Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.06.23

Fritz Mitthof, Ein spätantikes Wirtschaftsbuch aus Diospolis Parva. Der Erlanger Papyruskodex und die Texte aus seinem Umfeld (P. Erl. Diosp.). Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete, Beiheft 12.   Leipzig:  K. G. Saur, 2002.  Pp. xviii, 103; pls. 20.  ISBN 3-498-77547-4.  EUR 78.00.  

Reviewed by Roger S. Bagnall, Columbia University (
Word count: 1528 words

Even to papyrologists, accounts are not usually the most exciting of texts, and it may seem unbelievable that anyone would go to the trouble of republishing a rather scrappy account available in print already for sixty years. That is, however, what Fritz Mitthof has done with a small dossier of accounts in the Erlangen collection, and even if the full text is likely to attract only a small band of devoted connoisseurs who enjoy entries like "Psansnos, 5 talents," the results of this reedition are important for a wider circle of those interested in the history of the codex, in Egyptian Christianity, and in administration.

The core of this small volume is the remains of pages 40-63 of a codex, published in 1942 by Wilhelm Schubart under six numbers (P.Erl. 105-110). Schubart recognized that they belonged to a single account, but he did not attempt to reconstruct the shape of that account. Mitthof recognized that the account was a single-quire codex, of which we have six sheets written on both sides (thus 24 pages), belonging to Turner's Group 8 (ca. 12.5 x 25 cm page size). It must originally have contained 26 sheets with a cover and 103 numbered pages. He dates the accounts that he republishes here as no. 1 convincingly to the middle of 314. This is thus by about a decade the earliest documentary codex published to date (P.Col. IX 247, datable to 324/5 or 325/6, was the earliest such codex known heretofore). It remains the case, Mitthof observes, that the earliest codices used for documentary purposes come from Upper, rather than Middle, Egypt (10-11).

The "account" is in reality a collection of accounts of the activities of various agents, not written into the book in any systematic form or in a single direction. They are, as Mitthof shows, informal and private in character, containing transactions in money by the "author" and his agents within a defined time period, with a wide variety of sources and recipients, both private and official. The pages are numbered at the top, and Mitthof shows that this pagination precedes the writing of any of these accounts. He argues convincingly that the codex was probably first used (in the now-lost portion at the start) for official accounts, and only subsequently reused for the ephemeral accounts we have. The accounts cover the year 313/4 but in places refer back to 311/2 (designated as year 20) and 312/3 (indiction 1). They are thus contemporaneous with nos. 2 and 3, official accounts on two sides of a large sheet, not part of the codex but coming from the same dossier and dated to 314. (Disclosure: Mitthof's edition of these two texts rests in part on a new version published in 1978 by Klaas Worp and me.)

Whose accounts were these? The combination of private and public persons and purposes in the dossier strongly suggests an individual who was both a private landowner and the holder at this time of some public position. From the large amounts involved (Mitthof calculates the total turnover in the surviving pages to amount to about 17.5 pounds of gold) and the range of offices referred to, Mitthof concludes that only the exactor, fourth-century successor of the strategos in responsibility for the tax collections of a nome, is a likely candidate. His circumscription, Mitthof argues from a detailed examination of the toponyms in the accounts, was Diospolis Parva (in Upper Egypt) and its nome. As hardly any other papyri have been discovered in that nome except the Nag Hammadi trove from several decades later, it seems possible that these papyri were actually found somewhere else. Schubart notes that a large part of the Erlangen collection came from Oxyrhynchos, and one may wonder if these accounts did also.

Mitthof (24) argues that the "author" had landholdings in the various Diopolite villages mentioned. If true, this would tend to argue that he was a local resident in Diospolis, as Mitthof suggests. But the mentions do not seem to me to support this conclusion. Many of them involve tax collectors or other officials of the villages (sitologoi and komarchs, in particular), who would have been relevant to the official duties of the exactor. If we do not have to suppose that the author was a resident of Diospolis, the explanation for the supposed finding of the account-book elsewhere might be that the exactor came from another city and took the accounts home with him when he returned. Oxyrhynchos then becomes an attractive origin; Hermopolis should perhaps also be considered as a possibility. Although the exactor later came from the ranks of the local city council, the strategos had consistently been an outsider appointed by the prefect, and it seems entirely posible that the exactor was also in the early years.1 The earliest certain example of a local person holding the office is Sostratos Ailianos in the Hermopolite (CPR XVIIA 9B) in 320, and as late as 316 the Arsinoite exactor (although addressed as strategos) was of higher than curial rank, a vir egregius (Aurelius Octavius, P.Mert. II 91). We do not know the origin of any of the others of the handful of exactores known before 320. There is thus in my view nothing preventing the author from being an outsider holding office in Diospolis Parva.

The unnamed exactor was perhaps also a Christian. On page 52 (line 65 in the edition) the opening phrase of the Lord's Prayer is written with "Merkmale einer Schönschrift" but perhaps (Mitthof suggests) by the same writer as the accounts. This is the second-oldest appearance of this prayer in a papyrus. It is, of course, entirely likely that the writer was an employee of the exactor rather than the official himself, but it seems unlikely that an employee would write into the account-book something likely to offend his master. It is also noteworthy that one of the assistants frequently referred to, especially in marginalia, was named Elias, almost certainly a sign of Christianity. We can identify few Christians in the aristocracies of Egyptian cities before 324, and the indication of Christianity at least in the household of one is noteworthy.

Mitthof mentions (17 n. 72 and 20-21) that a significant number of other individuals mentioned in the text have Christian or possibly Christian names. He evaluates the figure for those identifiable as Christian "mit einiger Gewissheit" as "kaum mehr als 10%". This figure he characterizes as suggesting that the Christianization of this region at this date "tatsächlich wenig fortgeschritten war und möglicherweise sogar unter der von Bagnall vermuteten Rate lag" (21). This comment rests on a misreading of the articles in which I discuss the use of onomastics to assess Christian identity.2 Names of individuals found in an account of 314 are evidence for the tendency of parents to give such names at the dates when the individuals were born, not evidence for the degree of Christianity in the population at the date of the document. I used in earlier work an average lag of 35 years (we generally do not know the dates of birth of particular individuals), which still seems to me reasonable. The corresponding date for this codex would thus be 314 minus 35, or 279. Since the other bodies of evidence that I could cite for the later 270s, the patronymics in the Hermopolite land registers and in the Abinnaeus archive, had Christian percentages of 9% and 7% respectively, a figure of 10% would be very much in line with our other evidence. In fact the figure should probably be set a little lower, since Mitthof has apparently included in his reckoning some names that I would not be prepared to take without further evidence as Christian (e.g., Markos, Philemon, Aionios, Theaitetos, Theophanes). Allowing for that difference of computation, the results should be broadly in line with those of our other bodies of evidence referring to this period.

Also of interest for Christianization are mentions in the accounts of a bishop and a presbyter, alongside priests who presumably served other local cults. These are the earliest securely datable documentary references to these Christian offices in the papyri.

The edition, which also includes a couple of small fragments belonging to the dossier and only described by Schubart, is equipped with the full apparatus one expects of papyrus editions today: introduction, text, critical apparatus, translation, notes, indexes, and plates. These last are a bit small for middle-aged eyes, but they are of good quality and I generally found it possible to check readings on them. The qualities of the edition are very high; Mitthof is consistently precise and accurate, and the notes are a rich source of information on many subjects, including onomastics. Users will consult them, like Mitthof's excellent and well-documented introduction, with profit. Although I have called attention to what seem to me the most salient gains from this volume, the numerous improvements over Schubart's readings have value for many other points. Above all, however, Mitthof has succeeded in turning what was before pure text (and often garbled text at that) into an intelligible artifact of the early use of the codex in the offices and households of high-ranking officials of fourth-century Egypt.


1.   See J. D. Thomas, Chronique d'Égypte 34 (1959) 131-132; the most recent list of exactores is by P. J. Sijpesteijn, ZPE 90 (1992) 247-250.
2.   In BASP 19 (1982) 105-124 and ZPE 69 (1987) 243-250; reproduced in my Later Roman Egypt: Society, Religion, Economy and Administration (Aldershot 2002), chapters VIII and IX.

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