In P.Col. 10.254, an interesting 2nd century papyrus from Egypt, we meet Herakleia who purchases a female slave named Berenike. Since Herakleia is herself a woman, this raises questions about women's property in Egypt. How much property could women possess? Was it normal for women to buy slaves? Did women purchase slaves for themselves or on behalf of men? In her article "Women as Property Owners in Roman Egypt" (TAPA 113, 1983: 311-321), Deborah Hobson demonstrated, from her analysis of documentary papyri, that women often owned a good deal of property. Usually, property was kept in the family and women and men were recipients of family property, even though men were the usual recipients of real estate (there are several exceptions). P.Col. 10.254 (text reproduced below) is not unique; there are indeed other papyri that mention women as purchasers of slaves (e.g., BGU 11.2111, P.Col. 8.219, P.Oxy. 1.73). So, we know that women could purchase slaves.
But what P.Col. 10.254 and other similar papyri reveal is that women had access to full participation in the economy of Roman Egypt. Herakleia visited the appropriate financial office in person and the transaction was made in her name without any objection. In other words, there seems to have been no social stigma attached to Herakleia's purchase of her own property. The text indicates that Herakleia could "dispose" (i.e., sell, transfer) of Berenike "in whatever way she chooses," underscoring her rights to her property. As the editor maintains, "this is clearly a case of a woman acting independently of men in her own financial interests" (P.Col. 10.254, p. 25). Documentary papyri thus reflect social realities and deepen our knowledge of all sorts of human activity in Egypt, from transportation, business, death, marriage, divorce, and so on.
Notice in the image at the bottom, in a second hand, the subscription of Petechon, from whom Herakleia purchased Berenike. This is an example of a "slow writer," someone who could write his name and a few practiced lines but nothing more. The contract itself was probably written by a private clerk.
In P.Col. 10.253 (2nd century CE), we meet Nikephoros, a donkey-driver (ὀνηλάτης) who is described as being "branded" (σφραγίζειν). Psimouras is writing a letter to his brother Chairemon informing him that he is sending him a basket of grapes through Nikephoros. The second editors (Roger Bagnall and Dirk Obbink) remark that, although the word "branded" must be partially reconstructed, nothing else fits the space and context.
If Nikephoros is branded, it probably means that he was a slave. Owners of slaves commonly tattooed their slaves for identification, and runaway slaves were often tattooed or branded on the face until Constantine forbade it in 315/6. Here, Psimouras mentions Nikephoros' branding so that Chairemon will know how to recognize him. This is similar to the various ways in which people are identified in the papyri by their scars. For example, in the abstracts of contracts found at Tebtunis, we find many references to the placement of scars and other bodily markers, such as, "about 28 years old with a scar on the right shin" or "about 55 years old having as a mark a mole by the left ear," or "about 42 years old with a scar on the middle of his nose" (all from P.Mich. 2.121).
In any case, the use of the term σφραγίζειν to describe a slave is rare in the papyri, which makes this papyrus all the more interesting. Anoubas the camel-driver mentioned further down in the letter is not further described, but perhaps he was also described as being "branded" in a previous letter sent to Chairemon, now lost. For general reading, see C.P Jones, "Stigma: Tattooing and Branding in Graeco-Roman Antiquity," JRS 77 (1987): 139-55.
Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies: An Introduction. Edited by: Alessandro Bausi (General editor), Pier Giorgio Borbone, Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet, Paola Buzi, Jost Gippert, Caroline Macé, Marilena Maniaci, Zisis Melissakis, Laura E. Parodi, Witold Witakowski.
Project editor: Eugenia Sokolinski
Printed by: Tredition, Hamburg
ISBN: 978-3-7323-1768-4 (Hardcover; €56.29)
ISBN: 978-3-7323-1770-7 (Paperback; €29.01)
ISBN: 978-3-7323-1769-1 (Ebook; €2.99)
A PDF of the entire book, or of individual chapters, may be downloaded freely here.
Dr. Malcolm Choat is an Associate Professor in the Department of Ancient History and Director of the Macquarie University Ancient Cultures Research Centre.
In early January 2015, I spent a week in Luxor, working with the members of the Macquarie Theban Tombs project on the excavation of TT ("Theban Tomb") 149 in the Pharaonic necropolis on the West Bank in Thebes. I found Luxor and its inhabitants welcoming and friendly as always, although the continued lack of tourists since the 2011 revolution has increased the hardships faced by the community, who were heavily dependent on this source of income.
The Macquarie Theban Tombs project, led by Assoc. Prof. Boyo Ockinga and Dr Susanne Binder from the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University, Sydney, is investigating a series of New Kingdom tombs on Dra’ abu el-Naga, in the North of the Theban necropolis. TT 149 was once the tomb of Amenmose, Royal Scribe of the Table of the Lord of the Two lands and Overseer of Huntsmen of the Estate of Amun. In Late Antiquity, the tomb, along with TT233, the adjoining tomb to the South, and a number of other tombs on the North end of Dra’ abu el-Naga, were reused by monks, who formed a monastic community on the hillside overlooking the village (whose name is not known) in the mortuary Temple of Sety I, about 10 minutes walk east.
In the late Roman and early Islamic period, West Thebes was as a major centre of Christian monasticism, with large communal monasteries, smaller communities, and hundreds of anchorites living in the tombs. Excavations in TT233 and 149 have revealed extensive remains of the monks who dwelt there: an oven was built between the tombs; graffiti were written in the broad hall of TT233; mud brick walls, a paved floor, and stairs leading down into the tomb were put in the courtyard of 149. As well as that, a large textual assemblage in Greek and Coptic has been found in the tomb. Circa 80 Coptic ostraca and c. 60 Greek and Coptic papyri were found in TT233, and this season, we found another 80 Coptic and Greek papyri in the courtyard of TT 149, along with a small number of Coptic ostraca. Among the texts from TT233 are private letters, prayers, and a number of writing exercises of various sorts. There are also a number of Greek documents on papyrus (many of which are small and fragmentary). In TT 149 this season, we found more fragments of Greek documents, alongside a small fragment of a page from a codex containing Genesis 2:19–20 and 3:2–5 in Sahidic Coptic, along with a number of other fragments from Coptic codices which have not yet been identified.
The full investigation of these conjoined monastic cells has only just begun, but already the outlines of a hitherto unknown monastic community which dwelt in these tombs in the sixth to eighth century can be glimpsed. Undoubtedly this community was connected to the community in the cave tomb and mud brick structures known as "Winlock 26" just a few metres away at the top of the hill, where earlier in 2014 German excavators found a hoard of Byzantine gold coins (see here). It now seems likely that these cells form part of the earliest monastic inhabitation for which there is archeological evidence on the Dra’ abu el-Naga, and will in time provide very valuable evidence for the development of monasticism in the Theban region.