BMCR 2009.09.30

Greek Documentary Papyri from Ptolemaic Egypt. Corpus Papyrorum Raineri (CPR) Bd. 28

, Greek Documentary Papyri from Ptolemaic Egypt. Corpus Papyrorum Raineri (CPR) Bd. 28. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008. xxii, 229. ISBN 9783110195231. $137.00.

[Table of contents is listed at the end of the review.]

Papyrology has transformed our understanding of the ancient Mediterranean world over the past 130 years, and every new scrap of papyrus has the potential to develop our knowledge still further. This 28th volume in the Corpus Papyrorum Raineri (CPR) series should therefore receive a warm welcome. It introduces to modern scholarship 14 previously unpublished Greek documents of the Ptolemaic period. Csaba La’da’s careful editions include transliterations, translations, and detailed commentaries. A sleeve-insert at the end of the volume provides 19 fine plates and illustrates every text.

A glance at the plates immediately demonstrates La’da’s editorial achievement. The work of the papyrologist is challenging in the most favourable circumstances. The papyri in question here are particularly unpromising specimens, and the descriptions of no. 4 on p. 21 and no. 14 on p. 199 (see also plates 2, 18, and 19) give a clear sense of some of the difficulties confronting the editor. La’da states that ‘most pieces’ have been recovered from mummy cartonnage (p. xi), and this is explicitly indicated in all but three cases (nos. 1, 12, and 13). It is hardly surprising, then, that most of the documents are in a highly fragmentary and damaged state, and it is important to acknowledge at the outset the great skill and labour which has clearly gone into the preparation of this book.

Given the fragmentary nature of the documents, the contents may not at first seem especially inspiring. The group has no particular thematic unity, other than that the papyri are all datable to the Ptolemaic period. As La’da observes, ‘they all concern the administration, economy and everyday life of Egypt in the last three centuries before Christ’ (p. xi). We encounter fragments of two letters, a tax receipt, a royal decree, a petition to an official, a register of taxpayers, one line of a land survey, a specimen of official correspondence, and six accounts of various sorts.

Apart from nos. 2 and 14, the provenance of which is quite unknown (pp. 6, 198), these new pieces are either certainly, probably, or at least possibly from Middle Egypt, more specifically the Arsinoite (at least seven texts, possibly up to nine), Herakleopolite (at least one text, possibly up to three), and Hermopolite (possibly no. 13) nomes. Their dating is in most cases approximate and often dependent solely or largely on palaeographic considerations. Internal and external evidence provides various kinds of help, and in two cases (nos. 1 and 11) more or less precise dates are recoverable. As it happens, the temporal distribution of the documents accords with general patterns for the Ptolemaic period, that is, declining numbers by century. The editor assigns 10 or even 11 of the documents to the third century, between two and four to the second century, and possibly one to the first.

Even in the case of poorly preserved papyri, potentially valuable new data can be extracted from close analysis of the material. The present collection is no exception. I highlight a few examples, chosen at random, by way of illustration.

No. 2 is cautiously identified (p. 6) as written with an Egyptian brush (though possibly with a very broad Greek pen). If the identification is accurate (and plate 1 shows it is certainly plausible), it adds to the small quantity of brush-written texts known (see the references at p. 6 n. 1). These have important implications for the analysis of bilingualism in Ptolemaic Egypt. Nos. 8 and 9 contain valuable additions to our knowledge of Egyptian onomastics in the Ptolemaic era (p. 57). No. 10 appears to preserve the name of the Herakleopolite village Thmoiouthis, which was previously attested in only three papyri (p. 174). The opening formula of the highly fragmentary no. 14, apparently a royal prostagma, is attested in only two other ancient documents (p. 199). Such details, slight in themselves, can have considerable informative potential when compared and contrasted with previously known data from other documentary sources.

There is inevitably new food for thought in these documents concerning the language of the papyri as well. To give just one example, the ‘incorrect’ use of the imperative instead of a participle after καλῶς ποιέσης (no. 2 ll. 5-6, and see p. 9 on l. 5) indicates the transformation of the ‘please’ expression into a lexical rather than grammatical feature in some varieties of early Egyptian Koine. Grammatical analysis is not a particular strength of La’da’s commentaries, but this is a fact essentially reflecting the general need for new linguistic research into the papyri.

La’da’s discussions also present numerous interesting details on palaeography and scribal practice. For the latter, again to give a solitary example, see his observation regarding the ‘quite deformed’ shape of the δ of δέ in no. 7 l. 6 (p. 50 n. on l. 6 end).

It needs to be stated that the returns for the editor’s hard work are fairly limited. This volume is essentially a collection of fragments and the reader too will have to work for the various scraps of valuable data. Its main significance resides in its complementing of previously published Ptolemaic material. This brings me to my one substantive criticism of the book.

La’da’s editorial style represents a recent trend in the publication of papyri. His commentaries are very extensive for the amount of original new material included. Thus, for instance, the entry for no. 12 runs to nearly three pages for a single, incomplete line. What is very striking in this particular volume is the relative emphasis given to different kinds of material included in the commentaries. The notes show heavy focus on explanation of editorial decisions in the reading of letter traces and related issues. This can bury other components of La’da’s discussions, which are likely to be of more general interest to scholars using the book. One may observe, for instance, a long note on no. 12 ll. 3-4 (on the verso), which appear in the transcription as a sequence of dots ‘in too poor a condition to allow any conclusions to be drawn with any certainty’ (p. 190). The allocation of space to these lines is arguably excessive, though the speculation that the dots may reflect Demotic Egyptian writing is certainly interesting (to this reviewer at least) as far as it goes.

To a certain extent one can defend La’da’s minutely detailed account of his readings of poorly preserved letter-forms. The essential point is that papyri recovered from cartonnage are often very difficult to interpret. So as a discussion of papyrological method there is much of value here. It is useful to see the approaches of editors to difficult texts set out at length, especially given that the academic world seems unable to support more than a few specialists in papyrology in any one generation. The rest of us can profit from seeing how they go about their craft. On the other hand, if one pares away this level of discussion, there is not that much commentary of other sorts offered in the book.

These reservations aside, the volume is clear and easy to use in terms of format and presentation. One can, for instance, pick up at a glance the basic details on provenance and date. The Greek too, most importantly in the transcriptions, is impressively presented. Random sampling suggests the book is largely free of the kinds of errors, e.g. in accentuation, which are increasingly familiar in epigraphic and papyrological publications. In the texts I observed only three apparent errors/inconsistencies:

1) a lunate sigma (against La’da’s usual practice) at no. 3 col. ii l. 2;
2) an unnaccented name at no. 9b col. ii l. 19;
3) a missing acute accent probably needed for the antepenultimate syllable of the name-ending at no. 11 l. 1.

In short, La’da’s volume provides a valuable supplement to our corpus of documentary papyri from the Ptolemaic period. These 14 new texts may not offer the exciting possibilities of the major archives or of thematically linked material, but the importance of their new data should not be underestimated. The book rewards close reading and the editor deserves high praise for transforming these forbiddingly fragmentary pieces into accessible form.


Preface . . . vii
Contents . . . ix
Introduction . . . xi
Abbreviations . . . xiii
Conventions . . . xx
Concordance of Inventory and Publication Numbers and Plates . . . xxi
Note on the Method of Publication . . . xxii


1. Tax Receipt for Telos Ananeoseos (Krokodiopolis, Arsinoites, 237 BC) . . . 1
2. Fragment of a Letter (prov. unknown, mid- to late III c. BC) . . . 6
3.-6. Various Accounts – Introduction . . . 12
3. Financial Account ( meris of Polemon, Arsinoites, mid- to late III c. BC) . . . 14
4. Account of Agricultural Produce ( meris of Polemon, Arsinoites, mid- to late III c. BC) . . . 21
5. Account of Tax Payments ( meris of Polemon, Arsinoites, mid- to late III c. BC) . . . 28
6. Account of Tax Payments ( meris of Polemon, Arsinoites, mid- to late III c. BC) . . . 39
7. Fragment of a Private Letter (Arsinoites or Herakleopolites?, late III – mid-II c. BC) . . . 47
8.-9. Two Documents concerning Tax Collection – Introduction . . . 51
8. Register of Taxpayers (Arsinoites [region of Tebtynis?], about 210 – mid-II c. BC) . . . 61
9. Daily Account of Tax Payments (Arsinoites [region of Tebtynis?], about 210 – mid-II c. BC) . . . 116
10. Fragment of an Account (Koites toparchy, Herakleopolites, about 210 – mid-II c. BC) . . . 169
11. Petition to an Official of Athenodoros, the Dioiketes (prov. unknown [Herakleopolis?], before 21 January 191 BC) . . . 176
12. Beginning of a Land Survey (Arsinoites?, II c.? BC) . . . 188
13. Official Correspondence concerning Royal Land? (prov. unknown [Hermopolites?], mid- to late II c. [120/119?] BC) . . . 191
14. A Royal Prostagma from Late Ptolemaic Egypt (prov. unknown, late II – mid-I c. BC) . . . 198


i. Dates . . . 221
ii. Personal Names . . . 221
iii. Geographical . . . 225
iv. Official Terms . . . 225
v. Religion . . . 226
vi. Taxes and Other Charges . . . 226
vii. Measures and Money . . . 226
viii. Numbers, Symbols and Abbreviations . . . 226
ix. General Index of Words . . . 227