Diodoros, Herodes, Didumos: the elite of a village?

In the last week or so I have been going through over 60 Greek papyri at CTP, all dated to the Roman period. They are mostly administrative and economic documents (contracts and registers), but there are also some letters and curious lists of names.

What I would like to discuss in this post is a common feature that I have observed in these texts: the frequent occurrence of certain Greek names. The papyrus I have been looking at this morning, for example, includes the names Diodoros, which means ‘gift of Zeus’, and Herodes. Incidentally, the name Herodes is widely attested in numerous papyri from first-century CE Tebtunis.

Other Greek names which I have come across in the Tebtunis papyri so far are Didumos, Herakles/Herakleides, and Kronion. In my post on October 11, 2014 (http://blogs.lib.berkeley.edu/tebtunis-papyri.php/about-greek-contracts-a-cession) I have already discussed the significance of certain Greek names in a specific type of contract, the cession, and concluded that there was a landowning elite of Hellenic descent at Tebtunis.

But who were these people? And what was their role in the village? Were they only landowners?

Identifying single individuals is not always possible, but the fact that certain names frequently recur in many Tebtunis papyri, both from Berkeley and from other collections, allows for some important remarks.

First, these people seem to have been quite wealthy or at least reasonably well-off. Mostly they appear in the capacity of lending money or leasing land.

One example is Herakleides son of Didumos the younger, son of Herodes, attested in a declaration of property from the Tebtunis collection (P.Tebt. II 522 descr. = SB XII 10842).

Herakleides belonged to the Hellenized group of the ‘6475 katoikoi (Greek men) in the Arsinoite nome’, who were probably the descendants of the Greek and Hellenized soldiers settled in the Arsinoite district by the Ptolemies (III-II cent. BCE). In the year 133 CE he was a former gymnasiarch, that is a magistrate of Arsinoe, the district capital, and owned a house and other properties in a village near Tebtunis. [The gymnasiarch was a civic magistrate in charge of the games and festivals of the gymnasium, centre of the Hellenized elite.]

Several families of Hellenic descent are attested in the first and second century CE, and the names Herakleides, Didumos, and Herodes recur very often. Interestingly, a few of them appear to have owned property both at Tebtunis and in the district capital. Many owned big houses in the village, and large plots of land in the surrounding area.

The number of these families and their members is not easy to calculate, but there is no doubt that they played an essential role in the local economy and formed a large part of the elite of the village. Many of them were not only landowners, but also wealthy creditors and held prestigious administrative posts in the district capital.

Mummy portrait of Artemidoros the younger (from the necropolis of Hawara, Fayum).

Members of the local elite represented in the Fayum mummy portraits show elements of Greek and Roman culture.