Like today, people in the ancient world dealt with all sorts of crime, violence, rape, murder, theft, and so on. In many cases, crimes in the ancient world were never reported. And we can understand why: rural settings usually lacked protection against crime and violence. And this is precisely one of the reasons travel in the ancient world was considered dangerous. Someone could mug you and steal your garment and easily get away with it. Think about it. No one is around to help you or to witness the attack, and so you sit there wounded, hoping that a good samaritan will pass by and help tend to your wounds. It's no surprise, then, that Jesus' parable of the good Samaritan in the Bible was so effective: people knew exactly what he meant!
But in some cases, violence was indeed reported. We have many papyri from Roman Egypt documenting such cases. Last week, for example, I posted on a case of domestic violence in a fourth century papyrus, where the wife sought the protection of the Roman state against her violent husband. Another example is P.Tebt. 2.304, a second century petition concerning an assault on Pakebkis and his brother Onnophris in the ancient Egyptian town of Tebtunis. Here is the text:
The "well-known temple" is a reference to the temple of the crocodile god Soknebtunis ("Sobek, lord of Tebtunis"), which the local inhabitants worshipped. In fact, many of the papyri discovered in Tebtunis were found in the papyrus wrappings of mummified crocodiles (though not this one, which was discovered in a house of the town). We learn from the papyrus that Pakebkis (and presumably his brother Onnophris also) was a priest in this famous temple. The petition describes a violent gang attack upon the two priests, which was apparently instigated by a ringleader named Satorneilos. The attack, which happened at night, was apparently so brutal that Onnophris suffered life-threatening injuries. Pakebkis wanted justice and so he appealed to the state for help. The petition itself is customary: it is addressed to an official (in this case, the decurion, an official responsible for criminal offenses), describes the event, names the attacker, and requests that the state arrest Satorneilos and bring him to trial. Pakebkis could have written this petition himself. The sloppy handwriting might support this. The other possibility is that Pakebkis did what most everyone else would do in such a situation: he went down to the local scribe, told him what kind of legal document he needed, and described the attack. The scribe would in turn draft the petition, make a couple copies, and give it back to Pakebkis, who would then either take it directly to the office of Longinus, or have it sent to him by way of a letter-carrier. It was then up to the state to respond.
Legal documents like this one are fascinating because they allow us to see the kinds of crime that took place in the ancient world. From the perspective of social history, these papyri are interesting because we get to learn about real individuals who suffered these crimes, their occupations, their relationships, their desires for justice, and so on.
I just listened to a highly stimulating lecture on YouTube by Dr. Alison Tara Walker (Seattle University) on the paleographical ductus in the digital age. In palaeography, or the study of ancient handwriting, the "ductus" refers to the graphic character of strokes produced by a stylus. These patterns help us decipher letter-forms and understand a scribe's overall style of handwriting. Walker's main question is: Where is the ductus in modern tablets and mobile devices? She highlights two competing views: one by Heidegger and the other by Nietzsche. Heidegger thought that the type-writer removes the ductus altogether. Nietzsche argued that the typewriter retained the ductus. In other words, the ductus is still alive in the typewriter.
As someone who studies ancient handwriting, I found the questions in this lecture quite stimulating. It raised many questions such as the link between mind and hand, technology and the flow of an idea, finger as stylus, writing processes, the materiality of writing, and so on. Watch the lecture below!
Here is the abstract of Walker's lecture:
"Paleographers have long used the term _ductus_ to articulate the movement and sensory experience inherent in the process of writing and to describe the flow of letterforms from the hand to the page. But with the advent of the keyboard and touchscreen, how do the gestures of writing change? This talk explores the connection between gesture, the sound of writing, and how the _ductus_ of the writing instruments we use can help or hinder the writing process. First, the talk examines the change in _ductus_ between handwriting and the typewriter. From there, the focus turns to the digital age of writing by examining tablets, smart-phones, and new writing technologies in order to explore the unique _ductus_ of the digital era."
P.Oxy. 6.903 is a fourth century papyrus that was discovered in 1897 in the ancient Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus. It is complete and generally well-preserved (image below). The papyrus is an affidavit comprised of a complaint from a Christian woman against her husband, who is charged with verbally and physically abusing her, their slaves, and foster children. Apparently, the husband suspected that the wife and the slaves were stealing from him. And so, he locks them up and violently abuses them. The wife is therefore turning to the state for protection.
The papyrus is historically interesting for several reasons. For one, it documents a Christian woman going to church on the Sabbath (ἀπελθοῦσα [εἰ]ς τὸ κυριακὸν ἐν σαμβάθῳ). This is interesting because we learn from many early Christian authors that Christians no longer observed the Sabbath (e.g., Ignatius, Mag. 9; Tertullian Idol. 14). The papyrus also documents a clear case of violence against slaves. The text states that the husband “insulted his slaves and my [the wife’s] slave Zoe and half killed them with blows, and he applied fire to my foster-daughters.” We learn from other ancient sources that slaves often suffered extreme violence at the hands of their slave owners, so we should take this description at face value. Notice that both the husband and the wife owned slaves, which suggests they were wealthy. Another interesting feature of the text is that some local bishops served as reconcilers: “he [i.e., the husband] swore in the presence of the bishops” (ὤμοσεν ἐπὶ παρουσίᾳ τῶν ἐπισκόπων). This demonstrates that the clergy were appealed to in the first instance, and that the wife was forced to turn to the state only after the church proved ineffective in settling the dispute. This raises many questions concerning the authoritative boundaries of Christian clergy in domestic affairs.
Overall, this is a fascinating papyrus that gives a glimpse into the realities of domestic life, spousal abuse, and the role of Christian clergy. More importantly, it provides good evidence that women could and did make use of the Roman legal system to protect themselves against violence from their husbands. Here is an English translation of the text (Greek text here) along with an image of the papyrus:
"Concerning all the insults uttered by him against me. He shut up his own slaves and mine with my foster-daughters and his agent and son for seven whole days in his cellars, having insulted his slaves and my slave Zoe and half killed them with blows, and he applied fire to my foster-daughters, having stripped them quite naked, which is contrary to the laws. He also said to the same foster-daughters, 'Give up all that is hers,' and they said, 'She has nothing with us'; and to the slaves when they were being beaten he said, 'What did she take from my house?' And they under torture said, 'She has taken nothing of yours, but all your property is safe.' Zoilus went to see him because he had shut up his foster-son, and he said to him, 'Have you come on account of your foster-son or of such a woman, to talk about her?' He swore in the presence of the bishops and of his own brothers, 'Henceforward I will not hide all my keys from her [he trusted his slaves but would not trust me]; I will stop and not insult her.' Whereupon a marriage deed was made, and after his agreement and his oaths, he again hid the keys from me; and when I had gone out to the church on the Sabbath he had the outside doors shut on me, saying 'Why did you go to the church?' and using many terms of abuse to my face, and through his nose. There were 100 artabae of corn due to the State on my account of which he paid nothing, not a single artaba. He obtained possession of the books, and shut them up saying, 'Pay the price of the hundred artabae,' having himself paid nothing, as I stated before; and he said to his slaves, 'Provide helpers, to shut her up also.' Choous his assistant was carried off to prison, and Euthalamus gave security for him which was insufficient, so I took a little more and gave it for the said Choous. When I met him at Antinoopolis having my bathing-bag [?] with my ornaments, he said to me, 'I shall take anything you have with you on account of the security which you gave to my assistant Choous for his dues to the State.' To all this his mother will bear witness. He also persisted in vexing my soul about his slave Anilla, both at Antinoopolis and here, saying, 'Send away this slave, for she knows how much she has possessed herself of,' probably wanting to get me involved, and on this pretext to take away whatever I have myself. But I refused to send her away, and he kept saying, 'A month hence I will take a mistress.' God knows this is true."