The most honored Kronion

After a few weeks’ break, due to the holidays and to a conference, it is now time to publish here the first post of 2015. I have been debating what papyrus and topic would be most suitable for opening the series of blog posts for the new year, and then today I have decided on this one: a business letter from Philotas to the most honored Kronion.

Before giving you the details of this letter, I would like to explain the reason behind this choice, that is my attendance at the annual meeting of the Society for Classical Studies in New Orleans, January 8-11, 2015 This is is an unmissable event for all classicists and ancient historians from the US and from all over the world, as it gives scholars and students the chance to meet and exchange views on topics of shared interests, and to foster future work relationships. Of particular interest to me is the American Society of Papyrologists panel, a paper session entirely dedicated to the study of culture and society in Greek, Roman and Byzantine Egypt, organized and chaired by our very own Todd Hickey, director of the Center for the Tebtunis Papyri (CTP) and Associate Professor of Classics at UC Berkeley. This year, among the six papers of the session, there was also mine, entitled ‘Village elites in Roman Egypt: the case of first-century Tebtunis,’ in which I discussed the role and composition of the elites of Tebtunis, and presented some of the findings of the research I am conducting at CTP. As I already mentioned in previous posts, an important part of the village elites was a group of Hellenic and Hellenized families, who owned large plots of land and engaged in money lending activities. Indeed the papyrus I am presenting today is a further example of the involvement of members of these families in the economy of the village.

It is again a letter. The sender is a certain Philotas, who is not otherwise identified, but who was clearly proficient at writing in Greek. Incidentally, a man called Philotas seems to appear as the recipient of another letter, also discussed in this blog The two letters, however, do not seem to be related to each other, and it is very likely that we are dealing with two different people.

The recipient is a man called Kronion, who is given the prestigious title of timiotatos, that is ‘the most honored’. In letters this title was usually conferred to recipients who held a preeminent position. Who was this Kronion it is difficult to say, but I would like to note that one Kronion titled as ‘the most honored’ is attested in another letter from Tebtunis, dated to the second century AD. This letter belongs to the archive of the descendants of Patron, a very wealthy family of Hellenic descent who owned land near Tebtunis and held magistracies in the district capital, Arsinoe, in the first and second centuries AD. Unfortunately no photograph is available of this letter, but I will give here a short summary of its content (the letter is published as P.Mil.Vogl. VI 281, that is in the Papyri of the University of Milan, vol. 6). Geminos, a member of the Patron family, asks Kronion the most honored to go into his (Geminos’) utility room and get the beam to give to the merchants. Then he asks to be sent a donkey, so that he can return (to Tebtunis presumably). Is this Kronion to be identified with the Kronion of our letter? It is not to be excluded. Indeed connections between the archive of the descendants of Patron and unpublished Tebtunis papyri here at CTP have been noted in the past, and a study of these links, which I am currently undertaking, will shed further light on the role of the Hellenic elite in the village.

Our letter is not dated, but the handwriting can be plausibly assigned to both the first and the second century AD. The full content is not entirely clear because the central section is abraded, but a reference to the gilding of an indefinite object seems to confirm that we are dealing with a business letter. The gilding process was probably entrusted to specialized goldsmiths, who in Tebtunis are attested to have formed a professional association. More about the content of this letter will emerge from a detailed analysis of an infrared photograph of the papyrus.

An address can be seen on the back of the papyrus (at the bottom), as was common in letters from Greco-Roman Egypt.