About Greek contracts: a cession of land

A few days ago, while going through one of the folders of papyri kept in the vault at CTP, I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful example of an unpublished cession of land in Greek.

First of all, what is a cession? A cession was the legal instrument used for the transfer of catoecic land, that is the land that was originally granted to the Greek settlers in the Ptolemaic period (III-II BCE).

Our papyrus contains a cession of a relatively large plot of catoecic land (around 6,890 square meters), dated to the Roman period (I-II CE). Not surprisingly, the people involved in the transaction had Greek names: one woman named Zois and a man called Didumos.

The contract was most probably registered at the local notary office, the so-called grapheion, which produced a considerable number of cessions of catoecic land for the Roman period. One example, which is also a good parallel to our text, is a papryus from the Michigan collection (P.Mich. V 262), which contains a cession of catoecic land executed by Didumos son of Lusimachos, a man belonging to a well-known family of Greek descent.

It is very interesting to note that, in the majority of cases, the contracting parties mentioned in cessions of land have Greek names.

The practice of ‘ceding’ (that is, in other words, selling) catoecic land is well attested in Tebtunis in the Roman period, confirming the presence of a landowning elite of Hellenic descent in the village.