BMCR 2006.10.38

Urkunden aus Hermupolis (BGU XIX). Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete, 19

, Urkunden aus Hermupolis (BGU XIX). Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete, 19. München/Leipzig: K.G. Saur, 2005. 201; pls. 42. €118.00.

For many classicists, particularly in North America, H. Maehler (M.) is perhaps most closely associated with critical editions of ancient poets like Pindar and Bacchylides and not with documentary papyri from Egypt dating as late as the seventh century A.D. With the publication of the edition under review (BGU XIX = Berliner griechische Urkunden, vol. 19), M. has now in fact produced his third volume of documentary texts from Roman and Byzantine Egypt. This particular edition continues a series of publications, all appearing in BGU, which are devoted to largely late documents from Hermopolis Magna (modern el-Aschmunein). The papyri were acquired through excavations and purchases for the Egyptian Museum in Berlin during the early part of the twentieth century, and the first volume in the series (BGU XII) was edited by M. himself in 1974,1 with the second (BGU XVII) appearing in 2001, edited by G. Poethke.2

The city of Hermopolis was located on the west bank of the Nile in Upper Egypt, just across the river from Antinoopolis, a city founded in A.D. 130 by Hadrian in honor of his young friend Antinoos, who drowned under mysterious circumstances on a trip up the Nile with the emperor. Though not the provincial capital, Hermopolis was the capital of the Hermopolite nome and home for many years to the Roman numerus Maurorum, a unit of equestrian troops. BGU XIX presents us with 80 papyri from Hermopolis, 75 of which are published for the first time. Although most papyri date to the fourth through the seventh century, several come from Roman times and one from the late Ptolemaic period, dated October 19, 52 B.C. The edition comprises petitions, official notices, accounts, tax receipts, delivery orders, leases, sales, loans, etc.—standard fare for a volume of documentary papyri. One papyrus is written in Latin and the rest are in Greek. Each text is preceded by a brief introduction and followed in most cases by an apparatus, translation, and commentary. The commentaries and introductions to the texts tend to be bare, and with the important exception of the introduction, BGU XIX is meant for specialists well acquainted with related documents. The general introduction (pp. 1-14), however, has broader appeal, and all interested parties should profit from it. There M. discusses the value of individual documents and how they aid our understanding of Hermopolis, the Hermopolite nome, and society in late Roman Egypt.

What follows is a very brief survey of a few of the highlights of the edition, some of which M. notes in his introduction. BGU XIX offers seven (possibly eight, if we include 2773) new papyri from the well known Taurinos archive.3 Most of them (2803, 2804, 2816, 2826) are from the second half of the fifth century and pertain to Taurinos’ son, Johannes I. The volume also contains a lease contract (2808) involving the female landowner Aurelia Kyra, daughter of Abraamios, who appears in five Hermopolite documents published elsewhere and whose property in the eastern part of the city may by the end of the fifth century have fallen into the hands of Taurinos II (p. 2). Aurelia Kyra is not the only female landowner attested in the volume: 2810 mentions a hitherto unknown lessor named Flavia Sibylla, whose name can be added to a growing list of female landholders encountered in Hermopolite contracts (in addition to Aurelia Kyra and Flavia Sibylla, we know of, for example, Aurelia Eutropia, daughter of Heliodoros, Aurelia Eucharistia, daughter of Hermogenes, Aurelia Eucharistia, daughter of Theodoros, Aurelia Aphthonia, daughter of Hypsistos, etc.).

BGU XIX contributes two new names to the list of known Hermopolite strategi: 2765 shows that Aurelios Herakleios, strategos of the Oxyrhynchite nome in 266, held the office in the Hermopolite in 263/264, and a certain Spurios Iulios Thrasyllos is identified as a Hermopolite strategos in a petition from the second century (2763). The volume also offers further evidence for the activities of several well known officials. In an undated document (2778), Klaudios Chouis, financial director ( χρυσώνης) of the Thebaid between 385 and 393/4 and Antinoopolite councilor, issues a receipt to Aurelios Philammon, the well known town councilor of Hermopolis and tax collector. The unusually large sum recorded in the receipt, 26 lbs. gold and 188 1/2 solidi, is likely to have been the total of a number of smaller contributions that Philammon had collected. Finally, the secretary of finance and tax inspector Flavios Magister is the recipient of a petition concerning tax arrears (2788) dated to late in the year 607 or to 608; this marks the ninth extant papyrus featuring Magister.

Several documents offer valuable insight into mundane activities of the Church and some of its agents. In a rent agreement for a smithy from the year 526/527 (2822),4 the renter is identified as both a smith and a deacon, which M. cites as evidence of the great reach of Christianity, particularly among the poorer population. In 2808, a priest leases from Aurelia Kyra a substantial amount of land, including irrigation devices, on behalf of the Church of Hermopolis. 2795 offers new evidence for a monastery of Saint Kyriakos located in the Hermopolite; monasteries named after Kyriakos are known from the Arsinoite, Panopolite and Thinite nomes, as well as Apollonopolis and Djeme. The fragmentary wheat account published as 2786, which appears to have been written in a church or monastery and records amounts of wheat distributed to beggars ( πτωχοί), indicates, according to M. (p. 6), that charitable distributions of grain to the poor may have come under the purview of the Church by the late fifth century. M. suggests that benefaction of this kind was previously controlled by municipal public servants, as observed in documents like the third century “corn dole archive” published in P.Oxy. XL.5 A notable difference between the archive from Oxyrhynchus and the Berlin papyrus is, in my view, the fact that the Roman corn dole does not appear to have been directed towards the poor.

Another papyrus that involves members of the Church is an intriguing fifth century summons (2773) issued by a Hermopolite officium to the νυκτοστράτηγοι, instructing them to round up and turn over six individuals to the warden of the court ( ἀπλικιτάριος). Among those summoned are a deacon and a priest, yet the greatest points of interest in the document are not ecclesiastical, but rather the rare reference to an ἀπλικιτάριος and the officium responsible for issuing the summons. The document offers the second extant example in a papyrus of an ἀπλικιτάριος.6 The warden of the court served under the commentariensis, presumably in the office of the dux of the Thebaid.7 John Lydus tells us in De mag. III, 8 that wardens had the authority to hold individuals accused of wrongdoing, and the Berlin papyrus shows one being directed to exercise precisely this authority. According to M.’s treatment of the text, the office that issued the summons was the πολιτικὲ τάξις —the word πολιτικὴ is restored. This is of course possible, but it should be noted that there are other possibilities: the offices of the praeses and dux 8 are not uncommonly referred to in documents from the nome, even if the officia themselves were located across the river in Antinoopolis. Either of them is an alternative here, and if the Johannes mentioned in line 19 is to be identified with Johannes son of Taurinos, then perhaps it is was the ducal office, since Johannes is known to have worked there.

Papyrologists will certainly welcome these new documents from Berlin. They are generally well edited,9 although in a couple of cases transcriptions diverge from modern editorial practice. One example of this can be seen in 2768, where abbreviations on the papyrus are simply replicated by means of symbols in the printed edition: there is no translation, no apparatus, and nothing in the commentary that might explain what the symbols represent. The importance of 2768 lies in the geographical names that it contains, but one wonders why the papyrus was not either edited fully, as is customary, or reported briefly, in the manner of the descripta of older volumes of papyri. As it is, such a text is of little use even to some specialists. An even greater misfortune, though, is the fact that not all papyri have been reproduced in the plates at the back because of the prohibitive cost of including them (p. vii). We can only hope that the Egyptian Museum, which houses one of the most important papyrus collections in the world, will follow the lead of institutions both in Europe and North America and make images of its published papyri available on the web.

The volume includes a few minor editorial and typographical errors, which I note here. In 2764.5, 7, and 9, there is a typographical mistake in the name Οὐαλεριανός with eta consistently being employed instead of epsilon (see Plate III, especially line 7). In the introduction to 2766, the text on the back is said to be 2828, but is actually 2829. Plate IX is a reproduction of 2776B col. I, not 2776A col. I. The number at the top of page 73 should be 2787, not 2760. In the introduction to 2788, understand “Leontios” instead of “Johannes” in the second and third sentences of the second paragraph. In the commentary on 2827.16-19, the date should read “30. August 595 bis zum 29. August 596.”


1. Papyri aus Hermupolis. Ägyptische Urkunden aus den Staatlichen Museen Berlin. Griechische Urkunden, XII Band (Berlin 1974).

2. Griechische Papyrusurkunden Spätrömischer und Byzantinischer Zeit aus Hermupolis Magna (BGU XVII) (Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete, Beiheft 7) (München/Leipzig 2001).

3. A good summary of the archive can be found in the Leuven Homepage of Papyrus Archives and Collections.

4. For discussion of the date of this document, which the editor records as August 31, 526, see ZPE, 157 (2006), 163.

5. J.R. Rea (ed.) The Oxyrhynchus Papyri. Volume XL (London 1972).

6. The other is in a sixth century account from Aphrodito, P.Cair. Masp. III 67287, col.IV,1 = J. Maspero (ed.) Papyrus grecs d’époque byzantine. Catalogue général des antiquités égyptiennes du Musée du Caire, vol. III (Cairo 1916).

7. J. Maspero assigns the warden mentioned in P.Cair. Masp. III 67287, col.IV,1 to the ducal office.

8. The office of the praeses was called the ἡγεμονικὴ τάξις and that of the dux the δουκικὴ τάξις or ἡ κατὰ Θεβαίδα στρατιωτικὴ τάξις, see CPR XXIV, p. 74 = B. Palme (ed.) Corpus Papyrorum Raineri XXIV. Griechische Texte XVII: Dokumente zu Verwaltung und Militär aus dem spätantiken Ägypten (Wien 2002).

9. Some proposed improvements can be found in my “Notes on BGU XIX,” ZPE, 157 (2006), 162-164.