Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.07.34
Fabian Reiter, Die Nomarchen des Arsinoites: Ein Beitrag zum Steuerwesen im römischen Ägypten. Papyrologica Coloniensia XXXI. Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2004. Pp. x, 369; pls. 9. ISBN 3-506-72893-8. €58.90.
Reviewed by J. David Thomas, University of Durham (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Word count: 1354 words
Although the nomarch of the Arsinoite nome has been discussed in a number of works (see Reiter's survey on pp. 3-8), there has never been a monograph devoted to a study of the office in the Roman period. For this alone Reiter's book would be welcome; it will be all the more welcome for the thoroughness and comprehensiveness with which he has discussed the subject and for the impressive rigour of his argument to be seen on every page.
The book is concerned with the function and status of the Arsinoite nomarch from his introduction under Augustus or Tiberius (he is first attested in AD 34) to his disappearance in the middle or late third century (see below). There are essentially three sections to the book: on prosopography, on 'Charakteristika der Nomarchentätigkeit', and an examination of the various taxes that came under the control of the nomarch and the way they were collected. For good measure R. adds an Appendix in which he publishes three unedited papyri and republishes four others.
In the first two sections R. deals with a number of important topics. He first shows that the Arsinoite nomarch of the Roman period had no connection with the Ptolemaic nomarch. He then demonstrates that in the first two centuries AD the nomarch was neither a state official nor a liturgist; he was a tax farmer who voluntarily took on the post -- the nomarchy was a 'geschäfliche Unternehmung'. These nomarchs, at least in the early Roman period, could be Roman citizens and at all periods they were from the higher social strata, like the strategoi, and in the third century from the bouleutic class. They were in charge of the whole nome and there could be just one or several of them at a time. The nature of the office changed radically in the second decade of the third century, when the office came to be filled by liturgists elected by the town council; in this period there were always more than one. R. connects the change with the nomarchy of Apion, who served for at least 22 years up to 215/6 but was then removed for abusing his position; R. argues persuasively that he is the man complained of in the imperial responsa SB 11875-6. These sections contain many points that are new and in conflict with earlier views. On every point R. argues his case rigorously and almost always I find myself in agreement with his views. I do wonder whether it is beyond question that the nomarch survived the reforms of Philip in the 240s (p. 66): the last attested is in 248 (BGU 8) and the occurrence once or twice thereafter of the νομαρχίας λόγος may perhaps not entail the continued existence of the office (cf. ZPE 19, 1975, 118 on the occurrence after the mid 3rd century of κωμογραμματεία). It is noteworthy that R. several times indicates that there were differences in the nature of this office in the first century AD from what we know about it from the second century. Is it possible that a change in the nature of the nomarchy took place not only around 215/6 but also earlier, in the reign of Trajan, when the general introduction of the liturgical system took place?
The third section, by far the largest, often goes well beyond what is strictly relevant to the office of nomarch and examines taxes as they applied throughout Egypt (cf. the sub-title), notably the taxes on weaving and on brewing (the latter R. considers in effect a licence tax to brew beer at home). It is a mistake, R. claims, to regard the nomarch as just in charge of tax-collection nor was he especially concerned with the control of the collection (p. 94). R. shows that tax-collection was rarely done directly by the nomarch, but by farmers who sub-let the collection from him, or through his agents, or by village πρεσβύτεροι or trade groups. He considers ἐπιτηρηταί to be liturgists appointed by the strategos, often because farmers could not be found; they were not, as usually thought, controllers of the farmers but substitutes for them. In a substantial section (pp. 121-7) on the tax collectors in Elephantine and Syene, R. argues convincingly that, contrary to the view that has held sway since Wilcken, the μισθωταὶ ἱερᾶς πύλης Σοήνης were indeed tax-farmers. These μισθωταὶ, who mostly had Roman names, were very different from πράκτορες. In the Arsinoite nome the system changed around 215/6, when the nomarchs no longer had agents to assist them and lost responsibility for some taxes to the meridarch. With regard to the whole of the Roman period R. insists that the normal view, that the nomarch was in charge of variable taxes such as the tax on sales or customs dues, as opposed to 'fixed' taxes, is not corroborated by the evidence.
R. claims (rightly) that his study affords an insight into the complex relationship between state organisation and private undertakings. In his conclusion (pp. 300-3) he argues that by creating the nomarch the Romans freed themselves from much administration and created an opportunity for rich capitalists. This serves to point up the one question which R. does not answer satisfactorily. Why should a nomarch of this kind have existed only in the Arsinoite nome? R. offers several possible answers on pp. 54-6, but none is wholly convincing, as he would no doubt agree. Our evidence on this point is as yet inadequate.
R.'s work throughout is based on meticulous examination of the relevant papyri. Wherever he has felt it desirable, he has endeavoured to consult either an original, an image on the web, a photograph or a microfilm, or, failing any of these, to ask someone to check the original for him. As a result he is frequently able to suggest improvements to published texts (in the list of papyri on pp. 360-7 texts where emendations have been suggested are marked with an asterisk; such texts number about 100!). In nearly all cases R.'s suggestions for readings are either certain or at least persuasive. I have only noted two or three cases where I would dispute his readings.
Misprints are few and usually will not mislead (but note that in the calculations on p. 130 78 dr. should read 76 dr.; 'Neudruck' in n. 16 on p. 168 refers to pp. 304-6; in l. 11 of the text on p. 324 for πν read ρν). I offer a few comments. It is not clear to me why the nomarch in P.Osl. 62 is 'gewiss' the Antinoopolite nomarch (p. 9 n. 3). The suggestion that Antonius of P.Bas. 13 was a nomarch (p.25 n.45) is less than compelling. I feel that R. is too ready to discard the likelihood of homonymity in his discussion of possible careers (pp. 32ff.). R. regards CPR VI 4 as anomalous in that payment is made directly to nomarchs not through their agent (p. 83); but the text does use the words διὰ Ἄμμωνος. I am not convinced that the expression ὁ τῆς βουλῆς λόγος could mean the 'Nomarchiekonto', as p. 262 seems to imply.
It should be apparent from the above that R. has not only covered every aspect of this subject but that he has throughout challenged, and in a number of places overturned, established views. In particular, the current view that voluntary tax-farming became increasingly unpopular in the first century and was replaced by 'Zwangspacht' in the second, needs modifying or abandoning, as R. points out in his conclusion (p. 303). R.'s book appreciably advances our understanding of the office of nomarch and of the tax system in Roman Egypt. May one hope that he will go on to produce a study of the tax system as a whole in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, for which we still depend on Wallace's book, now nearly 70 years old, and in fact for some topics on Wilcken's pioneering work dating from 1899? In the meantime R. is to be congratulated on producing a splendid book that may well serve as a model for how such a monograph should be written.