BMCR 2003.10.10

Der königliche Schreiber und die Gauverwaltung

, Der königliche Schreiber und die Gauverwaltung. Untersuchungen zur Verwaltungsgeschichte Ägyptens in der Zeit von Augustus bis Philippus Arabs (20 v. Chr. - 245 n. Chr.). Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete - Beihefte 11.2. München/Leipzig: K.G. Saur, 2002. Pp. 1141. ISBN 9783598775451. EUR 108.00; EUR 98.00.

The book under review is the revised version of Thomas Kruse’s (henceforth K.) dissertation handed in during the winter term of 2001/2002. With two volumes and over a thousand pages its a very large dissertation even by German standards. The table of contents alone reaches the size of an average BMCR-review if completely listed. K.’s study is based on papyri and concerns the office of the “royal scribe” (basilikos grammateus; hereafter b.g.) and the nome administration of Roman Egypt from the time of Octavian’s conquest in 30 BC till AD 245. The Greek title is a translation of the ancient Egyptian “scribe of the king” and was in use since Ptolemaic times. Second to the strategos the royal scribe was the most important public official in the nome. Because of the immense size of K.’s study and the numerous subjects therein the reviewer will confine himself to a summary of the most relevant details.

In the introduction (Chapter I; pp. 1-22) K. outlines the research history and his intentions, as well as the problems of the source material, before settling on the terminology. One must keep in mind that most papyri come from some areas in northern Egypt; predominantly the Fayyum. Alexandria and the Delta and also most of southern Egypt cannot be examined due to the lack of appropriate papyrus finds. K. concludes his introduction with a [rather brief] summary of the b.g.’s office till the end of the Ptolemaic period and points out that this office, though Egyptian in origin, received its prime importance in the administrative hierarchy under the Ptolemies.

Chapter II (pp. 23-62) concerns the office of the b.g. in Roman times and its various attributes. K. gives summary descriptions of the official title, administrative district, administration of the nome’s capital [which despite being referred to as metropolis or polis was treated as a kome], substitution of the office, prohibition of another office within one’s district, official seat and premises, term of office, application and admittance to office as well as property qualification, salary, leave of absence, and change of office. The examination of these topics is based on the papyrological evidence which varies accordingly. There is for example hardly any source to prove the possibility of a leave of absence for the scribe (p. 59). It is interesting to note that the Roman administration kept the royal terminology. The local population was accustomed to it and a disruption of the traditional terms was thus wisely avoided.

Chapter III (pp. 63-771) “Die Kompetenzen des Amtes” (The responsibilities of the office) builds the core of the book and extends into the second volume. In six major subchapters the author gives a detailed analysis of the various tasks of the royal scribe. Section III.1. (pp. 63-282) concerns the control of the population and its property. K. starts with the census declarations in the nomes where such documents have been found (Arsinoites, Ptolemais Euergetis, Oxyrhynchites, Hermopolites, Memphites, Prosopites, Lykopolites). Attention is given to the various types of documents and how they were archived. In addition, the b.g. received declarations of death, births and training relationships. Apparently people who were removed permanently from their place of residence by a severe court sentence must have been the subject of a special declaration brought forward by relatives who hoped for a tax reduction. So far only one document can be cited for this (two men sentenced ad bestias; cf. P.Petaus 9 = C.Pap.Gr. II App. 2) from AD 185. Since the petition applies for the dropping of the relevant poll tax on the basis of similar cases (ll. 15-18), K. justly points out the exemplary significance of this papyrus for similar situations, like a damnatio ad metalla; only here the tax may have been revived after a release from the mines (pp. 168-171).

As the senior bookkeeper of the nome the royal scribe was also in charge of the various object declarations of taxable movable property. Very interesting, at least from a modern point of view, are the camel-declarations (Kameldeklarationen) (pp. 181-212). The registration of camels was addressed to the strategos and the b.g. alike. The handling of its cancellation, however — in case of the camel’s sale or death — seems to have been solely the responsibility of the royal scribe, as were all matters of a shortfall of tax revenues. A similar procedure can be observed with regard to taxation: the strategos and the b.g. were the recipients of registrations, while death notices went only to the b.g. The fiscal-administrative control also extended to the small livestock as can be seen from some documents from several nomes — including one from Upper Egypt (pp. 213-235).

Another important task of the b.g. concerned the declarations of non-inundated land (abrochia) (pp. 235-250), i.e. agricultural lands that were affected by a low inundation of the Nile. The earliest document dates to AD 158 (P.Phil. 9). Such declarations were normally handed in during the current year shortly after the annual flood had reached its peak and begun subsiding. By then the impact was apparent and notice of insufficiently flooded or non-inundated land could be made, normally between the end of January and the end of April. Over seventy such declarations, two thirds of which are from the Arsinoites, are mentioned here. In a summary (p. 251) K. makes it clear that, even though the strategos received copies of the subject- and object declarations, the administrative evaluation of those documents was the task of the b.g.

The following subchapter (III.1.2-3; pp. 252-280) deals with the b.g.’s participation with the episkepsis, a bureaucratic procedure probably conducted annually to establish the social status of fiscally privileged population groups. This inspection was another means of administrative population control besides the subjects-declarations. It is evident (cf. SB XVIII 13175) that updating the census-list belonged to the b.g.’s duties. A more detailed chapter follows on the inspection of the arable land (episkepsis gês) as well as the irrigation system and its upkeep (III.2; pp. 281-328). A large portion of volume I focuses on the administrative responsibilities of the leading nome-officials for the grain-tax (III.3; pp. 329-477). Here K. gives a detailed analysis on the basis of the extant documents and of the various bureaucratic procedures such as the order of grain shipments, allocation of salaries, supply of troops, and requisition of transport capacity (on the basis of P.Flor. II, 278, recto). The second half of this subchapter encompasses the administrative procedure for the allocation of loans of seed-grain (Saatgutdarlehen) to the state’s tenant farmers in the first and second century, as well as further payments from the public purse (pp. 406-477). He concludes this chapter with a comparison of the Roman allocation procedure with that of the Ptolemaic period. The duties of the royal scribe concerning the sale and lease of fiscal property — mainly the state lands — are the theme of chapter III.4 (pp. 478-609). The first section (III.4.1.) covers the sale of fiscal property, a main feature of which was the sale of minimally productive land (hypologos = Mindestertragsland). This type of land caused extra costs for the state and was normally sold to private individuals on favorable terms along with lengthy tax exemptions. The sale of derelict and confiscated property, as well as the sale of mobile fiscal property, is also treated. The second section (III.4.2.) is a detailed analysis of the lease of fiscal property.

Volume Two starts with chapter III.5 (pp. 610-708), which covers the fiscal bookkeeping of the b.g. primarily in connection with the levy and administration of taxes. A very important chapter (III.6.; pp. 709-771) outlines the responsibilities of the royal scribe in the administrative control of the Egyptian temples and their priests. The temples and priesthoods had enjoyed immense wealth and power under the Ptolemies, both of which they were deprived of under Roman rule. Subsequently they lost their economic and political power, had their tax privileges drastically reduced and were put under government control. The following subchapters therefore deal with bureaucratic procedures concerning temples and priests. Each year the priests had to hand in an updated list of all the priesthoods of each temple as well as the temple inventory. The assessment of the priests’ fiscal status (some were exempted from poll tax while others were not), admission to the priesthood, the sale of purchasable offices, matters of priestly discipline, control of temple property, and the exemption of priests from liturgical conscription are examined here.

The bureaucratic organization of the b.g.’s office is covered in chapter IV (pp. 772-811). The various terms for the scribe’s aides in the papyri as well as their recruitment, appointment, length of employment-contract, liability, payment, assignments and function are outlined. The main office task, however, concerned the registration of documents and the maintenance of the archive.

The royal scribe’s social position and career opportunities within the administrative hierarchy are the subject of chapter V (pp. 812-939). The essence of the b.g.’s duties mainly lay in the registration and administration of resources, i.e. fiscal accounting. The sources also indicate a very close working relationship with the strategos of the nome. The scribe was also accountable to the central authorities in Alexandria, to whom he had to report the nome’s activities on a regular basis and send certain documents on demand as well. K. examines the question how far the b.g. had to attend the conventus, which he thinks less likely. During the absence of the strategos the scribe acted as his proxy and in a case of vacancy of that office stepped in to substitute and thus had to handle jurisdictional matters and police work. In one subchapter K. analyses the question raised by Oertel whether the relationship between the strategos and the royal scribe is based on hierarchy or rivalry and decides against the latter. He also evaluates the question whether the b.g. is more a professional (Berufsamt) or liturgical office and concedes that, while it was not a lifelong vocation, it could be held for many years. The concluding portion of this chapter deals with the social status of the b.g. There are only a few documents which tell about the family background, economic conditions and privileges of these officials. Two instances are known where a b.g. was allowed to hold the office again. A royal scribe could not rise to become strategos in the nome where he served, but a few cases can be traced where this higher office was acquired in another nome (pp. 921-923). Some scribes held municipal offices and even Roman citizenship before the constitutio Antoniniana of 212. Only one case is known where a b.g. rose to the rank of eques and even senator after the adlectio of the emperor: P. Aelius Coeranus (cos. suff. 212 ?).

The disappearance of the office of royal scribe is explained briefly in chapter VI (pp. 940-954). The last datable evidence for such a scribe in office is some census-declarations from the year 245 (cf. BGU III 971 [cf. BL IX 1069,3]; IV 1069,3). K. concludes that this office was likely abolished following an administrative reform shortly before the middle of the third century. Its duties were replaced by a liturgical college. This is followed by a concise fifteen-point résumé in chapter VII (pp. 955-957).

Chapter VIII is a prosopographical list of all known royal scribes in the Roman period (pp. 958-1039). The nomes of the Egyptian chora are listed in alphabetical order. Within these charts the individual scribes are given in chronological order. Names and documents marked with an asterisk * are addenda to the list by Bastianini and Whitehorne.1 K. deletes two sources (CIG 5074 = IGRR 1062; O.Bodl. II 810) as proof for a b.g. (pp. 1037-1039). The appendix “Testimonia incerta” (chapter IX pp. 1040-1120 [with wrong Roman numeral VIII in page headline throughout]) brings a commented catalogue of papyri and ostraca which mention the office of the b.g., but due to their poor condition yield too little contextual information to justify a treatment in the topical chapters.2

Several indices (pp. 1121-1141) are added to ease access to this huge opus. The papyrological focus of K.’s work becomes obvious with the source index alone. Nearly fourteen pages cover the indices to papyri and ostraca while a mere half page lists the epigraphic sources and only twenty (!) cross-references the classical authors. A topical index of Greek and Latin as well as general German terms completes the book.

As stated above it is not easy to present K.’s work in detail here. K. is aware that he had to limit the size and scope of his very specialized study. It is the result of many years of hard and diligent work. “Der Königliche Schreiber und die Gauverwaltung” will undoubtedly be the handbook to use on the royal scribe and the nome administration in Roman times until the middle of the third century. One can trust that K. has examined all documents that were available to him. It is interesting to follow his detailed examination of the various sources which illuminate the concerns of the individuals behind them, but still, this is not a history book for a casual read. Everyone interested in the administration of Roman Egypt will have to start with K. The book was prepared with some haste as numerous typographical errors — especially in the first chapters — indicate. These notwithstanding, Kruse can be congratulated for his important and well-done contribution.


1. G. Bastianini/J.E.G Whitehorne, Strategi and Royal Scribes of Roman Egypt. Chronological List and Index (Pap.Flor. 15), Florence 1987, 117-147.

2. The commented documents are: BGU II 433, 484, 660; III 829, 904; IV 1047; XV 2466; XVI 2626; CPR VII 11; P.Aberd. 155; P.Amh. II 131; P.Bacch. 25 verso (= SB VI 9331); P.Bingen 114; P.Bour. 21; P.Brem. 28 verso; P.Bub. II 5 Col. XXXIX; P.Erl. 19 verso; P.Fam.Tebt. 42; P.Flor. I 98; P.Laur. I 13 recto; PL inv. III/723; P.Mert. II 80; P.Mur. II 117 (= SB X 10307); P.Oslo III 182; P.Oxy. XLII 3073-3074; XLV 3242; LV 3807; LX 4061; LXVII 4583; P.Petaus 55 verso; P.Ryl. II 427 descr., IV 603, 675; P.Sarap. 54 verso Col. I; PSI 792, XIII 1331 (= SB V 7994), XIV 1439; P.Sorb. inv. 2069; P.Stras. I 56, VI 549, 574, VII 612; P.Tebt II 420, 567 descr.; PUG I 12; SB I 5678, III 7264, XIV 11547 (= PSI VII 870f+c, b+a), XVI 12374 (= P.Oxy. IV 800 descr.), XVI 13046 (= P.Lond. III 1224 descr.), XX 14945; O.Bodl. II 1974; P.Bingen 102. (Order of BGU corrected).