Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.12.43 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.12.43

Bart Van Beek, The Archive of the Architektones Kleon and Theodoros (P. Petrie Kleon). Collectanea hellenistica, VII.   Leuven:  Peeters, 2017.  Pp. x, 312.  ISBN 9789042935006.  €92,00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Andrew Connor, Monash University (

We are now eighteen years into what Peter van Minnen optimistically termed “the millennium of papyrology,”1 and despite the volume of recent papyrological publications,2 it is clear that we still have a gargantuan task before us. What Bart Van Beek makes clear in this volume is that the work is not only the editing of heretofore unpublished papyri but also the re-edition of papyri that were published in the earlier years of the “century of papyrology” (1892-1992).3 In this case, Van Beek’s subject is the Petrie papyri, and in particular the archive associated with the two architektones Kleon and Theodoros. These men oversaw—among other things—the irrigation of the Fayum depression and the quarrying of stone for government works, all during an important phase in the development of the Arsinoite nome (ca. 260-238 BCE). This is an archive amply endowed with drama (threats of starvation, striking workers, and angry kings) and mystery, along with the nitty-gritty details of running an agency overseeing large numbers of workers in many locations around the region.

The book, based on Van Beek’s 2006 Leuven PhD with revisions and expansions, is a work long-awaited.4 It offers a single-volume resource that collects texts published previously in a number of editions—especially the Petrie Papyri volumes of Mahaffy (P.Petr. I and II) and Smyly (P.Petr. III), all published between 1891 and 1905—as well as some texts published here for the first time. The need for a re-edition and new analysis is clear, as “the three Petrie volumes are rather unsatisfactory and extremely cumbersome to use,”5 and are lacking in contextual discussion along with many now-standard papyrological aspects. In producing this volume, Van Beek has given us a work of real usefulness and erudition.

In the introduction, Van Beek offers a brief overview of the Petrie papyri, scholarship on the architekton archive after its initial publication and an analysis of the archive as archive. This is accompanied by an extensive discussion of the irrigation and stone-cutting trades in Egypt and more specifically in the papyri. Van Beek quite helpfully includes an overview of “irrigation vocabulary in the archive,” which offers a focused study exploring the terminology specific to the archive, to be read perhaps in conjunction with Bonneau’s extensive but more general study.6 In these sections, Van Beek demonstrates the value of not only a re-edition of the Petrie papyri in general but of a more focused publication of specifically the papers of the architektones.

It is perhaps unfortunate that there are not comparably thorough discussions of certain other topics in the introduction for a volume of this kind. For example, the discussion of the find context or collection history of these documents is brief. This will not be an impediment to those already familiar with issues of mummy cartonnage or the Gurob papyri (or who have access to previous scholarship on these texts) but may prove an impediment to non-papyrologists looking to understand this extremely rich archive. Similarly, there is very little discussion of the individuals involved in the archive.7 A more extensive introduction to the individuals and the wider context of the archive (perhaps akin to the discussion of hydraulic terminology in the archive) would help to situate the reader, especially one unfamiliar with the dramatis personae. This is certainly an archive that has quite a bit to offer those studying wider topics (water management, the stone-cutting trade, or labor conditions and unrest, to name a few), for whom a somewhat larger range of introductory material might be especially welcome.

The editions of the texts themselves form by far the largest part of this volume. Van Beek publishes 124 texts, the majority of which were previously published in the Petrie Papyri series. Along with these, Van Beek collects the entire archive as currently known, adding later scholarship on the Petrie documents, a few papyri published elsewhere, and 38 previously unpublished texts of various types, including two somewhat lengthy accounts with payment for irrigation works (texts 102-103).8 The texts are divided into eight categories by type:

Private correspondence (1-16)
Official correspondence (17-83)
Related correspondence (84-85)
Registers of correspondence (86-89)
Contracts (90-91)
Accounts (92-105)
Texts of uncertain type (106-119)
Later addenda (120-124)

The organization of these texts is somewhat idiosyncratic. For instance, Van Beek writes that “texts 120-124 were added in 2016 by Clarysse and therefore placed at the very end of the volume,” perhaps because the text had already been set. In addition, two letters concerning a theft from Theodoros’ daughter are filed as “related correspondence” because they are not addressed to Theodoros and they do not concern his official duties and presumably sit uncomfortably between private and official.

The documents in this archive offer a well-rounded picture of the challenges facing the architekton. Multiple papyri (texts 60 or 62, e.g.) concern the supply of iron tools to workmen, and others (texts 65 and 69) deal with the production and use of bricks. Not all of these texts will prove as exciting as others—text 6 (a letter from Metrodora) preserves around 4 words in three lines, and is too fragmentary for translation or commentary. I will briefly survey some of the most interesting texts, especially for those who might not already be familiar with the archive:

Many of the surviving documents reflect the day-to-day demands of the job. Text 39 is a lengthy letter concerning a team of irrigation workers who were grumbling about their supplies (not enough water or oil) and their work (having dug out 35 more schoinia than planned). Van Beek convincingly interprets a reference to copper mines as geographic (at the copper mines, rather than in the copper mines) making the texts preserved in this archive much more comprehensible, and showing the extent of the expanding irrigation network in this period (along with refining our understanding of what the architekton was and was not responsible for). While fragmentary, text 45 is alluring, with a reference to wickedness and worrisome whispers alongside discussion of someone digging out a pier (ekbateria). The difficult business of managing the work crews, their supplies, and their overseers creeps into other documents as well. In text 55, the foremen of a stone-cutting team write to Kleon that their supplies have not arrived, and threaten that the men will pawn their iron tools if the situation is not resolved. The level of tensions might be apparent from the abrupt close of the letter, where, as Van Beek puts it, “the authors have apparently forgotten the polite end greeting εὐτύχει” (line 11 n.). Texts 86-89, “registers of correspondence,” richly evoke the varied and busy tasks especially involved in running the irrigation network. That payments were eventually made to workmen (despite the volume of complaints throughout the documents) can be seen from some records of payments, especially text 100, two small but reasonably intact fragments recording payments of grain and Syrian olive oil to stonecutters.

The job also involved communication with colleagues and various interested parties. Text 19 is a letter from Zenon, overseer for Apollonios, to Kleon, providing a nice bit of connection between two important Ptolemaic archives from the Fayum, though the text itself concerns the opening of a sluice-gate. Correspondence between the two “stars” of the archive, Kleon and Theodoros, is quite rare (only two letters, 71 and 77) and both are extremely fragmentary—barely anything beyond the names themselves is preserved.

The personal life of the two men also features in the documents, especially of Kleon. In one well-known letter (text 3) Metrodora writes to Kleon that she is “immensely frightened about how things will end up for you” after Ptolemy II “treated you harshly.” Issues surrounding Kleon’s employment and standing in the royal court reappear in a letter from his son, Philonides (text 11), which also tells us a bit about the seasonal variations in the architekton’s workload. Unfortunately, of the six letters from Metrodora—some of which are assigned by hand—only one (text 3) survives in any length. The letters from Kleon’s sons (texts 7-13, 15, and possibly 16) are somewhat better preserved and concern various aspects of the life of a prominent family, including one son’s desire (text 13) to be introduced to the king, Ptolemy II.

The introduction and texts are accompanied by a concordance for the texts involved, as well as the normal range of papyrological indices—dates, religious terms, personal names, titles, place names, measures and taxes, and a general word index. In terms of editing and presentation, there is relatively little to critique. Some small typographical errors do creep in.9 In addition, the referencing style can be fluid (P.Enteuxis and P.Ent. appear multiple times on the same page, e.g.) and some infelicitous phrases appear: in text 57, for instance, τά ἐλλείποντα σώματα προσκαταστήσειν is translated as “to supply the missing men lack.” The text is for the most part clean and correct. I will leave discussions of particular readings to more specialized journals, but Van Beek’s editions and emendations are reasonable and thoughtfully explained and presented. Many of the charts and maps are clear and finely reproduced, and the full-page color photographs of some of the papyri from the archive are especially excellent. Two maps (maps 4-5) are less crisply reproduced from their original source.

The archive re-edited and published here by Van Beek amply captures the demands placed on the architekton, as well as the ability of the papyri to give us the dramatic and quotidian alike—often in the same text. This volume will prove the first stop for scholars interested in the archive, and a valuable resource for anyone studying the work of the architektones or the irrigation and quarrying industries. A somewhat more detailed, expansive introduction and discussion of the archive—alongside the excellent commentaries on individual texts—might have helped achieve the purpose of fully superseding previous editions and providing a broadly accessible resource for scholars working outside of Egypt. Nevertheless, Van Beek’s erudition and careful approach have produced a valuable work, and one that will be the standard text on Kleon, Theodoros, and their fascinating archive for years to come.


1.   P. van Minnen, “The Millennium of Papyrology (2001-)?,” B. Palme, ed., Akten des 23. Internationalen Papyrologenkongresses. Vienna, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2007. Pp. 703-714
2.   As, for instance, P. Kellis VII BMCR 2016.07.24 or P. Oxy. LXXXII BMCR 2017.06.39
3.   P. van Minnen, “The Century of Papyrology (1892-1992), BASP 30 (1993), 5-18.
4.   W. Clarysse, “Linguistic Diversity in the Archive of the Engineers Kleon and Theodoros,” T.V. Evans and D.D. Obbink, eds. The Language of the Papyri Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2009. P. 35
5.   Clarysse, “Linguistic Diversity,” 35
6.   D. Bonneau, Le régime administratif de l’eau du Nil dans l’Égypte grecque, romaine et byzantine. Leiden: Brill, 1993
7.   By way of example, the first six texts in the volume are sent by a certain Metrodora, who turns out to be Kleon’s wife, resident in Alexandria, but this fact is little discussed.
8.   Texts 16, 27, 29-31, 36, 43, 45, 47-48, 61, 63-64, 66-67, 70, 72, 76, 78, 82, 89, 98-99, 101-106, and 111-119.
9.   Fischer-Bovet becomes the thematically appropriate Fischerboote in the bibliography, e.g., and the similarly German-inflected “Dachla-oasis” appears on a map. In addition, there are two Maps 3 and no Map 2.

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