The CTP team

Todd Hickey

Associate Professor of Classics at UC Berkeley and Director of the Center for the Tebtunis papyri

His research interests lie in the social, cultural and economic history of Graeco-Roman Egypt. His first book, Wine, Wealth, and the State in Late Antique Egypt: The House of Apion at Oxyrhynchus (Ann Arbor 2012) concerns the best documented estate from the postclassical Mediterranean, that of the Flavii Apiones at Oxyrhynchus, and challenges recent arguments that this entity was a profit-driven enterprise. He is currently writing a ”collective biography” of the crocodile priests of Tebtunis.

Micaela Langellotti

Elios and National Hellenic Society Postdoctoral Fellow

Her research interests focus on the social and economic history of Graeco-Roman Egypt, and more broadly of the Roman empire. She is currently completing a book entitled Village economy and society: early Roman Tebtunis, which aims to construct the first detailed village study for the Roman empire. At CTP she is investigating the unpublished Greek papyri of the Tebtunis collection in order to examine how far Greek culture and structures had an impact on an Egyptian village in the Roman period.

Michael Zellmann-Rohrer

His primary research interest is in the diachronic study of magical ritual from Greek antiquity through Byzantium and into modern Greece, for which papyri are a crucial source of evidence. He is also interested in Greek epistolography, Classical and Byzantine, and is studying several personal letters on papyrus from the Tebtunis collection in that context.

Krista Griffiths

She oversees CTP’s reference library by submitting requests for new library materials, catalogs library materials into the department’s database and organizes the reference materials according to Duke University’s Checklist of Editions of Greek, Latin, Demotic, and Coptic Papyri, Ostraca and Tablets. In addition to overseeing CTP’s library she is involved in two other projects here at CTP. The first is performing a complete inventory of the Tebtunis Papyri Collection. The second project is to assign P.Hearst numbers to each of our Hearst Papyrus fragments and then enter a description of each one into our papyri database

Caroline Cheung

She is primarily interested in the Roman economy and ancient agriculture. Her overall work aims to evaluate the economic and social realities of Roman imperialism by examining a wide range of material evidence and textual sources. More recently she has been cultivating an interest in Egypt especially, thanks to opportunities to study papyrology and work with artifacts from Tebtunis at CTP.

Matters of clothes and money

When dealing with papyri, it often happens that two fragments, previously catalogued independently, join together and provide new information about the nature and content of the original text. One example has already been discussed in a post published on November 7, 2014, in which the reunion of two papyrus fragments revealed the names of several tax payers in Roman Tebtunis ( ). A further example can be found in this post.

Another two pieces of the Tebtunis collection have been found to belong to the same papyrus sheet. At first glance they don’t seem to have anything in common, yet they have the same processing number. What is this number? Many of the Tebtunis papyri here at CTP are identified by a T-number, where T stands for Tebtunis. This number was assigned to them by Grenfell and Hunt, the two Oxford scholars who directed the archaeological excavation at Tebtunis in 1899/1900 and recovered the papyri which are now kept at CTP. The T-number served for internal references, so, conceivably, papyri bearing the same T-number are to be seen somehow in connection with one another (as belonging to the same sheet of papyrus, or found in the same place).

The two fragments in question are written on both sides and reveal (at least) two different contents.

The first piece, which we’ll call fragment no. 1, is unpublished. On its main side (so called recto, where the writing follows the same direction as the papyrus fibers), we find a list of numbers, which probably indicate the days of a month. On the far left there are traces of a few letters which do not seem to belong to the main text.

On the back of the papyrus there is a list of dates followed by other numbers, most likely payments. A name can be read in the first line, Diodoros, but his role is unknown.

The second fragment, which we’ll call fragment no. 2, is published (P.Tebt. II 405).

On the main side is a dowry inventory dated to the third century AD, that is a list of personal personal items belonging to a woman’s dowry. Interestingly all of the items, with the exception of a basket, are clothes. Here is a translation:

‘A green tunic worth [..] drachmas; a white outer cloak, worth [..] drachmas; a small mulberry-colored cloak, worth [..] drachmas; 2 veils, purple and scarlet, worth [..] drachmas; an Italian mantle, worth [..] drachmas; a white mantle, worth [..] drachmas; a new basket, worth [..] drachmas; a purple tunic, worth [..] drachmas; a sapphire Dalmatian vest, worth [..] drachmas; a Leontine mantle, worth [..] drachmas. And in parapherna: a sulphur-colored tunic [..]; a mulberry-colored tunic [..]’

The value in money (drachmas) of each item was indicated, as was common in this type of documents, but unfortunately the amounts are lost. What is really interesting to note is the presence of fine imported articles: an Italian mantle, a Leontine mantle (most probably from the Sicilian Leontinoi, modern Lentini), and a Dalmatian vest (from the province of Dalmatia, which included roughly modern Serbia, Croatia, and other areas of the Adriatic coast). In Egypt the main fabric used for clothes was wool, and a very active textile production is attested throughout the Roman period. Imported goods were expensive, and the presence of such articles in our papyrus suggests that we are dealing with a well-off woman.

On the left of the papyrus there are traces of another documents written in the opposite direction to the main text. These traces clearly match those that can be seen on the left margin of fragment no. 1 (main side).

On the back of fragment no. 2 there is part of an account – a few figures and the slanting check-marks can still be seen (for a comparison see the tax register in the post of November 7, 2014

What did this document originally contain? How do fragment no. 1 and fragment no. 2 fit together?

It is very likely that the document contained some of the affairs of a wealthy family, including a marriage. On the main side of the original sheet of papyrus was a draft including several administrative texts, one of which was a list of clothes belonging to a well-off woman’s dowry. The presence of possibly several days of a month suggests that the document also included some kind of payments. On the back there was an account, which involved a person called Diodoros. Now the questions is whether the two texts, the one on the main side and the one on the back, were connected to or independent from one another. The handwriting on both sides seems to be same, although this is not certain. In any case, what we have here is good example of a draft document which could have been either owned privately (in which case Diodoros could have been the owner) or produced by state officials for administrative purposes.

Pastoral life in Tebtunis

In the Greek and Roman world, shepherds and goatherds find their place in a long-standing literary tradition that depicts them as romantic figures, gentle poets who lived in beautiful and often idyllic settings. Even before pastoral literature flourished in the third century BC, shepherds were often portrayed as idealized figures living in idealized natural spaces, often surrounded by mythological creatures, and engaging in singing contests with other herdsmen. The most famous shepherd in world literature is probably Paris. Though of royal descent (he was son of Priam, king of Troy, and Hecuba), Paris was brought up by a shepherd and spent his youth looking after his cattle on Mount Ida, near Troy. One day, while attending his duties, he met the nymph Oenone and fell in love with her. Although we know that that love wasn’t meant to be, this episode perfectly embodies the essence of pastoral literature in the Greek world.

Paris and Oenone. Jacob de Wit (1695-1754), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Outside of the world of literary fiction, shepherds were far from being poets or singers. They were real workers in a rural society where pastoralism constituted an essential part of the local and global economy. Pastoralism was widely practised in the Mediterranean countries, from Britain and Gaul to the Italian Apennines and Greek mountains. Despite the lack of mountains and the presence of deserts, pastoralism was also deeply embedded in the society and economy of Egypt.

In early Roman Tebtunis shepherds gathered together to form an association – that is a group of members practicing the same profession, who provided mutual economic support in times of difficulty, and feasted together at least once a month. Shepherds were not the only ones involved in pastoral activities. There were the sheep and donkey feeders, professional cattle breeders who, like the shepherds, formed a professional association in Tebtunis, and there were the cattle-keepers, who are attested in the whole Arsinoite district, but not in Tebtunis…until yesterday. In one of the papyri I was working on I could read clearly the word ‘ktenotrophos’, that is cattle-keeper.

Given the role pastoralism played in Tebtunis, the presence of cattle-keepers is not really surprising, and the lack of attestations could be attributed to the role of chance in the survival of papyri. However, the opposite could be argued, that in Tebtunis there were not many cattle-keepers. In other sites of the Arsinoite district they formed associations of private or public cattle-keepers, but in Tebtunis no association of this kind is attested. Our new papyrus, though fragmentary, shows that there were cattle-keepers in Tebtunis (or at least there was one!), but they must have been in a limited number. Full details of our papyrus cannot yet be given, but we can see that it is an administrative document in which a few people are making a payment. A name that recurs twice is Artemidoros, that is ‘gift of Artemis’. It is unclear whether Artemidoros was the name of the cattle-keeper, but it seems very likely. As opposed to shepherds, cattle-keepers enjoyed reasonably good economic conditions. In Tebtunis, however, their number was not large enough so as to make an impact on the local economy. As far as the evidence goes, in the village it appears that there were rich landowners who leased out plots of land, wealthy creditors who lent money, but not many cattle-keepers who managed private or public animals.

A new tax from Tebtunis?

So yesterday, on my way to CTP, I had to stop at the payroll office to submit some forms. For a few days now I have been reading about taxes, tax exemption and filling out numerous forms. You might wonder now what this has to do with papyri and Greek at Tebtunis. Well, the whole experience has put me in a particular ‘tax mode’, and the result of this is the post you are about to read.

We all pay taxes, but taxes are not a modern invention. During the Roman empire, for example, the population paid a variety of taxes to the central government, both in money and in kind, and Egypt was not exceptional in this. Taxation was an essential component of the economic and social life of Egypt, not only during the Roman domination but also during the Ptolemaic kingdom (indeed it was the Ptolemies that introduced taxes in money in the third century BCE). A large number of tax related documents have survived from Egypt, which enabled studies of various aspects of taxation in the country. Every now and then new papyri are published, and new information is added to our knowledge of the taxation system and of how the tax burden affected the different strata of the population. Taxation is also one of my favourite research fields, so deep-down I hoped that sooner or later I would come across a tax-papyrus in my search for new texts at CTP. And yesterday I did.

These are the two pieces that first caught my eye yesterday morning.

Both belonged to the same sheet of papyrus, which originally included two columns (at least). What is so particular about this text? The slanting check-marks, of course. This type of check-marks are found in numerous tax and contract registers in Roman Egypt, and are annotated to the left of the line to mean that that entry had been checked off by the scribe – one possibility is that the scribe, in the copying process, was checking these entries against another record. I looked at the text more closely, and found that the format is typical of tax registers: each entry included the tax-payer’s name and patronym (the name of his/her father), and a curious abbreviation, followed by the month and day. What did this abbreviation mean? Given the format of the text and the position of the word/symbol, I concluded that it was a tax that was paid in monthly instalments. I then started to look for a possible match in other papyri, but with no luck. Unfortunately part of the abbreviation is lost, which makes the reconstruction difficult, and what can still be read doesn’t seem to be attested anywhere else. Was it a special tax only paid by certain people? Or was it a local tax?

I turned the papyrus over to see whether more could be said about it, and found lines of another tax-register. The format is simple: a list of tax-payers, for each of whom the amount of money paid is indicated. Money is computed in drachmas, which was the Greek currency introduced in Egypt by the Ptolemies, and kept by the Romans in the centuries of their domination. Again, the name of the tax is lost.

The small and very cursive hand-writing suggests that this was a draft document, maybe notes which were to be copied in another register. It is difficult to tell whether the two sides were written by the same scribe, but they were certainly close in date. This is a good example of how the back of some papyri were often reused to write notes, letters, and so on.

The story about this papyrus is still not over. After examining the texts on both sides, I decided to move on with my search. Only three papyri later, though, I came across a fragment written in the same hand-writing as the tax-register with the slanting check-marks. A quick check revealed that the two texts perfectly joined together and belonged to the same sheet of papyrus.

Here is an image of how the fragments are pieced together.

Now it is possible to read the names of a few tax-payers: Apianos (or Apiane), Akousarion daughter of Heron, Anoubion son of Areos. With the exception of the name Anoubion, which is a combination of Greek and Egyptian, the others are all Greek names. The abbreviation still remains unknown, which means that the nature of the tax has to be remain obscure to us, at least for the time being…or until another papyrus comes up and solves the puzzle.

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 ( 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.

Homer in Tebtunis

At first glance it might just look like a small papyrus with a few letters on it, but a closer look soon reveals a beautiful hand-writing, a medium-sized uncial (that is a script in capital letters) typical of ancient literary texts. It is a section of the Odyssey I have been looking at today! The Tebtunis papyrus in question contains parts of five lines of Book XII, 136-139 and 142 – incidentally, the scribe skipped two lines.

These are the lines in which Circe warns Odysseus that his future adventures in his journey home to Ithaca will be full of dangers, but that there are ways to make it through.

Here is a translation of the passage referred to in our papyrus:

‘These their honored mother [the nymph Neaera], when she had borne and reared them [her daughters Lampetia and Phaetusa],
Sent to the isle Thrinacria to dwell afar, and keep the flocks of their father [Helios] and his sleek cattle.
If you leave these unharmed and heed your homeward way,
Verily you might yet reach Ithaca, though in evil plight.
But if you harm them, then I foretell ruin
For your ship and for your comrades. Even though you might escape yourself,
You will return home late and in evil case, after losing all your comrades.
So she spoke, and presently came golden-throned Dawn.’
Most interestingly, the same hand-writing is to be found in another papyrus from the Tebtunis collection, already published, containing lines 428-440 of Odyssey Book XI (P.Tebt. II 431). The two papyri clearly belonged to the same manuscript, and can be dated to the late first or early second century CE, demonstrating the circulation of Homeric poems in a village of the Roman empire.

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.

What is Greek in Tebtunis? Religion

It has long been a matter of debate how far Greek culture and language penetrated into the rural society of Egypt after Alexander the Great’s conquest of the country in the fourth century BCE, and to what degree this shaped village life during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. As one of the best documented sites of Egypt and of the entire ancient world, Tebtunis can help us answer these questions.

A good starting point is religion. Greek cults entered Egypt long before Alexander the Great and the subsequent arrival of Greek military settlers in the Fayum region, where Tebtunis is located.

We know from Herodotus that already in the fifth century BCE a system of correspondence existed between Greek and Egyptian gods.

Here are only a few examples:

Dionysos = Osiris

Demeter = Isis

Apollo = Horus

Aphrodite = Hathor

Zeus = Amun

Typhon = Seth

Hermes = Thoth

This system remained active throughout both the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, which makes it quite difficult to tell a Greek deity from its Egyptian equivalent. By the first century CE Tebtunis exhibited a particularly Hellenized culture, which is also reflected in religious practices. Next to the local cult dedicated to Soknebtunis (‘Sobek, lord of Tebtunis’), the crocodile god, several religious cults are attested, including those of Harpokrates and of Herakles Kallinikos.

Sobek facing a Ptolemy

Sobek (the crocodile god) facing a Ptolemy

Harpokrates embodies the encounter between Greek and Egyptian religion: he was the Greek infant god or god of silence, to be identified with the Egyptian Horus the child. In the first century CE at Tebtunis there was an association dedicated to Harpokrates, to which the head of the local notary office Kronion also belonged. Kronion’s names, incidentally, was derived from Kronos, the Greek god associated with Soknebtunis.


Horus the child

Herakles Kallinikos (‘the beautiful victor’), on the other hand, was the Greek god of the athletic competitions, and the presence of his cult at Tebtunis confirms that there was a large Hellenic (or Hellenized) group among the village population.