Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.12.30

Silvia Strassi, L'archivio di Claudius Tiberianus da Karanis. Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete. Beiheft; 26.   Berlin/New York:  Walter De Gruyter, 2008.  Pp. xlviii, 194.  ISBN 9783110201192.  $205.00.  

Reviewed by Livia Capponi, Newcastle University (
Word count: 1819 words

This book provides a new edition and a complete study of the archive of Claudius Tiberianus, partially published in the eighth volume (Nos. 467-81) of the Michigan Papyri. It comprises 18 papyrus-letters, mostly written by Claudius Terentianus, an Egyptian enrolled in the Roman army, to his friend and patron Claudius Tiberianus, a veteran settled in Karanis (Fayum). These texts constitute an ancient archive, as they include the letters which were found together in a niche under the staircase of the house of Tiberianus at Karanis between 1924 and 1935, along with further texts, which emerged from the antiquities market. The old (but diehard) practice of splitting ancient archives by selling parts of them on the market produced the disastrous consequence of losing all information about the exact provenance of the texts. Furthermore, the lack of a scientific approach in most papyrological digs of the early twentieth century led the early excavators to discard most information about the archaeological context where the papyri were found. For all these reasons, subsequent scholars, including Strassi, had to laboriously reconstruct the history of the archive by relying on the information yielded by the texts alone.

One major merit of this book is that it unifies the archive of Claudius Tiberianus: to the already edited Latin texts Strassi adds a substantial number of Greek documents that were found subsequently at Karanis. Strassi intends the book to be the stimulus for further research; more documents that have recently emerged from the house of Tiberianus and still await publication will certainly trigger new ideas and interpretations of the already published documents.

After an Introduction, and a list of Abbreviations and Bibliography, Section II presents a new edition of the texts, first the Latin and then the Greek letters, each with a brief introduction, an Italian translation and notes, followed by indexes. Section III analyses the historical context. Section IV looks at the provenance of the letters and the places mentioned. Section V presents the dramatis personae, that is, the families of Tiberianus and Terentianus. Section VI considers the other people mentioned in the archive reconstructing their life and role on the basis of external documentary evidence. An Appendix looks at SB 6.9636 (PCornell 1.64), which, according to Strassi, might possibly be connected to the archive. Indexes of Greek and Latin names close the volume.

In the Introduction, Strassi gives us a concise, yet detailed overview of the history of the excavations at Karanis. The documentation concerning House B167, where the archive was found, shows that the letters belong to the level C of occupation, which is dated approximately to the years 80-180, and this helps to locate chronologically the undated items of the archive. For a complete picture of the dig, the archaeological remains, the artefacts and the papyri found on the site, Strassi directs us to the forthcoming volume by A. Verhoogt and R.P. Stephan, The House of Claudius Tiberianus. Text and Artefact from House C/B167. Strassi then gives a list and a complete concordance of the papyri, both unpublished and published, which were found in the house of Tiberianus.

Section II presents the texts in (roughly) the same order in which they were first published. None of the letters are securely dated, but, on the basis of the contents, the first editors established that the Greek letters are later than the Latin ones, and belong to the beginning of the second century (except PMich 8.510, of the second/third century). In most cases, the author is Terentianus, writing from the liburna Neptunus, of the classis Augusta Alexandrina (anchored either in Alexandria, or in a Syrian port), or from his tent in the Roman camp of Nikopolis. From 18 (SB 6.9636) we know that Terentianus was discharged in year 21 of Hadrian, that is, 136, and Strassi hypothesises that he was enrolled not later than 110, as 25 years was the minimum service required in order to obtain honesta missio.

In Section III, Strassi rejects the earlier argument that Terentianus enrolled in the Alexandrian fleet in order to participate in Trajan's war against the Jewish Diaspora Revolt of 116/117, and argues that his ship was part of the convoy (vexillatio) sent to Syria around 114 to support, and above all provide food supply, to Trajan's war against the Parthians. Further sources indicate that Q. Marcius Turbo, prefect of the fleet at Misenum, was in Syria in the second half of 114, and that it was on his quadrireme Ops that Trajan reached Antioch.1 Conversely, Strassi argues that the Diaspora Revolt of 116/117 did not involve a massive use of the Roman fleet (or, at least, there is no evidence for this). Strassi hypothesises that around 115/116, at the beginning of the Diaspora Revolt, Terentianus was transferred from the fleet to a legion, possibly the legio XXII Deiotariana, based at Nikopolis. Strassi rightly points out that quick transfers of troops from one to another part of the empire were standard practice in the Eastern provinces. However, one could argue that a high mobility and flexibility of the Roman auxiliaries is documented in the Northern part of the Empire as well, notably by the Vindolanda Tablets.

At the end of Section III, Strassi proposes a new chronology of the documents, all to be attributed, in her view, to the years 110-115. Strassi suggests that Terentianus' reference, in 12 (PMich 8.477) and 13 (PMich 8.478), to 'troubles and civil strife in the city' (θόρυβος καὶ ἀκαταστασία τῆς πόλεως) indicate that he was involved in the skirmishes that preceded and triggered the Diaspora Revolt in Alexandria. Although the official term used in documents to indicate this war was τάραχος or tumultus,2 CPJ 2.444.25 speaks in terms of θόρυβος, 'troubles', with explicit reference to the Jews, and στάσις to indicate the civil struggle between Alexandrian Greeks and Jews. Terentianus was actually wounded in the war, and Tiberianus, although he had given up active military service (or was about to do so) around 116, was probably still in touch with the army, as he features in the documents as speculator legionis, that is, agent of the intelligence service of the provincial governor.

Language is one of the most interesting aspects of the archive. Strikingly, as soon as Tiberianus settles down as a veteran in Karanis, he starts receiving letters in Greek. Strassi explains that, while during the official term of military service, communication among soldiers had to be in Latin, once Tiberianus established himself in Karanis he switched to his preferred language, Greek, a language that was permeating all aspects of life in Egyptian villages of the Roman period. The linguistic factor helps Strassi to address the old question as to whether Claudius Tiberianus and Claudius Terentianus were father and son (Section V). Although the majority of scholars regarded their common Latin nomen as the proof of their kinship, Strassi convincingly points out that the homonymy of the Roman name was a common feature to many soldiers and does not imply kinship. Furthermore, it is unlikely that Terentianus would have joined the Egyptian fleet, the least appealing division of the army, had he been the son of a Roman citizen--he would have joined the regular army from the beginning, thus avoiding the problems and frustrations he complains about in his letters. Finally, it is unlikely that Terentianus, whose first language was Greek, would have written to his father in an uncertain, Hellenised Latin. In 1, 2, and 9 (PMich 8. 467.32, 468.II.46-8, and 471.20-21 respectively) Terentianus explicitly refers to a Ptolemaeus as my father, and in 14 (PMich 8.479) he clearly distinguishes his own family from Tiberianus, although he addresses the latter with the conventional formula τῷ πατρὶ καὶ κυρίῳ.3 Furthermore, the tone of 7 (PMich 8.472), the letter written by Tiberianus to his superior Longinius Priscus, suggests that Terentianus was connected to Tiberianus by patronage, not by kinship. Still, as Strassi points out in Section VI, it is likely that Terentianus' and Tiberianus' families knew each other from before their military service. Perhaps, Tiberianus originally came from an area or a village near that of Terentianus, and thus remained in touch with his protégé, at least during the latter's military career.

In Section VI Strassi looks at the friends of Tiberianus and Terentianus. Strassi regards the people described as those from the Kaisareion as a group of veterans and military officials who gathered around the Kaisareion of Alexandria or in the χώρα, and performed various activities around this institution, including the opening of wills, business transactions, and public ceremonies.4 Among the friends of Tiberianus there is Longinius Priscus, a military of higher rank, whom Tiberianus addresses deferentially as dominus et rex in 7, the only document written by Tiberianus himself, probably the first draft of a recommendation letter. This type of address finds parallels in the Vindolanda Tablets, where a decurion calls Flavius Cerialis, the prefect of the cohort, rex, and also in CIL XIV 4239 = ILS 1013 where an equestrian addresses the wife of a consul as regina. Gaius Longinius Priscus was probably a citizen of Antinooupolis mentioned in connection with the Kaisareion of Arsinoe and the testament of a soldier in Karanis in 131.5 He was a veteran and an entrepreneur who, possibly along with his brother Longinius Celer, specialised in financial activities, such as loans and the lease of a large workshop, or even a cartel (ἐργασία), of goldsmiths.

This book is certainly a valuable contribution to our knowledge of Roman Egypt, and opens many windows on diverse disciplines, such as to the economic role of the army in the province of Egypt, the world of Greek and Latin letters, the history of the Latin Language (especially of the so-called Vulgar Latin). In her conclusion, Strassi expresses the desideratum of a prosopography of Roman Karanis (in the footsteps of the pioneering work of Carl Wessely), that includes Demotic documents along with Latin and Greek ones: on many occasions, Strassi emphasizes the importance of the computer-based resources now available (such as the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri) for the work of the papyrologist.

The archive of Tiberianus would have profited from a closer comparison with the Vindolanda Tablets, that document large movements of troops across Europe in the late first and early second centuries, and contribute, from the North-Eastern periphery of the empire, to cast light on Trajan's military policy. Other minor points of critique are that the book has no photographs of the texts, which would have allowed the readers to train themselves as papyrologists by looking at the Latin and Greek scripts, and no maps, whereas a plan of the house of Tiberianus and a map of ancient Karanis might have helped to visualise the original location of the archive. Nonetheless, Strassi should be thanked for her excellent work, which illuminates the history of Egypt as a Roman province, and constitutes both a scholarly and lively read for an interdisciplinary audience of classicists, historians, and linguists.


1.   See W. Eck and A. Pangerl (eds.), 'Trajans Heer im Partherkrieg. Zu einem neuen Diploma us dem Jahr 115', Chiron 35 (2005) 49-67.
2.   See M. Pucci Ben Zeev, Diaspora Judaism in Turmoil, 116/117 CE: Ancient Sources and Modern Insights, Leuven, 2005.
3.   See E. Dickey, 'Literal and Extended Use of Kinship Terms in Documentary Papyri', Mnemosyne 57 (2004) 131-76).
4.   Strassi fully analysed the evidence concerning Kaisareia in Egypt in 'Οἱ ἐκ τοῦ Καισαρείου: diffusione e valore simbolico dei Kaisareia nell'Egitto romano', APF 52 (2006) 218-43, reprinted in R. Haensch, J. Heinrichs (eds.), Herrschen und Verwalten, Kölner historische Abhandlungen 46, Köln-Weimar-Wien, 2007, 400-26).
5.   PLond 3.906, p. 107, ChLA 10.412; M. Amelotti, Il testamento romano attraverso la prassi documentale, I. Le forme classiche di testamento, Firenze 1996, no. 6; L. Migliardi Zingale, I testamenti romani nei papiri e nelle tavolette d'Egitto, Torino, 1997, no. 3).

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