BMCR 2019.07.18

The Petra Papyri V

, , , The Petra Papyri V. Amman: American Center of Oriental Research Publications (ACOR), 2018. xxiii, 338; clx p. of plates. ISBN 9789957854379 $135.00.

25 years after the discovery of Petra papyri, the fifth and final volume in the edition of the texts has been completed. These Greek documentary papyri, dating from the 6 th century CE, were found in one room of a Byzantine church during excavations in Petra (Jordan).1 From a total of 140 carbonized papyrus rolls about two thirds were able to be restored by the efforts of a joint US-Finnish team from the universities of Michigan and Helsinki. The number of published documents exceeds the given total of 87, since minor texts were jointly published under single numbers in vol. I and again in vol. V ( 68; 81a–c; 86 ?). The volume under review, which was completed by the Finnish editorial team, contains 37 new texts ( 50-87) and two re-edited documents ( 48–49) published in vol. IV under the same numbers. When dealing with P.Petra IV 48-49 in the future it would be advisable to refer to them as P.Petra V 48–49 and to consult additionally the commentary in vol. IV.

P.Petra V begins with a preface (vii), a foreword (ix), and a list of published articles on the Petra papyri (2011–2017) (xi), followed by a bibliography (xiii), corrigenda (xx), and a concordance (xxii). The introduction (pp. 1–58) provides an overview of individuals who have been identified in the Petra papyri (pp. 1–7), an introductory survey of the grammar of the Greek variety as evidenced by these papyri (pp. 8–34), a study of Petraean Arabic (pp. 35–55), and an updated synoptic chronological table (pp. 56–58).

At the volume’s heart are the 37 new texts, among them land leases, exchanges, cessions, and sales as well as documents related to taxes, a will ( diathēkē), a gift after death ( donatio mortis causa), agreements concerning slaves, church property, and workmen (?), official correspondence, a list of garments, accounts, and texts of uncertain character. Each text has an extensive introductory section, providing a physical description of the papyrus, the prosopographic information gained from the text, a discussion of the criteria that have been used to establish its proposed date, as well as comments on the reconstruction of damaged texts. This testifies to the arduous task the editors have accomplished in conserving the texts and relating them to one another. Each text is translated and commented on, and in some cases a synoptic table of the reconstructed order of text fragments is added. The volume ends with an overview of single words from fragmentary documents (pp. 295–300), a complete index to volumes I–V (pp. 301–338), and a section with plates (p. 340; pls. I–CLX).

The chapter “People of Petra” (pp. 1–7) introduces the protagonist of the “archdeacon’s archive” (p. 2), Theodoros, son of Obodianos, his family, and other members of the local elite of Petra. Over three dozen of the Petra documents are directly linked to Theodoros, archdeacon of the church of St. Mary in Petra, or his family members, alongside another dozen texts related to “the affairs of his church” (p. 1). With few exceptions, all of the texts were found in the same spot along the western wall of the room. There, they may have been stored on wooden shelves that collapsed due to a fire that destroyed the entire church complex at the end of the 6 th or beginning of the 7 th century.2

The chapter on Greek linguistic features (pp. 8–34) discusses phonological, morphological, and syntactic aspects of Petraean Greek. Apparently, Semitic influence of local dialects had an impact on spelling phenomena, e.g. the interchange of η>ε in the presence of γ/κ or θ/τ, as occurs in Arabic in the presence of emphatic consonants (p. 11). Morphological equivalences between Arabic and Aramaic words, discussed in the following Arabic linguistic analysis (pp. 35–55), reveal, moreover, an Arabic-Aramaic bilingualism among Petra’s society that accounts for the interchangeability of Arabic and Aramaic word forms (p. 41). The thorough analysis of phonological and morphological characteristics of Petraean Arabic complements the linguistic study in P.Petra II (pp. 23–48), i.a. with an updated table of Arabic consonants (V: p. 38; II: p. 27) and a list of new toponyms (pp. 41-55). However, the study in vol. II maintains its relevance as is evident from several references to vol. II where a link to vol. V would be expected (e.g. p. 160, n. 70: “see P.Petra II, p. 26, for the use of Greek theta in the transcription of Arabic”).

Of the wealth of material presented, only a few documents can be discussed here in detail. It should also be stressed that vol. V contains the title eugenestatos ( 57), hitherto unattested at Petra, and provides another mention of the rare chartophylax ( 65).

No. 50 is an exchange of land ( antidosis), known in Egyptian sources as antikatallagē (e.g. P.Thomas 28), between Fl. Patrikios, son of Ailianos, lamprotatos prōteuōn 3 and Fl. Valens, son of Dou[ ]. With a proposed date of 528/29, text 50 has special value for the entire Petra corpus, since it may be the earliest document of the Petra papyri ( P.Petra II 17 was dated between 505 and 537). However, as becomes clear from the editor’s discussion in the introduction, it should be taken only as tentative date since much is based on incomplete and partly restored data: A new reading of Patrikios’ patronym in P.Petra III 22.9–10 (a reference to P.Petra IV, intro 45–47, where this is explained, would have been helpful) allows the editors to date his position as prōteuōn to around 540/41 (note, however, that in 22.12 prōteuōntes is partly restored and Patrikios’ title is missing). The editors argue, moreover, that since Patrikios is styled megaloprepestatos in a text of the 7 th indiction dating to August 544 ( P.Petra III 23.12) and maybe also in a 6 th indiction (l. 3; 10: indiction of following year) dating probably to 543 ( P.Petra V 65.8, see p. 217), the 7 th indiction of no. 50 (l. 100 but mostly restored), when Patrikios is still lamprotatos, is most likely that of 528/29. The editor’s argument is convincing in arithmetical terms, but it should be mentioned that, if the proposed date of 543 for no. 65 is not correct, the 7 th indiction of no. 50 could equally be that of 543/44.4 Moreover, it should be kept in mind that in Late Antiquity the use of epithets no longer followed strict rules, making it more difficult to interpret the hierarchical arrangement of honorifics,5 in this case that of megaloprepestatos and lamprotatos.

Another important text is no. 51, an emphyteutic lease between Patrikios, megaloprepestatos (no patronym, no position) and Gessios, aidesimōtatos (no patronym, no position). The editors suggest a link to Patrikios of no. 50, but concede that the title alone is not a sufficient argument (p. 80). No. 51 is the first mentioning of emphyteusis in Petra and one of the rare examples in which not the church, but a private individual rents out property.6 Although the special rules for ecclesiastic emphyteutic lessors in Nov. 7.3.2 illustrate that emphyteusis was not restricted to church property, the rare contracts transmitted from 6 th -century Egypt (to those listed at p. 81, n. 3–4 can be added the Coptic evidence7 and perhaps P.Cair. Masp. II 67257), the references in other contracts (e.g. ΒGU IV 1020.4, P.Michael 41.3; SB VI 8987.30), and receipts (e.g. SPP III 316; P.Giss. I 106; P.Merton I 47) give a different picture. No. 51 now adds an emphyteusis between private persons to the discussion. The contract has much potential to explore the limits of prevailing theses, for instance, those regarding the contracting parties or the annual rent, which is here called (l. 6) pakton ēgoun emphyteuma.8

Despite its fragmentary character, no. 60 holds special significance for the administration of Palaestina Salutaris/Tertia.9 It is the beginning of a letter from Flavius Marianos Ioannes Sergios Narses Summos Spartianos(?) 10 Megethios lamprotatos archōn to Theodoros, son of Obodianos. Due to ‘ archōn ’, the editors consider it possible that Marianos was governor of Palaestina Tertia. Since little is known about the provincial administration of Palaestina Tertia,11 this is a significant observation. However, further historical information from the editors at this point would have been desirable. According to the late 4 th / early 5 th century Notitia Dignitatum Orientis I 87 (Seeck), Palaestina Salutaris was overseen by a praeses. While the civil governor of Palaestina Prima was raised by Justinian ( Nov. 103 (536)) to the status of a spectabilis proconsul ( peribleptos anthypatos), that of Palaestina Tertia seems to have remained praeses ( archōn) without consular rank ( Nov. 8 Notitia 38 (=26); 6 (Schoell)). This may well fit the assumption of the editors of no. 60 that the “less exalted title” lamprotatos mirrors a lower position. However, again it should be mentioned that in Late Antiquity the traditional coherence between honorific titles and positions became highly diluted, leading to more diversity in their alignment.12 The problem is sharpened when we consider an inscription from Elusa ( SEG XXXI 1401 (454/55)). It refers to a megaloprepestatos kai eudokimōtatos archōn, who is likewise believed to have been governor of Palaestina Salutaris/Tertia.13 While a discussion of these problems on the part of the editors would have been helpful, Marianos should nonetheless be considered a credible candidate for the short list of governors of Palaestina Tertia.

The editors have accomplished an exceptional task in reconstructing, deciphering, and interpreting these texts. Their results are crucial for every scholar interested in Petra’s society and the edition leaves little to be desired. However, some minor remarks, which do not detract from the overall outstanding quality of the book, can be made. A map and an updated family tree would have been a further asset; the reader may find the former in vol. IV, p. 26, the latter in vol. III, p. 17. Moreover, a brief overview of the archaeological context would have been helpful to better understand the archival character of the papyri. In a previous article,14 the excavator Fiema suggested that the three piles of papyri found on the floor at the western wall were originally stored on different wooden shelves – some may even have been stored in boxes. Could this scenario, which presumes the separation of texts on the shelves, explain why some documents appear to be unrelated to Theodoros? At times, speculation about links between persons are given too much weight, e.g. in 55, p. 112 regarding the place of drafting the will and Obodianos’ identity. Dating documents is also a difficult issue, especially when it is based on other tentative dates (e.g. 51 relying on 50 “The year 528 might safely be excluded because Patrikios was then only lamprotatos ”, p. 80, or 65 on 50, p. 217). In 51, comm. 25 a date and place for CIL III 13640 (Lycia and Pamphylia, 527) are missing. In 52, l. 100 a translation of ‘church treasury’ appears, although the commentary suggests ‘church archive’. No. 57 : A manumission which involves a third party seems odd, unless it was inter amicos ( M.Chr. 362; P.Oxy. IX 1205; P.Lips. II 151; for the different ways of executing manumission in Late Antiquity cf. Inst. 1.5.1). However, even if the wording (i.e. timē (l. 27) for lytron ? metaxu (ll. 38; 61), but followed by autōn, and several times a form of eleutheria) might lead us to assume a manumission, it is not clear why a pledge of property would have been involved.15 No. 59 (p. 169), comm. 14: “following the death of the original lessor Valens” – we do not know if Valens was already dead since a makarios was not written in the first reference to him (l. 8). There seems, moreover, to be a typo in l. 34 (cf. comm.): ro[po]u instead of to[po]u. No. 62 : for the adjective exaktorikos cf. also Laniado (2002), 110; 113.


1. Fiema, Zbigniew, “Storing in the Church. Artefacts in Room I of the Petra Church”, in: Lavan, Luke, Swift, Ellen, Putzeys Toon (eds.) Objects in Context, Objects in Use, Leiden 2007, 607–23.

2. Fiema (2007), 613f.

3. For prōteuōn, cf. Laniado, Avshalom, Recherches sur les notables municipaux dans l’Émpire protobyzantin, Paris 2002, 201–14.

4. For indictions in Petra, cf. vol. V, p. 56, for Palestine in general Meimaris, Yiannis E., Chronological Systems in Roman-Byzantine Palestine and Arabia, Athens 1992, 32–34.

5. Gonis, Nikolaos, “Consular Epithets and Regionalism”, ZPE 152 (2005), 183–86.

6. For emphyteutic leases see i.a. Banaji, Jairus, Agrarian Change in Late Antiquity, Oxford 2001, 93-96, Gascou, Jean, “Les grands domaines, la cite et I’état en Égypte byzantine”, Travaux et Memoires 9 (1985), 1–89, 8–9; Simon, Dieter, “Das frühbyzantinische Emphyteuserecht”, Symposion 1977, Köln 1982, 365–422; Wipszycka, Ewa, Les resources et les activités économiques des églises en Égypte du 4 e au 8 e siècle, Brussels 1972.

7. CPR IV 128; P.Lond. Copt. 1013–15; 1061?; P.Ryl. Copt. 174–76.

8. Gascou (1985), 8–12; Banaji (2001), 93–96.

9. The name Palaestina Tertia began to be used instead of Palaestina Salutaris in the early 5 th century, although the Petra Papyri now show that the amendment ‘Salutaris’ was in use until the end of the 6 th century ( 43.6).

10. It is tempting to suggest spatharios (cf. PLRE III Narses 1c; 4), but the traces of ink do not seem to support a reading of rho iota, and the sigma in the beginning is also doubtful (comm. 1).

11. Fiema, Zbigniew, “Petra and its hinterland during the Byzantine period”, in: Humphrey, John (ed.), Roman and Byzantine Near East. Some New Discoveries III, Portsmouth 2002 ( JRA Suppl. 49), 191–252, 192–95.

12. Gonis (2005); Begass, C., Die Senatsaristokratie des oströmischen Reiches, ca. 457-518, Munich 2018, 42–55.

13. Bingen, Jean, “Sur une dédicace protobyzantine d’Élousa (Negev)”, ZPE 53 (1983), 123–24.

14. Fiema (2007), 613.

15. For manumissio inter amicos, cf. Scholl, Reinhold, “‘Freilassung unter Freunden‘ im römischen Ägypten”, in: Bellen, Heinz, Heinen, Heinz (eds.), Fünfzig Jahre Forschungen zur antiken Sklaverei an der Mainzer Akademie 1950–2000, Stuttgart 2001, 159–69.