Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.02.03

Paul Schubert, A Yale Papyrus (P. Yale III 137) in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library III. American Studies in Papyrology 41.   Oakville:  American Society of Papyrologists, 2001.  Pp. xii, 112; pls. 7.  ISBN 0-9700591-1-6.  $44.95.  

Reviewed by Jane Rowlandson, King's College London (
Word count: 2794 words

This welcome volume finally sees the full publication of a single but highly important documentary papyrus, one of our key sources for landholding distribution in Roman Egypt. The text is a register (drafted by the village secretary) of private grain and orchard land at the village of Philadelphia in the Fayum for year 25 of Caracalla (AD 216/7), intended, as the text itself states, as the basis for contributions to be sent to Syria for the impending Parthian war.1 The register, written in seven columns on the recto of the papyrus (the verso is blank) is complete apart from minor damage, especially in col. i (which makes it unlikely that there was ever an introductory first column as in BGU II 659, specifying that it should be posted in public; see pp. 1-2). Its 224 lines thus provide a comprehensive snapshot of private landholdings at the village (though there was also non-private land not included in the list; see further below). It merits the attention not just of papyrologists but of anyone interested in the structure of Roman provincial society.

As P. Yale inv. 296, the unpublished text has enjoyed a shadowy presence in work on Roman Egypt for nearly four decades, as the result of three preliminary studies by John Oates, and Alan Bowman's use of it for comparison with the fourth-century Hermopolite land registers, discussed and corrected by Roger Bagnall.2 Hence the importance of making the text available to all in an authoritative publication, with plates to enable readings to be checked (admittedly these are slightly pale, and reduced to just over half size), justifying the apparent indulgence of devoting a separate volume to one comparatively short text.3 Schubert (who was able to use earlier transcripts by John Oates and Susan Stephens) is well-equipped for his task by having previously edited the family archive of M. Lucretius Diogenes from Philadelphia, derived, like the Yale papyrus, from the dealer Maurice Nahmann (p. 1).4 Schubert notes the substantial overlap of names in 137 with those of P. Diog. 44-45 (two lists of payments in kind), and several other contemporary papyri (usefully summarised, pp. 9-10).

The publication of the text itself is accompanied by substantial editorial material: 30 pages of introduction, 21 of notes; an appendix systematically listing the landowners and their holdings, in addition to the translation; and eight indices. This draws attention and provides background to numerous features of the text (e.g. practices of alphabetisation, p. 4; the rules under which soldiers could own land, p. 75; an apparent case of bigamy, p. 79), in addition to discussing with admirable caution the value of its statistical information on landholding sizes (11-30). If Schubert has not exhausted the potential of this important document, a reviewer can only try to convey the reasons for its importance and to suggest some respects in which Schubert's commentary needs qualification or could be taken further.

Philadelphia can hardly be described as a typical Egyptian village. Founded by Ptolemy II as a model town named after his sister/wife Arsinoe Philadelphos, it is famous as the origin of the massive 'Zenon archive' and the location of a 10,000 aroura estate granted by Ptolemy to his dioiketes, Apollonios (Zenon's employer), where agricultural development and innovation took place on a large scale. Philadelphia is less conspicuous in the later Ptolemaic period but re-emerges in the mid-first century AD through the papers of the tax collector Nemesion. Now it figures as 'a model of Romanization', where numerous members of the Julio-Claudian imperial family and their friends and freedmen held tax-exempt estates (all eventually absorbed by the emperor). Over 10% of the male tax-paying population of the village (around 900 in total) were privileged workers on these estates.5 Some villagers have already adopted Roman names, and we begin to find soldiers and veterans connected with the village, a conspicuous feature of its subsequent history. Some understanding of this background (which Schubert supplies in part) is needed for a full appreciation of the information provided by our text.

The land register commences (line 8) with totals for private grain land (3826 arouras) and orchard land (757 ar.).6 Schubert shows that the discrepancy between these figures and the totals of the legible figures in the subsequent list can be adequately explained by allowing for the entries lost in lacunae (pp. 9-10). By comparing the Philadelphian figures to data from other villages where we have figures for both private grain land and for all grain land (that is, including the categories of public land and imperial estates), Schubert extrapolates a total area for Philadelphia of around 7970-11956 ar.; but his calculations seem to have forgotten to include the orchard land. And I do not understand his statement 'private land in third-century Philadelphia could have covered roughly the same total surface' as Apollonios' 10,000 ar. gift-estate (pp. 15-16). Even if 'private' is a slip for 'grain', the comparison seems inappropriate, because Apollonios' estate is known to have included extensive vineyards, and there must always have been other land belonging to Philadelphia besides Apollonios' estate. The central point here is rather that our register almost certainly covers under half of the total land of Philadelphia, and perhaps barely one third; and, while other texts confirm the existence of public and imperial land at the village, they give little clue about its overall distribution.

The bulk of the register is a list of individual owners and their holdings, divided into three sections. The first section, headed 'Alexandrian magistrates', lists five entries. A second heading, 'local magistrates and persons of archon rank' (ἀρχόντων ἐντοπίων καὶ ἀρχ[ο]ντικῶν), is followed by nine legible names and three or more damaged entries. The same damage, at the foot of col. I, may also explain the absence of a heading to the longest section, with some 181 entries, nearly all legible. Schubert, like all earlier commentators on this text, assumes these to be the villagers, and this is surely correct. Before the final signature, the list concludes with two largely illegible 'global categories', the second of which may be ownerless land (lines 215-19, with notes); the amount of land in these two categories, at over 12% of the total for the village, is very substantially larger than any individual's holding.

The list is thus organised by a hierarchy of status descending from Alexandrian absentee landowners down to villagers. Schubert rightly interprets the middle category, 'local magistrates and persons of archon rank', as referring to the elite of the nome metropolis, Arsinoe/Ptolemais Euergetis, the group from whom the civic magistrates and councillors were now drawn, following Septimius Severus' grant of councils and full civic status to the metropoleis in AD 200. But it is more questionable whether Schubert is right to equate this group with those elsewhere described as 'metropolitai' (esp. pp. 18f.). In many tax registers, 'metropolitai' seems to encompass all residents of the metropolis, not only the elite (for the practical reason of helping collectors locate their taxpayers). And even the stricter use of the term, denoting the hereditary group of metropolitans who enjoyed the privilege of paying reduced poll tax, may have included a wider section of the population than just those whose wealth enabled them to hold civic office. There may be a specific reason why 137 focuses on office holding as the defining characteristic of both the Alexandrians and the metropolitans, either because this guaranteed a certain wealth census (but why would this be necessary when the list records precise areas of landed wealth?), or more likely, so that the financial outlay involved in office-holding could be taken into account in assessing the actual contributions (cf. p. 19). But more generally, we see here the replacement of an older way of defining social hierarchy in terms of poll-tax liability (specific to the province of Egypt, and obsolete within a generation of this text), by one that acknowledged the exact equivalence of the Egyptian urban elite to the curial/bouleutic class elsewhere in the empire.7

137 also, of course, reflects the very recent major change in the significance of Roman citizenship resulting from Caracalla's universal grant in the Constitutio Antoniniana of AD 212. Whereas some earlier lists link 'Romans and Alexandrians' in juxtaposition to 'locals' (entopioi),8 now everyone on the list was a Roman citizen, apart from the couple of slaves. But our scribe does not bother including the gentilicum 'Aurelius' for all the newly enfranchised citizens -- an omission common even in later tax lists (e.g. P. Oxy. XXII 2346) -- although his own name, Aurelius Pasion, probably reflects enfranchisement under the CA. More surprisingly, Schubert points out that not all individuals whose Roman citizenship predated the CA are here given their full Roman names; for instance, (M. Aurelius) Papirius, ex-gymnasiarch (line 22 with note), and even Stratippos son of Diogenes (line 201 with note), where both father and son are shown by another text to be Marci Flavii. Thus the list is not a reliable guide to the proportion of any status group who already possessed Roman citizenship at the time of the CA, although the names strongly suggest that all the Alexandrians and most of the 'local magistrates' were in fact Roman citizens of longer standing.

The names in fact seem closer to how the individuals were actually known, making 137 a useful source for the study of nomenclature, along the lines of Bagnall's analysis of the names of the elite group of '6475 Hellenes in the Arsinoite nome'.9 Schubert has some useful remarks on those with Roman names (this includes all the largest landholders; pp. 16-19) but otherwise fails to exploit this aspect of the text, apart from labelling as 'nicknames' most of the uninflected Egyptian names. Space does not permit a full analysis here, but a rough count of the villagers' section reveals some striking features. Theophoric names are still the largest group for both men and women, but are much less prevalent than among the '6475', and Roman/Latinate names are virtually as common, at almost 30%, in contrast to a mere 5% among the '6475'. Macedonian and Ptolemaic dynastic names, the second largest category among '6475' men (24%) are conspicuously rare among our Philadelphian villagers (under 3% of male names): just one Ptolemaios (with another among the metropolitan magistrates -- although the name remained common in Roman Egypt), and no Arsinoe anywhere in the list. If their choice of names is any guide, the early third-century landowners of Philadelphia had forgotten the origin of their community in favour of enthusiastic assimilation with their current rulers.

Egyptian names, predictably few among the '6475 Hellenes', are hardly common among our village landowners, around 12% for both men and women, a much smaller proportion than in the comparative evidence from Karanis and Ptolemais Hormou cited by Bagnall. But landowners are clearly not a representative sample of the village population as a whole; the public farmers listed in P. Gen. I 42 (AD 224) are much more Egyptian in nomenclature, and the same would also be true of the taxpayers listed in Nemesion's papers.

137 shows little gender difference in naming practice, in contrast to the more Egyptianized female names among the '6475' (the pool of names in 137 is admittedly much smaller). But there are other notable gender differences in 137. Within each section, names are generally listed alphabetically (by first letter only; with 'heirs' under 'k', for 'kleronomoi'). But three women are not named at all, being simply entered under 'sister of ...', 'wife of ...', and 'daughter of ...' respectively; and some other female entries appear out of the alphabetical order. Schubert notes the arguments against taking the latter as cases of a wife being entered immediately after her husband (line 68 note), but his translations are inconsistent, tentatively accepting this interpretation in 68 but not in the analogous line 139.10 Even if we cannot be certain of the reason, these discrepancies may reflect the scribe's greater difficulty in obtaining information about some female landowners, and the mediating role played by their male relatives.

Many men, too, are provided with identification other than, or in addition to, the standard patronymic; most commonly by location (e.g. 'from Bacchias' or 'in Nestou') or by occupation. Much the most common occupation is veteran or soldier; 20% of the villagers have some military connection (and one ex-centurion among the five Alexandrians), confirming our other evidence of Philadelphia and nearby Karanis as favoured residences for military families. There was also a bathkeeper, oilworker, painter, saddler, bailiff, goldsmith (one of the largest landowners listed), three doctors, and a secretary in the public financial administration.11

The veterans and soldiers own no more land than average (p.19). Women, though constituting only 16% of the landowners, possess almost one quarter of the land (excluding the global categories), mainly because three women appear among the five largest owners.12 It is also worth observing that while none of the Alexandrians is female, four of the nine legible 'local magistrate' names are female; it is unfortunate that damage prevents an accurate assessment of the proportions owned by men and women in this category.

Finally we return to the value of 137 for calculating a statistical index of wealth distribution (20-30). Schubert rightly points out that land varied in value according to its quality and use; in particular, land under trees or vines could be significantly more valuable than arable land. He therefore treats the grain land and orchard separately, since many individuals owned only one or other, and those that did own both did so in widely varying proportions. And the five Alexandrians (2.51% of entries) owned almost 20% of the total orchard (p. 22). The distribution of grain land is somewhat more even, both between the three status groups and within each group. In presenting his comparisons with earlier and later papyrological data, using the Gini index (=R), Schubert is careful to emphasise the limitations of the procedure; not only does R tend to increase the larger the entity (leading us to expect a relatively low value for our data, compared with the later Hermopolite registers, which cover a whole nome); but we have to remember that Alexandrians and metropolitans (and possibly some villagers, too) are very likely to have owned land in other villages (p. 27). We are dealing neither with the complete range of landholdings within Philadelphia (since public and imperial land is missing), nor necessarily with the total landed wealth of the persons listed.

Schubert concludes that the inequality in landholding distribution is not so great as to suggest the domination of early third-century Philadelphia by one or more landowners with 'large estates'. This is probably true; after all, small-scale landownership persisted right through the Byzantine period alongside the great estates (supposedly) characteristic of that period. But there were also ways in which a prominent landowner might fail to emerge in a document such as 137. The third-century large estates known to us consisted of widely dispersed sections containing a mixture of land categories, including public and imperial land as well as private.13 Such an estate may have been assessed separately from the individual village lists.14 And important people sometimes preferred to register land in the name of a bailiff or some other person, a practice condoned by the authorities, as one letter shows (PSI XII 1260). Schubert notes that Posidonios, a prominent Alexandrian who paid tax (and hence probably owned land) at Philadelphia, is not listed directly in 137, although one of his bailiffs is (p. 14). An even more illustrious missing person is Valerius Titanianus, Fellow of the Alexandrian Museum and Caracalla's ab epistulis graecis and praefectus vigilum. He, too, possessed landed estates in the Fayum, being listed as a taxpayer at Philadelphia in AD 227, as was a Valeria Titania (his sister?).15 I wonder if this Titania is not the Aurelia Titania who is the largest landowner of 137, given the custom among some Romans of adopting 'Aurelius' as an additional gentilicum at precisely this time. Although third-century Philadelphia was essentially a village of small to moderate landowners, including many veteran families, it was more closely connected to the greatest landowning families of the province than 137 suggests at first sight.

Philadelphia was relatively unusual in its military connections and the extent of its apparent 'Romanisation'. But the basic pattern of small-scale landowning accompanied by a modest presence of Alexandrian and other absentees seems to have been more widely replicated among Egyptian villages for which evidence survives (although we must allow for significant variation between villages in the proportion of private to public land). With some reservations, therefore, 137 can offer a general model for Egyptian landowning patterns at the village level. This edition also offers a sound basis for further detailed study of Philadelphia itself from the plentiful evidence roughly contemporary with this text.


1.   To be precise, it claims to be a list 'by persons, of payments in cash and kind (for this translation, see line 3 note) prepared to be sent to Syria ....'; but it actually lists the landholding areas on which contributions were to be based not the payments themselves, and clearly never did include the latter since the final signature and date survive (cf. p. 5).
2.   References given at pp. ix note 1, 20 note 32, 23 note 35. The text has also sometimes been referred to in print as 'P. Yale III 145'.
3.   A digitised image of the text is also available online via APIS: ref. yale.apis.002960000.
4.   Les archives de Marcus Lucretius Diogenes (Bonn, 1990).
5.   A.E. Hanson, 'Caligulan Month-names at Philadelphia and related matters', Atti del XVII Congresso internazionale di papirologia III (Naples, 1984), 1107-18; ead., 'Village officials at Philadelphia: A model of romanization in the Julio-Claudian period', in L. Criscuolo and G. Geraci (eds), Egitto e storia antica dall' ellenismo all'età araba: bilancio di un confronto (Bologna, 1989), 429-40.
6.   1 aroura = 0.68 acre; fractions of an aroura, common in the text (though often lost in lacunae) are here disregarded.
7.   On status categories, see A.K. Bowman and D.W. Rathbone, 'Cities and administration in Roman Egypt', JRS 82 (1992), 107-27.
8.   E.g. BGU IX 1894; AD 157, from Theadelphia.
9.   R.S. Bagnall, 'The people of the Roman Fayum', in M.L. Bierbrier, ed., Portraits and Masks: Burial Customs in Roman Egypt (London, 1997), 7-15. Bagnall's data span the mid-first to mid-third centuries AD.
10.   Here it is actually the preceding male name (Nemesas) that is out of order. Note also that in the 'local magistrates' section, at least Aurelia Titania (line 23) comes out of alphabetical order, and probably the next entry also.
11.   Earlier Philadelphian texts attest weavers, but in AD 139, they complained of being reduced in numbers and too poor to perform liturgies (P. Phil. 10; cf. 1); any remaining in AD 216 would probably not have owned private land.
12.   Pp. 19f; 17 (which omits Aurelia Titania, who if the reading of 102(+) ar. grainland is correct, was much the largest individual owner, owning in total at least 161 ar., and up to 251 ar.; see p. 13).
13.   P. Oxy. XLII 3047; D.W. Rathbone, Economic Rationalism and Rural Society in third-century Egypt (Cambridge, 1991), 16.
14.   Cf. P. Oxy. XIV 1659, a contemporary list of crown tax receipts, which starts with the receipts from three large landowners before listing metropolitan and village receipts village by village.
15.   For the date of the tax list, see line 17 note. On the estate owners, their inter-relationships and nomenclature (including the adoption of 'Aurelius'), see Rathbone op. cit. (note 13 above), 47-58.

Read Latest
Index for 2003
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:28:25, Friday, 03 April 2009