […] She must not live; she comes to death

Translation from Meyer and Smith 1993, #93

Certainly, Coptic curses were not restrained when asking for divine retribution. Two surviving curses ask for the death of the opponents by means of an ulcerous tumor that God, the angels, and the Virgin Mary should bring upon them, and another curse attempts to force the angel serving the holy altar to bring seventy different illnesses upon the victim. The Christian ideals of charity and forgiveness did not stop them from demanding specific and rather vicious means of divine retribution for the perceived injustice. Yet, the mother-in-law’s curses are among the most malicious in the corpus, aiming not only at her daughter-in-law’s health and life but also against her reproductive capacities, in the hope that her son will leave her if they won’t have any offspring. 

The more unfortunate of us only think that our mother-in-law is a wicked witch – poor Tnoute’s was one indeed!

Technical Details
Provenance: Thebes?
Date: 7th to 11th century?
Language: Coptic (Achmimic dialect)
Collection: London, British Library; Or. 6172
Designation: P.Lond.Copt. I 1223 (according to the Checklist of Editions)
Bibliography: Marvin W. Meyer and Richard Smith (1999), Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power (Princeton: Princeton University Press), pp. 196–197 (#93).

In lieu of an image of the text itself (which hasn’t been photographed), here’s an image of a 2nd century AD lady from a Fayum mummy portrait

On A Document Signed by Cleopatra

Jennifer Cromwell

On 23 February 33 BCE, the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra VII, issued a royal ordinance granting financial privileges to a Roman absentee landlord. These privileges include tax exemptions and protection of his workers and other property from various impositions. More than the economic implications of this document, and the role of absentee Roman landlords in late Ptolemaic Egypt, this papyrus document has gained most renown over the past two decades because of a single word at the end of the text, which may have been written in Cleopatra’s own hand.

Unfortunately, the name of the landlord in question is mostly damaged and there is some disagreement regarding his identity. Peter van Minnen reads here the name of a Roman general, Publius Canidius Crassus, a well-known figure connected with Antony. However, Klaus Zimmermann reads the name Quintus Cascellius, an otherwise unattested member of a known family. This issue highlights some of the problems inherent in dealing with papyri: ink traces can be read in different ways, by different scholars, resulting in considerably different interpretations in texts. Here, I follow van Minnen’s reading, but in the understanding that multiple stories can – and have – been told about this document. 

P.Bingen 45 (c) Berlin, Papyrus Collection of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (P.25239)

The document grants Canidius and his heirs (no minor point, this reference to his successors indicates that his involvement with Egypt was intended for the long-term) exemptions from export and import taxes for wheat and wine. Per annum, he can export from Egypt 10,000 artabas of wheat (ca. 300 tonnes) tax-free, and import 5,000 amphorae of wine from Cos. Additionally, he also won’t pay taxes on any of the land he owns in Egypt. 

“We have granted to Publius Canidius (Crassus) and his heirs the annual exportation of 10,000 artabas of wheat and the annual importation of 5,000 Coan amphoras of wine without anyone exacting anything in taxes from him or any other expense whatsoever. We have also granted tax exemption on all the land he owns in Egypt on the understanding that he shall not pay any taxes, either to the state account or to the special account of us and others, in any way in perpetuity.” 

Translation: van Minnen 2000 and 2003 (for slightly different translations, see Jones 2006 and Bagnall and Derow 2004)

The tenants working Canidius’ land were also protected. They were not liable to corvées or additional levies, including expenses directed towards the army. The beasts of burden on his farms, both for ploughing and transportation, could not be commandeered by the army, nor could his boats.

“We have also granted that all his tenants are exempt from personal liabilities (such as the corvée) and from paying taxes without anyone exacting anything from them, that they do not even contribute to the extraordinary assessments in the nomes or pay for expenses of soldiers or officers. We have also granted that the animals used for ploughing and sowing as well as the beasts of burden and the boats used for the transportation (down the Nile) of the wheat are likewise exempt from ‘personal’ liabilities and from taxes and cannot be commandeered (by the army). Let it be written to whom it may concern, so that knowing it they can act accordingly.”

This mention of the army is a reminder of bigger events happening in the Mediterranean world: the escalating conflict between Octavian (the future Augustus) and Mark Antony. And Canadius was no small player in these events. As long as this identification is the correct one, this papyrus is a rare example in which the individuals involved also occur in Roman sources. Our main evidence for Canidius comes from the 1st/2nd century CE biographer Plutarch. In his Life of Antony, Plutarch describes Canidius as “a man of the greatest influence with Antony” (Ant. 42.4). He was in charge of Antony’s land forces and Cleopatra persuaded him to convince Antony that she should accompany him to war, against the advice of Antony’s other confidents (Ant. 56.2–3). 

“Cleopatra … persuaded Canidius by large bribes to plead her clause with Antony, and to say that it was neither just to drive away from the war a woman whose contributions to it were so large, [3] nor was it for the interest of Antony to dispirit the Egyptians, who formed a large part of his naval force; and besides, it was not easy to see how Cleopatra was inferior in intelligence to anyone of the princes who took part in the expedition, she who for a long time had governed so large a kingdom by herself, and by long association with Antony had learned to manage large affairs.”

Translation: Bernadotte Perin, 1920 (available on Perseus)

The ‘large bribes’ that Plutarch mentions are probably not the fiscal favours that are reported in this document, which predates the events in question, and probably were not of sufficient size to convince Canidius to support her. What we see instead in our document is direct evidence, from the Egyptian side, of the effect of Cleopatra’s relationship with Rome, which extended beyond high politics and had a real impact on economic life in Egypt, through landownership and trade. Cleopatra used fiscal incentives to help keep influential Romans on her side. In contrast to later presentations of Cleopatra, sex wasn’t the only thing she had to offer important Roman men.

Beyond the connection with the Roman world, this papyrus has become best known for its last word, Greek ginestho, “Make it happen!” 

Close up of Cleopatra’s subscription.

In several articles since 2000, Peter van Minnen has argumed that this must be Cleopatra’s own note. In its original edition, this identification was not made – and there is no universal agreement that she really did write it (Bagnall and Derow 2004 and Sarri 2018 are unconvinced the word is in a different hand to the rest of the text). It must be stressed, we don’t actually have her signature in terms of her actual name – that would be too easy. Van Minnen’s identification of this directive as in her hand comes from context: after dictating the contents of the edict, only she had the authority to sign the text into law. Her handwriting would have been recognised by officials in the highest levels of the administration, who would be responsible for copying and disseminating this ordinance.

To date, this is the only text that we have that may contain her subscription, and in many respects it’s a stroke of luck that this document has survived at all. Rather than come from an archive of official paperwork, this papyrus was recovered from mummy cartonnage. Wastepaper was regularly reused at this time as a form of papier-mâché to pad out funerary masks. While this ordinance was written in Alexandria, it was found further south in the cemetery at Abusir el-Melek, and the other papyri in this particular cartonnage date to the Augustan period. It is not impossible that other texts bearing her subscription have simply yet to be found and studied. If and when such texts are identified, it may be a double-edged sword. If the writing is the same, we will have a bundle of texts providing evidence for Cleopatra signing off a range of edicts. However, if the writing is different, we may have lost this (already uncertain) connection to the queen herself. Papyri can give great gifts, but also take them away. Our understanding of history and evidence is not static; new discoveries mean being open and willing to modify our own interpretations.

Regardless of what the future may hold, the importance of this subscription and the possibilities that it raises cannot be understated. It shows Cleopatra as a ruler involved in the day-to-day operations of her country, including the mundane realities of governing. This papyrus, today in Berlin, is just one of thousands of texts that she must have dictated and quite possibly signed during the daily running of Egypt. It is also a reminder that the Egyptian evidence reveals Cleopatra as an independent figure in her own right, and not one who existed purely in connection to famous men.

Technical Details 
Provenance: Written in Alexandria; found in Abusir el-Melek.
Date: 23 February 33 BCE (26 Mechir, year 19 of Cleopatra’s reign)
Language: Greek
Collection: Berlin, Papyrus Collection of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (P.25239)
Designation: P.Bingen 45 (according to the Checklist of Editions)
Bibliography: Roger S. Bagnall and Peter Derow (2005), The Hellenistic Period: Historical Sources in Translation (Oxford: Blackwell), pp. 109–110 [#63]; Prudence J. Jones (2006), Cleopatra: A Sourcebook (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press), pp. 202–204; Peter van Minnen (2000), “An Official Act of Cleopatra (With a Subscription in Her Own Hand),” Ancient Society 30: 29–34; Peter van Minnen (2001), “Further Thoughts on the Cleopatra Papyrus,” Archiv für Papyrusforschung 47: 74–80; Peter van Minnen (2001), “De handtekening van Cleopatra,” Handelingen van de Koninklijke Zuid-Nederlandse Maatschappij 55: 147–159; Peter van Minnen (2003), “A Royal Ordinance of Cleopatra and Related Documents,” in Cleopatra Reassessed, ed. Susan Walker and Sally-Ann Ashton (London: British Museum), pp. 35–44; Peter van Minnen (2018), “P.Bingen 45 Revisited,” Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 55: 292–293; Antonia Sarri (2018), Material Aspects of Letter Writing in the Graeco-Roman World 500 BC – AD 300 (Berlin), p. 168; Klaus Zimmermann (2002), “P.Bingen 45: eine Steuerbefreiung für Q. Cascellius, adressiert an Kaisarion,” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 138: 133–139

Mob Rule and Personal Relations in an Egyptian Village

Jennifer Cromwell

One night, an angry mob marched across the Egyptian village Deir el-Medina with the intention of beating up a woman. The woman’s crime? She had been sleeping with a married man for the past eight months. 

“Your people – their old and their young, both men and women – were on the move at night. They were coming, saying: ‘We are going to beat her and her people’.”

So begins this letter, written in hieratic and today held in the British Museum, which contains the only details we have about this matter.

P.BM EA 10416 (recto)

As is often the case with letters, many of the points are not clear. The events are relayed in a series of reported statements from different individuals and it’s not always easy to determine where one ends and the next begins. To make matters more complicated, ‘your’ refers to different people at different times, depending on the nature of the reported speech. Furthermore, some vital details are simply not included: the name of the woman herself is unknown! This lack of identification may be because the letter was sent to her – there is no address (a messenger delivering the letter would know to whom it was being sent in the village), but the content suggests that this is the case.

Before the crowd reached the woman, a village official (again without a name, just the title ‘overseer of the estate’) intervened, stopping them in their path and asking them about their intentions. He is told:

“It’s eight whole months until today that he’s been having sex with that woman, even though he’s not (the?) husband! If he were the husband, would he not have sworn his oath about your woman?”

The letter recounts how the official asks the woman further questions about the relationship with the married man, who we learn is called Nesamenemope.

As for Nesamenemope, why did you accept him as your lover? Are you looking for adversaries? If only [they had not gone] by dark of night to carry off the things of that sweet boy, saying ‘We are going […] as well’; so they said. If this man wants you, let [him] enter the court with his wife, so he can swear an oath and come to your house. But, if he will not sort this out, sue him – (it’s) your word against his!

After dispensing this advice, the official’s final comment is to say that, while he held back the angry mob this time, he won’t do so again. The message is clear: the grown-ups need to get their relationships in order.

P.BM EA 10416 (verso)

With the broad strokes of this affair clear enough, what about the crowd? Why are they angry and is this generally a comment on village punishment for known adulterers, and is the woman really the one at fault? The gathering crowd is not just made up of any old person in the village. The men and women, both young and old, are connected to Nesamenemope (presumably his kin, but this isn’t explicitly stated), and they intend not only to beat the woman in question, but also other people connected with her. As Leire Olabarria has noted in her recent book, Kinship and Family in Ancient Egypt, we may be seeing here punishment and protection meted out by informal networks, whether networks based on patronage or kinship, or a combination of both. In this light, the group of people do not necessarily reflect broader responses against women in adulterous affairs. Rather, they are acting to protect a member of their own network – Nesamenemope. Later in the text, when the official refers (mockingly) to the ‘sweet boy’, it becomes clear that they were also intending to retrieve Nesamenemope’s belongings from the woman’s house, further severing the ties between them. 

The official’s advice is that, should Nesamenemope want to live with his lover, he needs to leave his wife officially. He refers to a court and an oath, suggesting that there is a legal process for divorce, which belies the seemingly informal nature of marriage in ancient Egypt that we see from other sources. John Gee advocates on the basis of this text that marriage was a more formal arrangement than has been supposed, requiring an oath and being recognized in court. However, why should marriage in Egypt conform with only one of these two options, i.e., a formal, legal status vs an informal living arrangement? In this case, an oath may have been required to acknowledge that Nesamenemope’s current wife would be free from any obligation towards him and would be able to remarry in the future. An oath may also have dealt with any property issues, for example. As the late Jaana Toivari-Viitala observed, there may have been far more ways in which men and women could live together in pharaonic Egypt, and we should avoid imposing modern, Western standards onto ancient situations. 

Technical Details 
Provenance: Deir el-Medina, Egypt.
Date: 1,189–1,077 BCE (late Dynasty 20).
Language: Late Egyptian (script: hieratic).
Collection: British Museum (EA 10416).
Designation: P.BM EA 10416 (also P.Salt 1821/131)
Bibliography: John Gee (2001), “Notes on Egyptian Marriage: P. BM 10416 Reconsidered,” Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar 15 (2001), pp. 17-25; Jac J. Janssen (1988) “Marriage problems and public reactions (P. BM 10416),” in Pyramid Studies and Other Essays Presented to I. E. S. Edwards, ed. by John Baines et al. (London: EES) pp. 134–137 + pl. 25–28; Jac J. Janssen (1991) Late Ramesside Letters and Communications (London: British Museum Press), pp. 28–31, pls. 15–18; Leire Olabarria (2020) Kinship and Family in Ancient Egypt: Archaeology and Anthropology in Dialogue (Cambridge: CUP), pp. 163–164; Edward Wente (1990) Letters from Ancient Egypt (Atlanta: Scholars Press), p. 203.            

See also the text’s entry on the Deir el-Medina Database.

Additional Bibliography:
Jaana Toivari-Viitala (2001) Women at Deir el-Medina: A Study of the Status and Roles of the Female Inhabitants in the Workmen’s Community during the Ramesside Period (Leiden: NINO)
Jaana Toivari-Viitala (2013) ‘Marriage and Divorce’, in Elizabeth Frood and Willeke Wendrich (eds) UCLA Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt(Los Angeles), available open access here (a good source for further bibliography on the topic)

Blessing a Baby Against Every Illness

Ágnes Mihálykó

Christians of Egypt received blessing from the church in many forms: as prayers of inclination at the end of the Eucharist, when the celebrant blessed the congregation before their departure, as private blessings issued by holy monks, or as material blessings (eulogiai), such as oil from a pilgrimage centre. There were blessings for the congregation, but also for the house, for animals, or for children.

A papyrus today in Vienna, P.Vindob. K 70, can be recognized an example of the last of these: a blessing for children. It was written in the Fayumic dialect of Coptic, which ensures its provenance from the semi-oasis, and it can be dated to the ninth century. Its editor, Victor Stegemann described it as a “prayer for the healing of a sick person”, in particular for a sick child, as it requests healing from a number of sicknesses:

…in your presence, increase him and care for him in good, fill him with wisdom and the understanding of wisdom. Open the faculties of his heart so that he may know all things… May his parents rejoice over his growth! Count him among the flock of Christ, for you are the Lord since the beginning, you made man according to your form and your image! Take all sickness and breath from this little child, whether it is … or a fever, or an evil eye, or an evil sickness, take them from him, bless him with health, for you are the Lord, from whom the healing of all sickness come and it is you who heals souls and bodies and spirits through the grace of the love of mankind of your only-begotten son Jesus Christ, our Lord, He through whom glory to you with him and the Holy Spirit, now and in all times, for all ages of ages, amen.

Translation by Edward O.D. Love for the Coptic Magical Papyrus Project’s database Kyprianos with edits.
P.Vindob.K 70 (c) Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

Certain phrases of the prayer sit awkwardly with Stegemann’s interpretation as a prayer for healing. Why does a prayer for healing ask God to “fill [the child] with wisdom,” to “open the faculties of his heart so that he may know all things”, to allow “his parents rejoice over his growth”, or to “count him among the flock of Christ”? The answer to this question comes from parallel prayers in other languages, which help us understand this Coptic papyrus. In a canonical-liturgical collection that stems from late fifth or sixth-century Alexandria, but which is preserved in a thirteenth century Ethiopic codex unicus, there is a “prayer of the infant” which requests similar things (growth and health) for a new-born baby. It also specifies the occasion on which the prayer is recited: the reference to “this one whom they have brought to you” earmarks the prayer as the one recited at the presentation of the baby in the church. This rite, known as ekklesiasmos or churching, happened on the fortieth day after birth. 

For the churching of the child, the printed prayer books of the Byzantine rite present three different prayers, which focus on the imminent baptism of the child. The Byzantines also developed a complex set of other prayers for the first weeks after birth: besides a prayer for name-giving on the eighth day, already attested in the eighth century, later prayer books add a prayer for the purification of the mother on the fortieth day and prayers for the day of birth recited in the home. In the late antique and early medieval Egyptian sources, no corresponding prayers have been identified, but in the contemporary Coptic rite there is an absolution of the mother and a naming ceremony for the baby called the ‘prayer of the basin’.

The prayer on P.Vindob. K 70, though it is probably intended to mark the integration of the child in the Christian community, concerns not so much baptism as the well-being and health of the child. In particular, it asks God to “take away all sickness and all breath from this little child, whether it is […] or a fever, or an evil eye, or an evil sickness.” The expression ‘breath’ is difficult to interpret in this context. The Coptic word also means ‘blow’, ‘wind’; could it refer to the colicky condition that so often plagues new-borns and their parents, and that manifests itself in baby farts? 

The apotropaic and therapeutic character of the text prompted Stegemann to include this prayer in his collection of magical texts, though he duly noted the liturgical character of the text and suggested that it was a liturgical blessing, which the parallels confirm. The inclusion of this prayer among magical texts reminds us of the complicated relationship between liturgical and magical prayers. Whereas the two types of texts present clearly distinguishable textual features, they can relate to similar concerns: healing, exorcism, childbirth, fertility, harvest, ritual purity. In the Byzantine rite, a large number of such so-called ‘occasional prayers’ evolved for a wide variety of concerns, including the first step of the child and the launching of a ship. These rites are currently being studied by the Vienna Euchologia Project, which you can read more about here. The Coptic rite has considerably less such prayers, leaving a larger area exclusively to the ‘magical’ idiom, though as P.Vindob. K 70 shows, there were liturgical solutions as well to the eternal concern of the well-being of a baby. 

Technical Details
Provenance: Fayum
Date: 9th century CE
Language: Coptic (Fayumic)
Collection: Vienna, Austrian National Library, Papyrus Collection (P.Vindob. K 70)
Designation: P.Vindob. K 70
Bibliography: Viktor Stegemann (1934), Die koptischen Zaubertexte der Sammlung Papyrus Erzherzog Rainer in Wien. Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-historische Klasse, 1933-34 n°1(Heidelberg), pp. 26 & 63–67, pl. 3, no. XLIII (106); Viktor Stegemann and Walter Till (1935), “Zu den Wiener koptischen Zaubertexten,” Orientalia 4: 195–221 [pp. 214–215, no. XLII].

Further bibliography:
On the Ethiopic liturgical collection, see Alessandro Bausi (2006), “La collezione aksumita canonico-liturgica,” Adamantius12: 43–70. The text is currently being edited by Alessandro Bausi, to whom I owe the information on the prayer.
On the current Coptic rite of the absolution of the woman and the name-giving ceremony, see KHS O. H. E. Burmester (1967), The Egyptian or Coptic Church: A Detailed Description of Her Liturgical Services and the Rites and Ceremonies Observed in the Administration of Her Sacraments(Cairo), pp. 112–114.
On Byzantine childbed prayers, see Eirini Afentoulidou, Claudia Rapp, Daniel Galadza, Ilias Nesseris, Giulia Rossetto and Elisabeth Schiffer (2017), “Byzantine Prayer Books as Sources for Social History and Daily Life,” Jahrbuch der österreichischen Byzantinistik 67: 200–203.


Police Brutality in Ptolemaic Egypt

Jennifer Cromwell

On 14 September 194 BCE, the chief of police of the Polemon district and several other men raided the workshop of Petermouthis son of Peteësis. Forcibly removing him from his workshop, they dragged him through his village, Oxyrhyncha, physically abusing him and ultimately taking from him money and even the shirt off his back. After receiving the money (4 silver drachmas and 1,300 bronze drachmas, plus an additional 44 silver drachmas placed in the bank in his name), the officers released Petermouthis. Upon his release, the cobbler wrote a petition to the most senior official of his district, the stratêgos Ptolemaios, recounting his mistreatment and requesting succour.

To Ptolemaios, syngenêsand stratêgos, from Petermouthis son of Peteësis, 7-aroura machimosof those under Chomenis, also a crippled cobbler of those from Tebtynis of the Polemon district, but living in Oxyrhyncha of the same district. 

On the first of the intercalary days of Mesore, year 8, Dionysios, police chief (archiphylakitês) of the district, arriving in the village and, entering my workshop with Demetrios, and Apollonios the eisangeleus, and Teos and Nechthenibis and other ephodoi, seized me and led me through the village, with every form of mistreatment and insolence (hybris) and blows, up to the middle street of the city. And they did not release me before shaking me down for 4 silver drachmas and 1,300 bronze drachmas; and they forced Pnepheros son of Horos, another machimos, to place at the bank in my name for him (i.e., Dionysios) a promissory note payable to Areios, epispoudastês of the district, for 44 silver drachmas; and in addition they forced this same Areios to accept the aforementioned 44 silver drachmas from him (i.e., Dionysios), disdaining me because I am helpless and crippled. And they also carried off the clothes I was wearing. 

I ask that you not overlook me, but if it does not seem improper, please send […]. And if this takes place, I shall receive succour from you. Year 8, Mesore intercalary day 1. Farewell.

(Translation slightly modified from: John Bauschatz (2013) Law and Enforcement, p. 151)
  • Eisangeleus: literally “announcers”, a lower-ranked subordinate of court officials.
  • Ephedos (pl. ephedoi): literally “wayfarer”, an official who probably worked alongside roads and had police duties, often acting as bodyguards for police officers.
  • Epispoudastês: a grain transport official.
  • Machimos: a soldier or guard with a land allotment of 5, 7, or 10 arouras, most often of Egyptian origin.
  • Stratêgos: the highest ranked civil official in the Egyptian provinces. 
  • Syngenês: a court title.
P.Coll. Youtie I 16 (c) Cologne, Papyrussammlung (P1448)

Petermouthis’ account is visceral. It presents excessive force being exerted against him – in addition to the chief of police, Dionysius, four other officials are named, together with an uncounted number of ephedoi, a category of official with policing duties, who often acted as bodyguards for police officers. Petermouthis was heavily outnumbered. Why were such measures taken against Petermouthis, a man who in his own words was a ‘crippled cobbler’?

As is often the case with such petitions, we only have Petermouthis’ side of the story, an account that does not name or draw upon witness testimony. There is no counterpart text from the chief of police stating the charges against Petermouthis or why such force may have been considered necessary. Police at this time had broad powers, including the ability to confiscate goods, collect tax arrears, provide crowd control, and arrest and detain offenders. Given the sums of money involved, it is quite possible that Dionysius was there to collect unpaid debt and, expecting resistance from Petermouthis (perhaps based on previous interactions with him), took along multiple officers in support. However, even without any other statements, whether contradictory or corroborating, it does not seem that the end justified the means.

Is this account typical of policing in Ptolemaic Egypt? A number of texts from this period provide further examples of police brutality, including various types of corruption, as well as instances of police inefficiency, including inaction and slow responses. The surviving evidence, together with that for the effective functioning of the police service, is collected by John Bauschatz in his study of law and enforcement of Ptolemaic Egypt (see ‘Technical Details’). Bauschatz concludes that police misbehaviour overall seems to have been minimal at this time, and that the system in general functioned well, especially in light of the difficulties faced (in particular in terms of communication, as well as the broad powers exercised by officers). 

Yet, while the system may have worked well on many occasions, corrupt officers and police violence were still a part of life and very real threat in villages throughout the Egyptian countryside.

**There is considerable literature on violence and corruption in Ptolemaic and later Roman Egypt; for example, see in addition to Bauschatz’s works the following studies:

  • Richard Alston (1994) “Violence and Social Control in Roman Egypt,” in Proceedings of the 20th International Congress of Papyrologists, Copenhagen, 23 August, 1992, edited by Adam Bülow-Jacobsen (Copenhagen), pp. 517–21.
  • Roger Bagnall (1989) “Official and Private Violence in Roman Egypt,” Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists26: 201–216.
  • Ari Z. Bryen (2013) Violence in Roman Egypt: A Study in Legal Interpretation(Pennsylvania). 

Technical Details 
Provenance: Fayum, Egypt.
Date: 14 September 109 BCE (note, the year is uncertain).
Language: Greek.
Collection: Cologne Papyrus Collection / Papyrussammlung (P.1448).
Designation: P.Coll.Youtie I 16 (according to the Checklist of Editions)
Bibliography: John Bauschatz (2007), The Strong Arm of the Law? Police Corruption in Ptolemaic Egypt,” The Classical Journal 103/1, pp. 13–39; John Bauschatz (2013), Law and Enforcement in Ptolemaic Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 151–152.