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Writing and the City in Later Roman Egypt. Towards a Social History of the Ancient “Scribe”

Citation with persistent identifier:

Ast, Rodney. “Writing and the City in Later Roman Egypt. Towards a Social History of the Ancient ‘Scribe.’” CHS Research Bulletin 4, no. 1 (2015). http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:AstR.Writing_in_the_City_in_Later_Roman_Egypt.2016


1§1 This paper has its origin in a certain discontent with the one-dimensional way in which ancient writers are often described. The problem is part terminological: the title “scribe,” which properly denotes a professional copyist or clerk, is used very freely in disciplines such as papyrology and paleography to describe nearly every kind of writer, from the tax collector who authored a receipt, to the concerned father who wrote a letter to his son. In such contexts, it ignores the identity of the agent responsible for a piece of writing, meaning little more than “hand.” Such indiscriminate use of the term reflects complacency on our part and an unwillingness to look beyond the text at the individual responsible for creating it. So the problem is part social as well, or a failure on our part to address social forces behind the production of texts of any given type. Writers were, at least to some extent, educated individuals, both male and female: officials, soldiers, scholars, fathers, mothers, clergy, landowners, slaves—anyone, in effect, who had received what Teresa Morgan terms a “literate education.”[1] Some had good teachers, others not so good; some were more receptive to education than others, but they all illustrate the kinds of lives that educated individuals in Greco-Roman society could and did lead.

1§2 Of course, we do not always know the name of the person who penned a given text, and even when a writer is named, sometimes assigned a professional title as well—such as grammateus or boethos—we get little sense of the individual. Nevertheless, the many documentary, literary, and subliterary papyri and ostraka that have turned up in Egypt over the past century or more preserve enough information about individual writers to allow us to begin to construct a social history of writing practices across a relatively broad spectrum of literate society. And now is an especially auspicious time for dealing with this evidence because of the many images of papyri available online. These allow us to ask questions that move beyond the text itself. By analyzing the entire text-object complex, we see that the materiality of writing, such as the physical supports used, the layout and format of texts on the page, the writing conventions employed (e.g. word abbreviations), even the handwriting (the fact that you can spot a person by his or her hand holds true for ancients, too) can say a great deal about individual writers and the social and cultural context in which they operated.

1§3 Taking this more holistic view of ancient evidence, I wish to focus my present study on a specific segment of society that was responsible for producing large amounts of documentation: the cities of later Roman Egypt, where education and governance were intimately linked. This is, I should stress, a preliminary sketch that speaks in broad terms about currents in bureaucratic practice over the course of nearly two centuries. It does not aim to be comprehensive, but seeks, first of all, to outline social changes that saw education become a central pillar of civic life during the third and fourth century. Secondly, it looks at ways in which a literate education could be made to serve the state.

1§4 To begin this discussion, I will briefly take account of some of the structures and professions that had been involved in the production of documentation in Roman Egypt prior to the establishment of city councils in metropoleis throughout the province at the turn of the third century. The third century saw important changes to some of these structures, which influenced later administrative practice in the cities. The changes were not abrupt and the specifics are not clear, but they began with Septimius Severus around the year 200 and continued through the reigns of Caracalla (198–217) and Philip the Arab (244–249). Signs of them can be observed in two areas: the gradual disappearance of administrative structures such as village grapheia and a decline in use of professional nomenclature consisting in –grammateus compound words.

Grapheia and Grammateis

2§1 Records offices known as grapheia were privately held concessions where contractual agreements and other documents were drawn up.[2] They were located in villages of Roman Egypt and run by nomographoi, who forwarded copies of contracts that they composed, pasted together in rolls (tomoi synkollesimoi), to officials in Alexandria. What is significant for this discussion is the fact that attestations of grapheia become markedly fewer after the year 220. In fact, the office appears in about 13 documents dated after 200; of these, seven are from the first two decades of the century.[3] There is no attestation from the Arsinoite dated later than 210; the latest Oxyrhynchite example is from 229 (P.Oxy. 14.1725.6). The great holdout seems to have been the Thebaid: the grapheion of Hermopolis appears in M.Chr. 171 col. 2, 9 (10 September 293), and a Lycopolite grapheion may have been around as late as 300—the reading and context are unclear (P.Berl. Möller 1.16; 25 June – 24 July 300). While this apparent demise could be explained by preservation patterns (that is, evidence for continued use of grapheia simply does not survive beyond the early third century), I wish to suggest that it is rather related to administrative reforms, especially Septimius Severus’s awarding of city councils to the forty-plus nome capitals of Egypt at the beginning of the third century. By consolidating administrative oversight within the metropoleis, these reforms shifted bureaucratic control from offices that answered to central authorities in Alexandria to magistrates in the metropoleis. Day-to-day administration fell on the shoulders of those running the cities, the educated councillors, from whose ranks skilled writers were drawn. They, along with a squadron of assistants, oversaw the offices responsible for maintaining a bureaucratic machine that formerly was managed by professional bureaucrats. This, at any rate, is one of the hypotheses at work in this study.

2§2 Further signs in third-century documents of bureaucratic changes are reflected in the disappearance of secretarial titles containing the term grammateus, which had been a stock component of Hellenistic and early Roman administrative titulature. Here are a few examples: first, the office of basilikos grammateus, or royal secretary, an assistant to the strategos (a strategos headed each of Egypt’s approximately four dozen nomes), is abolished in the 240s, his responsibilities being assumed by a liturgical college of dekaprotoi.[4] Next, komogrammateus, the title of the village administrator who was responsible for registering people and land in the villages under his jurisdiction, and for recommending people to liturgical posts, largely vanishes after 250 (earlier in the Oxyrhynchite nome), being replaced by komarch, or “village chief”.[5] Finally, amphodogrammateus, a title first introduced between 201 and 207 for the official in charge of nominating non-bouleutic liturgists in the municipalities, known previously as the grammateus poleos, gives way to phylarch, or head of the phyle, in the mid-240s, perhaps as part of the reforms of Philip the Arab.[6]

2§3 One might argue that such changes reflect nothing more than linguistic fashion, a preference for leadership titles over clerical, but I want to suggest, at least for the moment, that the change was not simply cosmetic. Rather, as the urban elite came to exercise some of the administrative duties that had previously been given to appointed administrators (e.g. the komogrammateis) and to professional secretaries (such as the nomographoi), the explicitly clerical function of these offices—as expressed by forms of the word for writing, γράφω—was de-emphasized.[7] In addition to the gradual demise of such titles, the word grammateus itself also declined in this period: it occurs almost nine times more frequently in the first two centuries of the Common Era than in the 150 years from 251 to 400, with the half century between 201 and 250 being a crucial transitional period.[8] That this transition occurred together with the emergence of city councils throughout Egypt seems hardly a coincidence.


3§1 Prior to the early third century, Roman Egypt comprised only four Greek cities, or poleis: Naucratis, Ptolemais, Alexandria, and Antinoopolis, the last of which Hadrian founded on the banks of the Nile in the year 130. Of the three earlier foundations, only Ptolemais certainly had a city council, or boule, under the Ptolemies. Alexandria probably did not get one until the year 201, when Septimius Severus granted the right of boulai both there and in the dozens of nome capitals (metropoleis) located throughout the province. This act put Egypt on a footing with other Roman provinces, and, in administrative terms, it saw responsibilities shift from a central bureaucracy to a more autonomous municipal government.[9] Over the course of the next half-century or so, city councils assumed greater nome-wide jurisdiction, especially in the area of tax collection, which was crucial to the support of grain deliveries to Rome and to the Roman army. Furthermore, Caracalla’s extension of Roman citizenship to most free inhabitants of the empire in 212, an innovation reflected in the sudden and ubiquitous appearance in our sources of the nomen Aurelius, increased the prestige of the metropoleis by giving the metropolite elite the same status as their Alexandrian peers.[10]

3§2 Details of the make-up and operations of city councils in Egypt are notoriously ambiguous: suffice it to say that magistrates occupied offices (archai) allotted them on the basis of their property status. They constituted the bouleutic class, and serving as councillors for life, they were responsible for nominating others to council posts and for overseeing the proper functioning of the complex liturgical system. Alongside them, non-bouleutic individuals continued to perform liturgies, as they had since long before Septimius Severus’s reforms, in areas of tax collection, maintenance of irrigation systems, special building projects, and other aspects of the common good.[11] For all involved, councillors and common liturgists alike, liturgies could entail a considerable investment of time, labor, and money. It is no wonder they were often viewed with a healthy dose of disdain by all sectors of society.

3§3 Formal exemptions to liturgical offices existed, even if, as Fergus Millar has shown, their legal basis and grounds for application are not always clearly defined.[12] It is known, though, that among those eligible for exemptions from liturgies were athletes and learned professionals, such as philosophers, doctors, rhetors, etc.[13] Moreover, as the fourth-century rhetorician Libanius likes to repeat in dismay, one might be freed from his obligations to the city by going off to Rome to practice law or learn Latin, to the detriment of local councils. Libanius was a champion of city government, so he did not like the brain drain that he witnessed at Antioch. And, what is of interest to us here, he ties the death of local rhetorical education to the demise of city councils, a complex relationship that I wish to look at more closely.

Higher Education in the Metropoleis

4§1 In Oration 48, which was likely written in the fourth quarter of the fourth century and is addressed πρὸς τὴν βουλήν, to the city council (at Antioch), Libanius reveals his suspicion of the new-fangled educational pursuits that were taking youths to Rome (he would have one believe they were going there in droves). He relates with admiration a story about members of a city council in Phoenicia who had fetched from Rome Phoenician youths who had fled there to be educated, and he chastises the councillors at Antioch for not doing the same:

“It would have been open to many cities to do this—to all that enjoyed the consideration and support of a governor in this action. But they refused, just as you do, too. You, of course have a high regard for education. But none for your city? none for its council? none for the land that welcomed you upon your appearance in the world, or for this city hall which, because of you has been brought so low, where once upon a time its 600 members used to snatch at the chance to perform duties of state?” (48.25)[14]

Ignoring for a moment the hyperbole and Libanius’s own vested interest in Antioch’s educational establishment, we can appreciate the link that he makes between the boule and educational centers. The two were inextricably bound for obvious reasons: cities fostered education as an investment in the welfare of the city and state.[15] Civic institutions relied on educated councillors to provide the administrative guidance that kept the institutions going.

4§2 Much good work has been done in recent years on ancient education as an institution, if we can call it that, and as the formative experience of young minds.[16] Yet, these studies have focused mainly on early education. Advanced learning has been less explored, partly because of the lack of evidence that clearly pertains to it. An advanced rhetorical exercise from an education context might not be distinguishable from a polished speech, such as those delivered in a courtroom.[17] What information we have about advanced stages of learning thus tends to be indirect. We know, for example, that Oxyrhynchus boasted a public grammarian named Lollianus, who himself was exempt from liturgies. He was appointed to the post in 258 by the Oxyrhynchus city council and supported by the public purse, at least he should have been: the one surviving document attesting him is a complaint that he lodged with the Emperors themselves, in which he requested a walled orchard in lieu of the salary the city was failing to pay.[18] This document is echoed in remarkable fashion in an oration of Libanius addressed to the Antiochenes almost 100 years after Lollianus’s petition (Oration 31). In it, Libanius pleads with the city council at Antioch to support his four assistants (who are called “rhetors”) through revenue drawn from properties inherited by the council (31.15–18).

4§3 Even in apparently remote places such as Egypt’s Great Oasis, we have evidence for rhetorical education. There, a verse dipinto was found in 2006 on a wall of a schoolroom adjacent to a large house in the ancient city of Trimithis (modern Amheida). The house, which belonged to a city-councillor named Serenos, was built at some point in the first half of the fourth century. The dipinto comprises five partially preserved columns and parts of at least eight epigrams separated by headings. The poems are those of a teacher of rhetoric exhorting his students to study hard with the aim of reaching the pinnacle of rhetorical wisdom (rhetorike sophie).[19]

4§4 Rhetoric was synonymous with higher education, and it seems safe to say that grammarians and local rhetoricians such as Lollianus and the unnamed rhetor at Trimithis were essential for the education of the local bouleutic class, the members of which used their educations not only as advocates, but in order to conduct day-to-day municipal business. I suggest that many of the petitions, memoranda, accounts, contracts, receipts, etc. that we have from Egypt were generated by councillors and their assistants (the identity and status of these assistants is exceedingly difficult to assess), who had attended local schools.[20] Even teachers themselves had a hand in administrative affairs, as we see in several census-related land declarations from the Arsinoite nome that were drawn up under a didaskalos.[21] The best way to get an idea of the importance and impact of advanced education is to investigate how members of the bouleutic class made use of their educations, to look at what I term “literacy in action.”

4§5 It should be said that not every councillor could write (we know of illiterate bouleutai), and not all who could write, did so very well.[22] On the other hand, some positions, such as that of skribas, logographos, and geometres, were necessarily performed by literate individuals. This last official, the geometres or “land surveyor,” is particularly interesting. To be able to survey land, geometrai must have had training in math beyond basic arithmetic. Since topics of higher math, such as geometry, were studied at a later stage in one’s intellectual development—after a person had gained some writing and reading skills—these people were necessarily literate.[23] It is, therefore, not surprising to find that, in land declarations, the geometrai who surveyed individual plots of land sign for themselves in their own skillful hands.[24] In light of this, it seems safe to distinguish between two types of literate officials: those whose public service was defined wholly or in part by an ability to write, and those for whom the ability was no precondition for service, but surely advantageous.

Nominations of Skilled Writers

5§1 Skilled writers were always in demand, and highly skilled ones in high demand. Nominations of members of the bouleutic class to specialized secretarial liturgies were regularly made and sometimes contested. It is not surprising that such nominations were not always a source of pride, because of the financial burden that they inevitably brought. Documentary papyri give some insight into the process by which skilled writers were appointed and the steps occasionally taken to get out of these appointments. Let us look at some relevant examples.

5§2 A famous codex from Panopolis (P.Panop. Beatty) documents preparations made in southern Egypt in advance of a visit by the Emperor Diocletian in the year 298. The part that interests us is the request made by the procurator of the Lower Thebaid for the liturgical appointment of an overseer (an epimeletes, a bouleutic post) of the treasury ships (1.180–183). Specifically, an accountant (logographos) is sought from among the pagani (citizens residing outside the city) to manage accounts (logoi) related to the refurbishment of ships belonging to the treasury, which were being allotted at the treasury’s expense for use during the emperor’s visit. Bear in mind that most of Diocletian’s trip would be conducted up and down the Nile, and the number of river craft required for it must have been large.

5§3 In this nomination, we are told, in ancient Human Resources speak, that the suitable (epitedeios) nominee will be highly skilled, sufficiently wealthy, and versed in letters (ἐντὸς πολλῆς ἐπιστήμης καὶ περιουσίας καὶ γραμμάτων ἔμποραν[25]), in order to ensure that the work is done in good faith (μετὰ καλῆς πίστεως). Obviously, they did not want someone who would cheat the treasury. Some sixty lines later (lines 1.241–243) we learn that the sitting president of the city council, the proedros, announced the council’s decision to appoint a man named Triphiodorus (the name evokes the homonymous Panopolite poet of the third/fourth century, perhaps just the kind of literate individual who could have served a city well).[26]

5§4 Time was allotted for a nominee to dispute such an appointment. While we have no evidence that Triphiodorus contested his, petitions seeking exemptions to nominations do exist. One lodged by a man at some point between the years 306 and 337 (the date is not preserved) is particularly instructive (P.Amh. 2.82). It also concerns the nomination of a logographos, but this time the appointment comes from the city council in Arsinoe for service at the court of the prefect in Alexandria. Whether this person was expected to travel to Alexandria, or to serve the prefect when he made the conventus, his annual tour of the province, is not stated. The nominee’s name is Aurelius Didaros, a landowner with farmland in the Arsinoite village of Tebetny. The petition that survives is the second one that Didaros filed contesting his appointment. He directs it to the prefect himself, stating:

“To the perfectissimus prefect of Egypt, from Aurelius Didaros, former chief priest of the city of the Arsinoites. That the logographoi who are nominated by city councils to serve your unblemished court, lord governor, also be skilled in letters (γραμμάτων ἐπιστήμονες) is fitting and that they come from the bouleutic class has not escaped your nobility. But then, while I was spending time in Tebetny tending to my farming, some members of the most eminent council of the city of the Arsinoites chose me for the office of logographia even though I am not qualified and hardly know my letters and have never been a member of the curial class (ἀνεπιτήδειον ὄντα καὶ [γράμματα σ]χ̣ε̣δὸν ἐπιστάμενον οὐδὲ πολιτευσάμενόν ποτε). . . .”

5§5 The language is reminiscent of the Panopolis document above, suggesting that nominations followed what we might call stock job descriptions. Didaros’s strategy in disputing the appointment is to argue that he does not fit this description: he hardly knows his letters, after all, and he is a poor farmer who has never been a member of the boule. But Didaros is surely being disingenuous. Aside from the fact that he is a former chief priest (a bouleutic appointment), we know from another document that he was the son of a former councillor (bouleutes) of Alexandria named Kopres (SB 14.12190.7–8; 11 July 297). No wonder the council in Arsinoe was going after him! He may have been a landowner and farmer (he is called georgos in P.Prague 1.117), but he was hardly of humble birth, as he pretends. This is reinforced by yet another document, in which we learn that he was also nominated for a liturgy to requisition and accompany workers and beasts of burden to Alexandria for a special building project (SB 24.15914; 28 Feb. 314). Whether the appointment for the building project preceded or followed the nomination to the logographia is unknown.

5§6 Didaros says that he is not skilled in letters. Notice, he does not claim to be illiterate (agrammatos), and with his standing, we would not expect him to be. But what does it mean here to be unskilled in letters? The person who states at line 20 that he has submitted the petition (his name is lost in a lacuna) appears to be the same person who wrote the body of the document; the hand is the same, at any rate, and there are no traces of a statement crediting anyone else with drafting the petition. It is thus quite possible that Didaros wrote the petition himself.[27] If he did, then we can say that he is a fairly proficient writer, even if the handwriting does not rise to the level of the chancery script that may have been required of him at the court of the prefect. Yet, his claim of incompetence might not have to do with the beauty of his handwriting. Other documents, such as the passage from P.Panop. Beatty discussed above, suggest that logographoi were in charge of accounting. And if that is the case here, Didaros could be arguing that he lacks the requisite accounting skills. The bottom line, though, is that he just wanted to be left to his land.

5§7 Incompetence is not the only excuse given for an exemption from a liturgy that required professional writing skills. In a liturgical nomination dated February 11, 292, the Oxyrhynchus city council apparently tried appointing a man named Theodorus to the post of skribas, or scribe, at the court of the prefect. The term skribas, a Latin loanword first attested in a document from Oxyrhychus dated to the year 280 (P.Oxy. 9.1191), is surprisingly rare, found in only a couple dozen documents from Egypt, most of them fourth-century. The skribas was closely associated with city councils and was responsible for oversight and certification of municipal documents.[28] We know from one papyrus (P.Oxy. 17.2110; Oct. 16, 370) that he could issue minutes, or hypomnemata, of local council proceedings. This therefore gives some idea of the kind of work Theodorus would have been expected to perform. He, however, refuses his nomination, because his status as hieronikes, or victor in the games, exempted him. In which games he was victor, we do not learn, but we can hear Libanius’s disapproval at another qualified council member evading his duties.

Non-Professional Writers

6§1 While literacy was not necessarily a prerequisite for most types of liturgies, it was enjoyed by a fair number of liturgists. And it is precisely in the context of their liturgical duties, as well as in their private business affairs, that we see them put their literate educations to use. Many examples of literate liturgists could be adduced, but I will look at what I consider to be a representative case: Aurelius Zoilos, son of Apollonius, who appears in a number of papyri from the so-called Isidoros archive, which dates to the second half of the third/first quarter of the fourth century.[29] In contrast to the illiterate Isidoros, a prominent landholder and lessee at Karanis who over the course of 20 years held ten liturgical appointments, Zoilos is hardly known at all. The son of a metropolite army veteran, he served for a number of years as assistant to the council prytanis and the exegetes, another municipal magistrate.[30] Given his father’s standing as a veteran and the fact that his sister was married to a gymnasiarch, we are safe to assume that Zoilos was a member of the bouleutic class. Furthermore, he appears to have had private business interests. He signs off on a lease agreement with Isidoros, represents his metropolitan mother in another contract, writes letters, and composes rent receipts in his own hand. And we can be sure that Zoilos wrote them, because he signs them ἔγραψα τὰ ὅλα, “I wrote the whole thing,” a phrase confined almost exclusively to the fourth-century Arsinoite nome.[31] Zoilos’s sister Ptolema, who inherits his properties, is, by contrast, illiterate; she relies on her son Serenos to do her writing, pointing up, I would contend, gender inequality in the area of education among metropolite children in this period.

6§2 Zoilos is representative of his peers. Most members of the bouleutic class probably did not write in the capacity of a liturgical appointment that required literacy, such as that of logographos or skribas. Yet, because they were literate, they could sign agreements, pen correspondence, issue receipts, etc. The basic education they received in the cities equipped them to do this, and their acts of writing reveal the close connection between urban schools and town councils, the relationship that we see being so important to Libanius.

6§3 Furthermore, the ability to write distinguished city dwellers from their fellow citizens in rural areas, as seen in documents from the Arsinoite nome dated to the late third and fourth century. Village offices were often held by illiterate men, although we find the occasional village chief who could write, even if only to sign his name.[32] The general disparity between educated councillors and illiterate villagers created opportunities for abuse, or at least claims of corruption. We observe an example of such abuse in a petition to the prefect lodged in the year 280 by a widow named Artemis against a dekaprotos—a leading member of the boule—called Syrion (P.Sakaon 36). Artemis paints a somewhat humble picture of Syrion, claiming that he was a fellow shepherd of her deceased husband, who through exploitation of his “local power” (topike dunasteia), tried to swindle her and her orphaned children out of their flocks. In his capacity as dekaprotos in the nome capital of Arsinoe, Syrion went so far, we are told, as to withhold receipts for tax payments made by Artemis, in order to give the impression that she was in arrears (36.27–29). His ability to write, which no doubt was another sign of his social superiority over Artemis and her family, thus put Syrion in a position of power over the woman. Whether he came from the village and was originally of the same standing as Artemis’s husband is impossible to verify. It is nice to think that one could pull himself up by the bootstraps and make it in the big city, but this depiction of him may have been little more than a rhetorical conceit forged, I should add, not by the illiterate Artemis, but by the educated city dweller who helped her compose the petition.[33]

6§4 In conclusion, I will address a final point related to the issue of the education of municipal officials, namely, signs of interest in book culture.[34] The extent to which literary interests were indulged later in life, outside the schoolroom, is not easy to assess. The number of prominent officials with clear literary interests, such as the fourth-century lawyer from Panopolis named Ammon and the sixth-century notary and poet, Dioscorus of Aphrodito, is hard to quantify because of how little we know about the people who copied literary texts.[35] Nevertheless, we do get some indirect information pertaining to literary activities and tastes. The large third-century Heroninos archive from the Arsinoite nome contains among its hitherto ca. 500 published texts a substantial number of documents written on recycled papyrus.[36] Much of this scrap papyrus comes from the city council office at Arsinoe, and it includes a handful of reused literary texts, including Homer, Demosthenes, unidentified Greek comedy, and a philosophical polemic.[37] One piece of correspondence from the archive even quotes the opening of Book 2 of the Iliad in the left margin, a learned reference that gives an idea of the sender’s cultural frame of reference (P.Flor. 2.259). Whether these literary papyri originated in the council office at Arsinoe, as the documents did, is impossible to say, but it is not inconceivable that they belonged to the officeholders, and that they therefore reflect cultural interests of educated members of the bouleutic class.


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Kruse, T. 2010. “Die Bedeutung des administrativen Hilfspersonals in der enchorischen Verwaltung des kaiserzeitlichen Ägyptens für die administrative Kontinuität.” In Schubert 2010:417–423.

Kruse, T. 2002. Der königliche Schreiber und die Gauverwaltung. Untersuchungen zur Verwaltungsgeschichte Ägyptens in der Zeit von Augustus bis Philippus Arabs (30 v.Chr. – 245 n.Chr.), 2 vols. Munich.

Lewis, N. 1997. The Compulsory Public Services of Roman Egypt ed. 2. Florence. Miguélez Cavero, L. 2013. Triphiodorus, “The Sack of Troy.” Berlin.

Miguélez Cavero, L. 2008. Poems in Context: Greek Poetry in the Egyptian Thebaid 200–600 AD. Berlin.

Millar, F. 1983. “Empire and City, Augustus to Julian: Obligations, Excuses and Status.” Journal of Roman Studies 73:76–96.

Mitthof, F. 1997. “Bestallung eines Liturgen im Zuge der Requisition von Arbeitskräften und Lasttieren für ein öffentliches Bauvorhaben in Alexandreia.” In Kramer et al. 1997: 706–718.

Morgan T. 1998. Literate education in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. Cambridge.

Norman, A. F. 1977. Libanius. Selected Orations Vol. 2. Loeb Classical Library 452. Cambridge, MA.

Oertel, F. 1917. Die Liturgie: Studien zur ptolemäischen und kaiserlichen Verwaltung Ägyptens. Leipzig.

Parsons, P. J. 1967. “Philippus Arabs and Egypt,” Journal of Roman Studies 57:134–141.

Preisigke, F. 1924. Wörterbuch der griechischen Papyrusurkunden. Heidelberg.

Rathbone, D. 1991. Economic Rationalism and Rural Society in Third-Century AD Egypt: The Heroninos Archive and the Appianus Estate. Cambridge.

Riggs, C., ed. 2012. The Oxford Handbook of Roman Egypt. Oxford.

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Tacoma, L. E. 2006. Fragile Hierarchies: The Urban Elites of Third-Century Roman Egypt. Leiden.

van Beek, B. 2013. “Kronion son of Apion, head of the grapheion of Tebtynis.” Trismegistos Archives. http://www.trismegistos.org/arch/archives/pdf/93.pdf [accessed 8 March 2016].

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van ’T Dack, E., P van Dessel, and W.van Gucht, eds. 1983. Egypt and the Hellenistic World. Leuven.

* I thank Gregory Nagy and the CHS staff for their hospitality and support during my fellowship stay. A version of this paper was also given at Columbia University’s Classics Department as part of its Classics Colloquium, and I am grateful to audience members for their questions and comments. I also thank Julia Lougovaya and Roger Bagnall for comments and suggestions, and the University of Heidelberg’s Sonderforschungsbereich 933, Materiale Textkulturen, for general support of my research—many of the ideas explored in this paper have their origin in my work within the SFB. Papyrological editions are cited in accordance with the Checklist of Editions of Greek, Latin, Demotic, and Coptic Papyri, Ostraka and Tablets.

[1] Morgan 1998; for explanation of terminology, see pp. 4–9.

[2] For recent discussion of the grapheia, see Claytor 2013:78–81, with further bibiliography in fn. 4. The best-known body of texts related to a grapheion is the first-century archive of Kronion, from Tebtynis, which contains almost 200 Greek and demotic documents, both public and private, associated with Kronion’s record-keeping business in Tebtynis; see van Beek 2013.

[3] These are M.Chr. 197.11 (202–203), P.Col. 10.274.10 (10 April – 8 August 209), P.Diog. 16.7 (27 November 207), P.Flor. 3.357.3 (= M.Chr. 184) (1 September 208), P.Harr. 1.66.9 (after 212?), P.Oxy. 14.1724.6 (early 3rd c.), P.Stras. 6.593.10 (beginning of the third century?).

[4] On this office, see the comprehensive study Kruse 2002.

[5] On the duties of the komogrammateus, see Jördens 2012:59. In the Arsinoite nome, the title was replaced by amphodokomogrammateus at some point just before 220, which persisted into the mid-third century; see Borkowski and Hagedorn 1978:781–783; Lewis 1997:34–35.

[6] For the amphodogrammateus, see Drecoll 1997:18–20; in some areas of Roman Egypt, the titles amphodogrammateus and komogrammateus were joined for a short time in the name amphodokomogrammateus, Borkowski and Hagedorn 1978. What is known from documents from Egypt about Philip the Arab’s reforms is summarized in Parsons 1967:134–141; Lewis 1997:50.

[7] Cf. Bowman 2005:322. The title nomographos also falls out of use in this period; there is only one indisputable appearance of it after 200, in P.Gen.(2) 1.42.32 (25 July 224; Philadelphia), where it is borne by a man named Dioscorus, who calls himself nomikos in P.Diog. 29.27 (28 October 225; Philadelphia). The same Dioscorus appears, without a title, also in P.Graux 1.7 (= SB 4.7467; 28 August 221; Philadelphia); for other possible sightings of him, see the introduction to P.Gen.(2) 1.42 and P.Diog. 29.27n.

[8] In the 200 years between 201 and 400 there are only 360 attestations of the term in Greek documents, most of them occurring between 201 and 250 (93 occurrences are recorded between 251 and 400). This is in sharp contrast to the first two centuries of the Common Era, from which we have about 1,050 attestations.

[9] Bowman 1971 remains the standard treatment of city councils in Roman Egypt; see also Bowman and Rathbone 1992; Bowman 2005; Bagnall 1993:54–62. A good discussion of civic structures of the third century is Tacoma 2006.

[10] Cf. Bowman and Rathbone 1992:127. On the nomen Aurelius and Flavius, see Keenan 1973 and Keenan 1974.

[11] The principal studies of liturgies are still Oertel 1917 and Lewis 1997; see also Drecoll 1997.

[12] Millar 1983.

[13] Lewis 1997.

[14] The translation is from Norman 1977.

[15] Some thoughts on the importance of literacy in municipal centers can be found in Bagnall 1993:246–247. Geens 2009 highlights the philhellene character of one Greek city, Panopolis.

[16] See especially Cribiore 2001 and Morgan 1998.

[17] In my view, the courtroom speeches in BGU 4.1024 (pp. 6.3-8.21) (= P.Aktenbuch) may have been set pieces designed for the classroom of a rhetorician; for discussion of the literary quality of these texts, see Kanavou and Papathomas 2016 (my thanks to both authors for sharing with me a draft of their article prior to publication). One might wonder, too, whether a text such as P.Oxy. 6.903, an accusation of abuse lodged by a woman against her husband, could have been produced in the context of advanced rhetorical training, rather than as an affidavit for a court case.

[18] The text can be found here, P.Coll. Youtie 2.66 (= P.Oxy. 47.3366), but it should be consulted together with Parsons’ discussion and notes in the printed edition.

[19] Cribiore et al. 2008.

[20] Estate-related correspondence from the 3rd-century Heroninos archive were prepared by assistants (normally called boethoi, but occasionally grammateis), one of the most frequently encountered being a man named Philippos, see Rathbone 1991:61–62. See too Bagnall 1993:158 and Kruse 2010.

[21] See, e.g., the didaskaloi Aurelius Ploution (P.Sakaon 3.23; 1–26 January 300), Aurelius Herodes (P.Cair. Isid. 3.41 and 4.21; 12 September 299?) and Aurelius NN (P.Cair. Isid. 5.45; 12 September 299). Whether these didaskaloi were regular teachers, with their own pupils, is unknown; according to Preisigke 1924 (s.v. διδασκαλία) a didaskalia could be an “amtliche Auskunftsstelle” or “Dienststelle.”

[22] Though certainly not unique, one example of an illiterate councillor (bouleutes) is Aurelius Ptolemaios, who relies on a man named Aurelius Agathos to compose a barley receipt in his and a colleague’s name, because the two men were illiterate (agrammatoi), P.Sakaon 15.11 (3–26 February 308). There are many examples of councillors who were “functionally literate,” that is, they had some basic literacy that allowed them to write slowly, well enough to sign their names, but they could not be called proficient writers. In this respect, they were not much different from officials of earlier times who had been expected to perform some limited clerical duties; cf. Petaus, the village clerk (komogrammateus), well known from the second-century archive that bears his name; see Geens and Broux 2012.

[23] On numerical literacy, see Cribiore 2001:180–183.

[24] They sign with some version of the formula Αὐρήλιος NN γεωμέτρης ἐμέτρησα τὰς προδεδηλουμένας ἀρούρας; cf., e.g., the following land declarations, all of which involve the same geometrai, Aphrodisios and Paulinos: P.Sakaon 2.20f.; 3.19f.; P.Cair. Isid. 3.33ff.; 4.16ff.; 5.39ff. Cf. Oertel 1917:181.

[25] Read ἔμπειρον.

[26] Τhe name Triphiodorus is not uncommon in the Panopolite and derives from Triphis, the female deity worshiped alongside Min and Kolanthes at Panopolis. See Miguélez Cavero 2013: 3–4, with n. 5; for more on the date and person of the poet Triphidorus, see, in addition to the previous work, Miguélez Cavero 2008:12–15.

[27] This is the view expressed also in Mitthof 1997:713, a re-edition of P.Amh. 2.82.

[28] Bowman 1971:39–41.

[29] For information about the archive, including bibliography, see the introduction to P.Cair. Isid. and Geens 2013. The documents that attest Zoilos are P.Cair. Isid. 99117118120121, and 135v.

[30] See Bagnall:97–101. For brief discussion of literate assistants, see fn. 20 above.

[31] A search of this phrase in papyri.info returns 24 hits. Of these, all are from the Arsinoite and all but two—BGU 2.520 (3 January 172) and P.Kar. Goodsp. 78 (158–159)—are from the last years of the third or the fourth century. Zoilos uses the phrase in P.Cair. Isid. 117118, and 120.

[32] Cf. the clumsy and labored signature of the komarch Ataeis in P.Sakaon 22.15 (an image is available here).

[33] It is perfectly conceivable, though, that Syrion was a new entrant to the bouleutic class; on social mobility in 3rd-century Egypt, see Tacoma 2006:258–261.

[34] A more detailed treatment of this subject is Clarysse 1983.

[35] For Ammon, see P.Ammon 1 and 2, as well as Geens 2004. On Dioscorus, cf. Fournet 1999 and Fournet 2008; additional information can be found at Trismegistos Archives, s.v. “Dioskoros”.

[36] The standard treatment of this important archive is Rathbone 1991.

[37] Rathbone 1991:11–14.


About Rodney Ast

Rodney Ast has a PhD in Classics from the University of Toronto and has worked since 2009 as Research and Teaching Associate in the Institute for Papyrology at the University of Heidelberg. His main areas of interest are Greek and Latin documentary and literary papyrology and paleography; the cultural and social history of Greco-Roman Egypt; Egyptian archeology; Digital Humanities. He has edited several books and numerous articles concerned with Greek and Latin papyrological and inscriptional texts. He takes part regularly in excavations at Amheida in Egypt's Dakhla Oasis and serves as co-editor of Greek and Latin texts from the Eastern desert site of Berenike. His time at the CHS will be spent on a study of writers, their offices, and the general culture of writing in Greco-Roman Egypt.

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