BMCR 2004.03.18

Les Papyrus de Genève, vol. 1 2d edition. Nos. 1-10, 12-44, 66-78, 80-81. Textes documentaires

, , , , Les papyrus de Genève.. Geneva: Bibliothèque publique et universitaire de Genève, 2002-. volumes : illustrations ; 24 cm. ISBN 2882200218. sFr 80.00.

This volume is a re-edition of fifty-nine important papyri in Geneva that were edited by Jules Nicole at the beginning of the last century. Those published as part of the Abinnaeus archive (P. Abinn.) have not been included here. The rationale for Paul Schubert and Isabelle Jornot to republish these very important texts needs hardly to be emphasized: Greek papyrology has considerably advanced since Nicole’s editio princeps, and there is much information to add and some new readings as well. This is an exemplary volume, with good indices and excellent plates, which can be pulled out of the book and placed next to the transcription. I personally like this format very much. The texts range in date from the second century BCE to the fourth century CE, although the majority of the papyri are Roman in date (texts 20, a receipt for the sale of land, and 21, a marriage contract, are the only Ptolemaic pieces).

The texts are carefully presented, and, while the commentary is kept to a minimum, there is much useful information collected for each text as it relates to other documents and comments. Papyrologists will for the most part be familiar with these texts already, sixteen of them being published in one or the other of Mitteis and Wilcken’s Grundzüge, but the volume is worthwhile reading for papyrologists and ancient historians alike. The editors should be thanked for producing such a handsome volume in a manner that is accessible to non-specialists.

The bulk of these texts will be of interest to Roman legal and economic historians, and many of them are contracts of very familiar type, so I provide here only a short summary of a selection. Text 1 is a “letter of protection” written on behalf of (Valer)ius Titanianus, a wealthy land owner in Philadelphia, dated 213 CE. Text 2 is a brief order of payment dating to the second or third century; the editors speculate on what might lie behind the payment order and offer a framework for understanding the text in the context of Roger Bagnall’s economic model of urban elite capital investment in the form of loans out into the countryside. Text 3, dating to 178 or 179 CE, is an interesting complaint concerning family tension over inheritance. Text 4 (ca. 87 CE) is a petition concerning the declaration of civic status ( epikrisis); text 5 (138-144 CE) has been well-discussed in the context of whether slaves in Roman Egypt could own property outright. Text 6, (146 CE, Soknopaiou Nesos), is a petition to recover an old debt, while texts 8 and 8bis (dated 141 CE) have similar contents, and come from a village at the northwestern edge of Lake Moeris, “Dionysias, near the copper mines.” Both texts concern the sale in advance of delivery of vegetable seed, perhaps a variant type of loan with interest. Text 9 and 9 bis, from the Herakleopolite nome and dated 252, are also loan contracts, identical documents written side by side and meant to be separated and handed over to debtor and creditor. Text 10 is a rent contract of a quarter share of a house between two veterans dated to the early fourth century; text 12, along with texts 66, 67, 68, 69 and 70 comes from an official archive from Philadelphia dating to the end of the fourth century CE. The context of this archive is discussed at the end of the volume, pp. 242-46. The texts shed light in particular on the role of the komarch in the public management of unproductive land in late fourth century Philadelphia. Text 20 (109 BCE, Pathyris), well known from the edition in PLBat 19 (Leiden, 1978, text 7a), is a receipt for the purchase of land and is related to a dossier concerning a loan with the land used as security. The editors’ translation of the phrase ἐωνήσατο ἐγ βασιλικοῦ as “pris a bail à l’administration royale” suggests that the tenure of the land was a long-term lease. I prefer to understand the acquisition of the land here as a sale rather than a lease and would translate “purchased at public auction.” Texts 23 (70 CE, Arsinoite nome), 29 (137 CE, Soknopaiou Nesos) and 30 (142 CE, Soknopaiou Nesos) record sales of animals, a well-known type of contract from Roman Egypt, and their numbers contrast with the very few such sales from the Ptolemaic period.1 Such texts have been well discussed of late, but the paucity of Ptolemaic animal sales has received little comment, beyond the remarks of Bernadette Menu, “Vente d’une vache de labour sous Ptolémée VIII Euergète II,” CRIPEL 6 (1981): 229-42.2 Text 33 (155 CE, Ptolemaic Euergetis) is a birth declaration of a child produced by a brother-sister marriage, who were, perhaps, twin siblings. These marriages, a Roman period phenomenon, are now well discussed by Brent Shaw and Walter Scheidel, and I need not rehearse their arguments here other than to say that a full explanation of the phenomenon remains a desideratum. The usual ones (keeping family property intact and the desire to follow Ptolemaic royal marriages) are, as the editors here say, insufficient in and of themselves. Text 36 (170 CE, Soknopaiou Nesos) is a fascinating text concerned with the delivery of linen by the priests of the important Roman period temple in the north Fayyum for the burial of the Apis bull at Memphis. I quibble slightly with the two lines of demotic at the bottom of the text. As it is read, “Sosylos ? also known as Onnophris, has signed ? the lesonis : I have taken the above-mentioned steps.” does not fit the demotic syntax well. The verb “has signed” should have come at the head of the sentence. Perhaps what was read as “has signed” is part of the filiation, and we should take this all as one sentence: So and so, also known as so and so, son of so?, the lesonis, I have taken the above-mentioned steps.”

The most important results from this re-edition are usefully gathered by the editors in the foreword, pp. vii-ix. But the handsome volume is well worth the effort of working through on one’s own. Because many types of document are represented here, the photographs are excellent (although the size of some of them requires a good magnifying glass), and there is good bibliography and economical comment provided for most of the texts, the volume is recommended for students interested in learning papyrology. The editors should be thanked for their careful work in bringing these texts back into circulation in this format and for presenting them in such a way that they are useful for scholars and young students alike.


1. On the donkey, see above all Andrea Jördens, Tyche 10 (1995): 49-61.

2. Cf. J.G. Manning, “A Ptolemaic agreement concerning a donkey with an unusual warranty clause. The strange case of P. dem. Princ. 1 (inv. 7524),” Enchoria, forthcoming.