BMCR 1997.06.15

Columbia Papyri X

, , Columbia papyri X . American studies in papyrology v. 34. Scholar's Press: Atlanta, 1996. x, 292 pages. ISBN 9780788502750.

The adage, “in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes” (Ben Franklin), is well illustrated in Columbia Papyri X, which contains a will and several tax documents among its various papyri. Testimony and taxation are not, however, the only commercial practices represented among these papyri which are common to ancient Egypt and the modern world; there are also bank loans, property sales and leases, contracted work, and census declarations. The less familiar business transactions reflect the agricultural milieu of ancient Egypt: donkey sales, a “declaration of camels,” and loans of barley and wheat. Additionally, the volume contains petitions to Roman officials, deeds of slave sales, and several letters, both commercial and private.

Columbia Papyri X, edited by Roger S. Bagnall and Dirk D. Obbink, continues the project of making the Columbia Papyri available to the scholarly community. Of the forty-four papyrus fragments, numbered in this volume from 249 to 292, around thirty have not been published previously. In addition to Bagnall and Obbink, seventeen scholars have made contributions, the majority of whom are or were graduate students at Columbia University.

The format of the book is appropriate to the task of effectively publishing numerous unrelated papyri. The volume lacks any formal introduction; a short preface refers the reader to volume VIII for the history of the Columbia papyri collection and briefly discusses the collaboration of the Columbia Papyrological Seminar in producing this edition. The table of papyri gives a short description of each entry and lists the page numbers on which one can find the individual fragments. The corresponding plate numbers are listed on the following page. The papyri are not grouped according to subject matter, but are arranged chronologically from the first to the sixth centuries C.E. The bibliography provided on pages 195-197 is quite useful to the specialist, omitting standard introductions like Turner’s Greek Papyri: An Introduction and Pestman’s New Papyrological Primer, while listing sources for advanced study of papyrology and Roman administration. The indices provide easy reference to chronology, geography, titles, professions, religion, money, and a variety of other subjects, as well as enable the reader to locate various texts which figure in the descriptions. Each papyrus fragment is pictured in the series of black and white plates at the end of the volume.

The bulk of the volume is dedicated to the individual examination of the papyri. The treatments of the papyrus fragments vary in length from two to eight pages. Previously unpublished papyri receive a more thorough treatment than those which have already been published elsewhere. Each fragment, headed by its sequential number and title as they also appear in the table of contents, is further described by its inventory number, plate number, size, and date. Immediately following are references to any previous publications of the papyrus in question. The standard description of the form, size, and content of the fragment serves as the introduction to each piece. A transcription of the Greek, numbered by line, is followed by an English translation. Line by line notes on formulae and alternative reconstructions follow.

A significant flaw in the format of the book is that the lines of the English translations are not numbered as is the Greek text. Instead, no doubt as a concession to limited space, the English is written out as a cohesive paragraph with no line numbering whatsoever, making it difficult on occasion to establish a one-to-one correspondence between the Greek and the English texts. Fragments with a large number of lacunae are particularly confusing in this regard, notably when a given line contains more than one lacuna. In the English, it is particularly difficult to tell whether brackets are employed to indicate a physical lacuna or to signal untranslatable letters (for example, see p. 2). These difficulties are not fatal, but a numbered English translation would have been a great help to the reader. Aside from this complaint, the technical presentation of the volume is exemplary. Both the Greek and English fonts are legible and attractive. The same cannot be said of the handwriting on many of the papyri but that is more the fault of ancient scribal practices than modern reproduction. The photographs contain good contrasts between the ink lines and the papyrus itself. One can imagine that the plates are nearly as easy to read as the originals.

Columbia Papyri X offers something different to each scholar of antiquity. Because I do not have the space to comment on each contribution to the volume, I have chosen four fragments which I find particularly intriguing. The first two, papyri 261 and 290, should be of note for scholars who, like myself, take a particular interest in religious aspects of the ancient world. One concerns the affairs of a pagan temple; the other those of a Christian woman. The last two, papyri 252 and 265, are business transactions, important for different reasons. One is an impassioned letter about a tricky business deal. The other emends scholarly assumptions about patriarchal deme affiliation.

Papyrus 261, labelled “Appointment of Pastophoroi,” provides a look into the world of temple administration in the mid-second century C.E. in the Oxyrhynchite nome. The papyrus is a letter to the strategos of the nome concerning three new pastophoroi who “have been appointed in addition to those in charge of the security of the temple” (p. 52). As Jean-Jacques Aubert, the editor of this piece, remarks, if the Statilius Maximus who wrote this letter is the mid-second century C.E. epistrategos of the Heptanomia, then the papyrus provides new information about the involvement of the epistrategos in the affairs of the temple. Usually the temple affairs were under the auspices of the high priest of Alexandria and all Egypt, although the involvement of the prefect and of the strategos is also known. The relationship of the epistrategos to temple affairs is not well attested. In this papyrus, it may be the epistrategos who decrees that the new temple guards are “entitled to receive (a share of) the police-tax” (p. 52).

The other fragment of interest to scholars of religion, papyrus 290, does not reveal new details about the relationship of a secular authority to a temple, but is a rather ordinary communique from a late antique (V or VI C.E.) Christian woman, Tegrape, to her A)DELFOI/. Fragments of the letter are preserved in the same hand on both the front and the back of the papyrus. The front contains a greeting to a number of men and women bearing Christian names such as Petros, Elias and Maria; the back is a request for goods. The woman has apparently been separated from the recipients of the letter for a year. What is striking in this most ordinary of letters is the way in which the woman’s Christian identity is readily apparent, both on account of the onomastic evidence and in the thanks which she gives to God, so reminiscent of Pauline epistles. Although Jennifer K. Lynn, the editor of this fragment, operates on the assumption that Tegrape is corresponding with her family, the woman’s Christian identity makes me question whether the address A)DELFOI/ does in fact imply a familial relationship or only a Christian bond.

There are many other papyri in Columbia Papyri X of interest to scholars of antiquity, if not to scholars of religion in particular. Papyrus 252, a letter of the first century C.E., is striking because of the intrigue and high finance to which it refers. Previously published in BASP (24 [1987] 9-15), this letter is an impassioned entreaty from one business partner to another. The author of the letter, Longus, is trying to convince Julius to decide about selling a number of items. He compels him to make up his mind, writing, “Tell me through anyone you can — only don’t let anyone find out what you’re doing” (p. 17). The secrecy of the deal is plain enough, as Longus does not name the items he hopes to buy. Jacqueline Long proposes that Longus is purchasing either land or slaves.

Jacqueline Long also edits papyrus 265, “Letter to a Tax-Farmer of the xenike praktoria.” The importance of this late second century C.E. fragment lies in the way the author of this note identifies his deme affiliation. He calls himself, “Hermias son of Sotas, of the deme, on the side of his maternal grandfather Hermias, of the Sosikosmian tribe and the Althaean deme, kosmetes-designate and councilor of Oxyrhynchos” (p. 66). Through this papyrus, Long is able to prove that some men identify their deme affiliation by their maternal, not their paternal, grandfathers. She is the first to recognize this formula, which explains at least one other known papyrus.

The four papyri which I have mentioned do not by any means exhaust the discoveries contained within the pages of Columbia Papyri X. Along with other published collections and specialized journals such as the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists, this volume and series are a worthy contribution to the ever-growing number of papyri available to the scholarly community at large. Of course, it is not enough for the publication of papyri to serve an end in itself; philological projects such as these need to be incorporated into different sub-fields in the study of antiquity. In my own field, this is made possible by series such as New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, and I am sure that parallel resources exist for other fields.

While paper publications will not cease to be important, certainly the most influential papyrological resources of this and the next generation of scholars will be electronic. The Packard Humanities Institute CD-ROM containing the Duke and Michigan documentary papyri data base and the Advanced Papyrological Information System, a consortium of universities who have begun to put their collections online, have made access to papyri possible in an entirely new way. In the era in which modern papyrological study came of age, the earliest papyrologists could not have imagined the World Wide Web or the potential it would have for their field. Ninety-nine years have passed between the first Oxyrhynchos finds and the publication of Columbia Papyri X, a century in which enormous progress has been made in providing access to these once discarded treasures of our human heritage.