Ancient Documents Old and New

The Centre's seminar series continued in Trinity Term 1996 with four papers on a range of documentary subjects. The first three seminars were held in the Centre, but Professor Gagos's lecture was moved to the Garden Auditorium at St. John's College to make it accessible to a larger audience. Summaries of all the papers appear on pages 6 and 7 below.

Around OGIS 219 (John Ma)

An Agricultural Account Book from the Dakleh Oasis (Roger Bagnall)

Apion II and Apa Hierax (John Rea)

"Rolling Stones" (Traianos Gagos)

Around OGIS 219

(John Ma, 25 April)

John Ma of All Souls College began the Trinity seminar series with a paper examining the text, dating and interpretation of OGIS 219, a much-discussed decree of Ilion for a King Antiochos. The paper started from the discovery of the inscription at Skepsis and its removal to Cambridge by Lady Mary Montagu. Discussion of this important third-century text in the past has centred on the question of which Antiochos-whether Antiochos I or Antiochos III-it refers to. Palaeographical and historical arguments for and against both possibilities were reviewed. The balance of probability can be weighed in favour of either option, but the question is unlikely to be settled without fresh evidence. Whether or not this crux is resolved, the formulation and texture of the decree has much to tell us about the relationship between city and king in the Hellenistic period.

Decree of Ilion for King Antiochos; but which Antiochos?
Lines 2-5 of a squeeze of OGIS 219 provided by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

The paper concluded with a discussion of a tantalising fragment of a Hellenistic historical text of analogous content (P.Berol. 21286), for which possible corrections and supplements were proposed, and a further proposed correction to the conclusion of OGIS 219 itself.

An Agricultural Account Book from the Dakleh Oasis

(Roger Bagnall,9 May)

Professor Roger Bagnall, Honorary Visiting Fellow at the Centre in 1995/6, presented a remarkable document from the Western Desert of Egypt, which he has been editing during his year in Oxford. It was discovered in the excavations at Ismant el-Kharab (ancient Kellis), in the Dakhleh Oasis, a site which has yielded exceptionally interesting documents, including Manichaean texts and part of a speech of Isokrates. Professor Bagnall's text is a codex of 8 wooden tablets. The text runs to over 1700 lines and is the most extensive and best-preserved set of accounts for an agricultural entity that has survived from the fourth century AD. It reveals an extensive range of activities, commodities and payments and contains invaluable evidence for the economic and agrarian history of Egypt in the fourth century.

Apion II and Apa Hierax

(John Rea, 23 May)

Another aspect of the agrarian history of Byzantine Egypt was illuminated in a seminar by Dr.John Rea, who retired from his post as University Lecturer in Documentary Papyrology at the end of the academic year 1995/6. Dr. Rea described a sixth-century papyrus, to be published in vol. LXIII of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri. The text runs to 250 lines and describes the settlement of claims over a piece of irrigated agricultural land. The history of the dispute over the piece of land, which had been mortgaged by its owner and then used as security for a cash loan, is particularly interesting because it involves a monastery of Abbas Hierax and members of a wealthy and powerful Oxyrhynchite family, the Apiones, whose extensive estates are very well-documented by the papyri over several generations.

"Rolling Stones":
Economy, Society and Culture in Late Byzantine Petra

(Traianos Gagos, 6 June)

During the past decade the world of papyrology, keeping abreast of developments in modern technology, has undergone a methodological revolution by converting its major research tools into electronic form. This revolution continues today with efforts from papyrological collections to make their holdings available over the World Wide Web.

However, despite this major leap forward, the world of papyrology continues to face new challenges for which these sophisticated research tools can offer only limited help. The most recent challenge is the discovery of 151 rolls of carbonized papyri in a room adjacent to a Byzantine Church in Petra, Jordan. The state of preservation of the papyri, as might be expected, is very poor. The Finnish team under the leadership of Jaakko Frózen that undertook responsibility for their conservation managed to do the admirable work of a magician in less than 9 months.

The discovery of these documents has important repercussions for the cultural orientation of the field of papyrology. As has been stressed by other scholars, the Petra papyri, along with other previous discoveries, justifiably call for the creation of a papyrology of the Near East. The fact that the papyri provide information for the society, economy, and culture of Petra in the Byzantine period is at the same time a boon for the history of the city and its environs, which was virtually non-existent in the past, but also a challenge to "egyptianizing" papyrologists.

The rolls form a private archive and range in date from around the mid 520s to the mid 580s-far beyond the mark of 551 A.D. which archaeologists had taken to be the time of the final demise of Petra caused by an earthquake. The documents were written for the most part in transversa charta and record property transactions among family member and/or outsiders that deal with acquisition, disposition and settlements of disputes. The last owner of the archive-who is also the central figure-was Theodoros, son of Obodianos, who was a deacon and then archdeacon, in all likelihood, of the church where the papyri were found. Around 537 he was married to Stephanous, daughter of Patrophilos, son of Bassus.

The archive gives a rather one-sided view of Petra in the sixth century (that of a member of the upper class of landowners), but it provides raw material for the study of the culture, the economy, and the society of Petra and its hinderland only a few years before the Islamic conquest. Although the language of the papyri is Greek, the names of fields and houses (and occasionally persons) show clearly the Nabatean background of the city and its interaction with the growing arabic influence in the region. Known once as a major city whose economy depended heavily on trade, the new archive seems to suggest that the economy of the city might have shifted towards agriculture sometime between the third and the sixth century.

The final publication of the entire archive is expected to take place in the year 2000. The publication has been assigned jointly to a Finnish team under the direction of Jaakko Frózen and an American team under the direction of Ludwig Koenen. T. Gagos has participated in the last two seasons (1995 and 1996) and is expected to continue work until the final publication

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Lewis Memorial Fund and Lecture

The first Lewis Memorial Lecture was given by Professor M. Jameson of Stanford University on May 29, 1996 in the garden Auditorium, St. John's College, with the title "The Rituals of Athena Polias in Athens". Prof. Jameson's lecture shed fascinating light on the interpretation of the Parthenon Frieze. Among a large audience were members of Professor Lewis's family. The lecture was followed by a reception in St. John's College.

The Lewis Lecturer for 1997 will be announced shortly.

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International Summer School in Papyrology 1997

A Summer School in Papyrology will be held at the Centre during the first half of July 1997, introducing students at any stage to all aspects of papyrological research. The Summer School will offer many opportunities to younger scholars, from working with papyrologists in a seminar format to editing a papyrus from the Oxyrhynchus collection. The number of participants will be limited to 20. Application materials are available from Dr D. Obbink, Christ Church, Oxford OX1 1DP, U.K. Fax: +44 1865 794199. E-mail:

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This page was created on 12 October 1996