Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.06.18

Günter Poethke (ed.), Griechische Papyrusurkunden spätrömischer und byzantinischer Zeit aus Hermupolis Magna. Ägyptische Urkunden aus den Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, Griechische Urkunden, XVII. Band. Archiv, Beih. 7.   München and Leipzig:  K. G. Saur, 2001.  Pp. xxxix, 184; pls. 60.  ISBN 3-598-77541-5.  EUR 94.00.  

Reviewed by Roger S. Bagnall, (Columbia University)
Word count: 1585 words

This collection of papyrus texts is the seventeenth volume of the venerable series of the BGU (volume 18, part 1 already appeared in 2000). Like most recent volumes in the series, its contents are focused, in this case both by provenance (Hermopolis) and by date (late 3rd to 7th centuries, what papyrologists usually call "Byzantine" but here is more self-consciously called late Roman and Byzantine). The texts are all documentary and belong to familiar genres: leases, loans, sales, orders, official records, receipts, accounts, lists, and letters. In their aggregate they make a substantial contribution to the documentation of Byzantine Hermopolis, with some useful additions particularly to the fifth-century material, but no one item is likely to grab the attention of non-papyrologists. Much of the new material concerns taxation, as is commonly the case. Non-specialist readers will, as usual with papyrus editions today, find their way assisted by translations, but the volume is otherwise essentially written for specialists.

An introduction provides useful information on the acquisition of the papyri, the establishment of their provenance, and on German work at Hermopolis. A dozen of the papyri were purchased on the market (1899, 1910, 1962); another dozen definitely come from Otto Rubensohn's excavations (1903-1906), and most of the rest lack definitive indication in the museum register but probably come from these same excavations. Poethke has worked through Rubensohn's daybooks and provides information beyond what was given by Herwig Maehler in his introduction to BGU XII. Most of the finds came from the last days of the otherwise relatively barren 1904/5 season, and even then Rubensohn was disappointed.

Three pages of "results" of this volume of texts follow (xxxv-xxxviii). Only one item comes from a codex (the tax account 2723), and there is one papyrus-roll protocol (2690). The first seven texts (2675-2681) come from the Taurinos archive published mainly by Maehler and add some interesting information to that family's history (these are discussed below). Poethke concludes with a brief discussion of the meaning and use of the letter pi with a stroke through it at the head of Byzantine papyrus letters; the present volume contributes additional evidence in support of the long-held view, supported in detail by H. Harrauer and J. Diethart in JÖBG 36 (1986) 13-17, that it represents a fossilized παρά, originally always followed by the title of the letter's author, which later dropped away.1

The editorial presentation of the papyri is that familiar to readers of modern editions of this kind: introduction, text, apparatus normalizing spellings, translation, and line notes. At the end are the usual indexes, and the volume has a complete set of plates, which are of high quality but sometimes reduced to the point of limited legibility.2 Some of the papyri are in excellent condition; others have suffered from the usual losses and holes, and a few are badly rubbed in places, leaving the reader with the impression that intelligibility lies just beyond reach. No one who has edited similar texts will be tempted to undervalue the labor and skill that went into the work of decipherment, and Poethke deserves our gratitude for the long and patient study that has resulted in the present volume (13 years even since its first incarnation as Poethke's Habilitationsschrift). No more than in any other volume are the texts flawless, however, and papyrologists have already started to work on improving them.3 The introductions and notes are very sober and generally brief; many times I would have welcomed a greater display of curiosity by the editor about the contents of his texts.

For example, the rare name Arimmas in 2686 (Fl. Theagenes son of Arimmas subscribes for illiterate borrowers) might have been worth a comment. The Doric names are probably a remnant of Cyrenaean military settlement in Egypt in the early Hellenistic period (cf. for the name LGPN I 58-59), still proudly preserved seven centuries later. Three lines on the back of 2683 are left unpublished, presumably because they are in Coptic, although a plate of them appears (Taf. XI). The list of names published as 2677 leads off with a Iohannes ὡς χρηματίζων, an expression unparalleled as such but reminiscent of the καὶ ὡς χρηματίζει common until a century earlier. By now, instead of referring to a cumulation of civic offices, it probably refers to the man's status in the military, a significant shift. Surely a note would have been worthwhile.

The small group of additional texts concerning the archive of the family of Fl. Taurinos is among the most valuable contributions of this volume. This archive is one of the relatively few to date to the fifth century CE, one of the least well-documented parts of the millennium from which we have Greek papyri, and it is unusual in the long time-span the family's papers cover. Herwig Maehler (BGU XII, p. xxii) established a range of 426 to 513, or 87 years, on the basis of the documents available to him. Taurinos I rose from biarchos to primicerius; his son Iohannes I rose to a similar rank and built the family's landholdings. Taurinos II had a military career as well, but he ended his life as a clergyman, presbyter of the principal church of Hermopolis in 510 (he receives a receipt for the rent he paid on a house there in 2680 as well as a tax receipt in 2681. His son Iohannes II, in turn, appears as a lessor in 512/3 (P.Coll.Youtie II 90). Another possible family member (Fl. Taurinos son of Phoibammon [a grandson of Taurinos I by his younger son?]) appears in the undated P.Bingen 138. Taurinos is not such an uncommon name as to make it easy to tell whether occasional later bearers of the name may have been members of this family.

This archive is one of our most robust bodies of evidence that the "E/gypte des notables" familiar to us from the papyri of the Roman period had by no means disappeared in late antiquity. It does, however, show how the locus of activity of these well-off, upwardly striving families shifted from the municipal offices so central to their counterparts of the second through fourth centuries to imperial service, both military and civil, and the church. At the same time, the career of Taurinos II shows that the local leadership of the church continued to come, at least in part, from this same stratum of society.

The sixth-century papyri are on the face of it less remarkable, but collectively they are of real historical importance. Our documentation for the sixth century is otherwise heavily archival, coming to a large degree from the papers of the Oxyrhynchite Great Houses (especially the Apions) and the archive of Dioskoros of Aphrodite. These show very different patterns of land ownership and management, and concomitantly different pictures of the nature of labor relationships. It has remained a key difficulty of the history of this period how far either of these bodies of evidence is of general applicability: Is the Oxyrhynchite unique (or unusual), or is it normal? Were other villages like Aphrodite (a large village and formerly a nome capital)? Were the Great Houses a central phenomenon throughout Egypt, a local peculiarity, or of limited importance even in the Oxyrhynchite? The Hermopolite material, which does not appear to come from any unified archival source comparable to these groups (although there are smaller dossiers), provides an invaluable body of evidence for the holdings and practices of urban landowners, both individual and institutional, and thus helps to fill the gap between the Great Houses and the village notables. Much of it remains unpublished, but each installment helps to fill out the picture.4

One nice example is 2685, a lease of two arouras belonging to Aurelia Aphthonia; the same parcel is leased in three other Berlin documents published more than half a century ago (all reprinted under the rubric SB VI 9085). We now have a small dossier from a period of a quarter-century, with leases in 565 for four years, 579 for three years, 585 for the quite extraordinary length of eleven years, and in 589 for two years, all apparently for the same plot of land. What happened to break off the 11-year lease recorded in 2685 is of course not reported. The boundaries of the plot were left blank in the lease, but the subscription, witnesses, and notarial signature are all present, indicating that the document was in fact executed. It is interesting that the lessees in the 11-year lease published here were not georgoi, tenant farmers, as in the other three cases, but stippourgoi, workers with the raw materials of linen deriving from the flax plant. They perhaps wished to secure long-term access to this land, and they committed themselves not to withdraw from the lease before its term if the lessor so wished, but mutual agreement may have terminated it long before its intended date.

This volume then falls into the category, typical in papyrology, of material largely unspectacular in itself but with many small points of interest, cumulatively contributing to providing the material for many historical questions. It is also well within papyrological norms in sticking close to the documents themselves and hardly venturing at all to assess their historical contribution. That remark is not intended as criticism, because it is hard to move from text to history when editing miscellaneous texts of modest dimensions. But it should reinforce the point that the volume is, like many such editions, rewarding reading only for specialists who can bring to it an extensive context.


1.   An exceptionally early example (probably early 4th century) of the phenomenon has turned up in P.Vindob.inv. G 23106 + 28712, to be published by Fritz Mitthof and me in the forthcoming volume in memory of Ulrike Horak.
2.   In such cases, however, the originals are often not much easier to read than the plates, and Klaas Worp has confirmed on the originals that this is the case with many of the most difficult papyri in this volume.
3.   See D. Hagedorn, ZPE 138 (2002) 113-116 for corrections to 2703, 2713, 2720 and 2728. Hagedorn has also discovered that 2688 is part of the same document as P.Hamb. IV 266 (this discovery is reported online in the Heidelberger Gesamtverzeichnis der griechischen Papyrusurkunden aus Ägypten []); he plans a reedition.
4.   For the seventh century, an exceptionally valuable contribution is made by the fiscal codex published by Jean Gascou as P.Sorb. II 69.

Read Latest
Index for 2002
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:27:58, Friday, 03 April 2009