You are here

Late Byzantine legal practice and prosopography in a contract from the Princeton collection

Nicholas Venable

This paper consists of an introduction to and presentation of the edition of an unpublished late Byzantine contract for the surrender of property from Hermopolis, held in the Firestone Library at Princeton University. This contract is significant because it is the most complete ἐκχωρητικὴ ὁμολογία from this period, and its structure makes its constitutive clauses and formulae clear in a way that is useful for conceptualizing legal practice in late Byzantine Egypt. It also includes the names of seven individuals, yielding prosopographic information about late sixth and early seventh century Hermopolis.

The presentation comments on features of the wording of the contract and historical information such as the names of witnesses and their relation to known individuals, noted below. This edition was prepared at the 2014 ASP Summer Institute in Papyrology, where the presenter discovered that the Princeton papyrus joins with a previously published cession contract in the British Library.

The text in the Princeton collection is a 21-line document, written on a dark piece of papyrus transversa charta. It was torn into thirteen strips, which a conservator has taped together, at times imperfectly, as in line 15, which was pasted in backwards. The text has cancellation lines drawn across it, which does not decrease the legibility of the text in a substantial way. The Princeton text joins with a previously known surrender agreement, P. Lond. III 1015 (pp. 256-257), and forms the right-hand side of the document. The London papyrus includes several earlier lines, which do not survive on the Princeton papyrus. The London text itself is also missing an unknown number of lines above the surviving text. These two factors create some difficulty in interpreting and situating the text, such as the absence of a description of the property ceded and the lack of a specified date. Lines 5-21 of the Princeton text join with lines 10-26 of the London papyrus almost exactly, creating sixteen lines of continuous prose.

The path of acquisition of the London and Princeton sections of the document follows a curious chronology. The London papyrus was acquired by the Department of Manuscripts between 1901 and 1903. The Princeton papyrus, meanwhile, was purchased in 1924. The original reason why the sections were separated and the explanation for the chronological gap between the two purchases remain unclear.

The combined text is an agreement for the surrender, or cession, of the half part of sixteen arouras. This legal document, called ἐκχωρητικὴ ὁμολογία, was a form of land conveyance that by this period was effectively equivalent to a sale. The continuous text includes a penalty clause, a validity clause, and signatures of five witnesses. Other surrender agreements from this period include P.Strasb. 328 (Hermopolis), P.Michael. 41 (Aphrodites Kome), P.Lond. III 1007a (pp. 262-264, Antaeopolis), and SB I 6000.

The contract concerns a cession of land by Aurelius Iosephis, son of Aphous, who was apparently illiterate. The individual who drew up the agreement on his behalf, Aurelius Cyrus, son of Iaccobos, may be the same person as the man called by the same name in P.Laur. 7 (Hermopolis). That text is a lease agreement, also from Hermopolis in the sixth century, and the Aurelius Cyrus of P.Laur. 7 also wrote that document for an illiterate man.

The presence of the witness Flavius Iaccobos, son of Hypsistos, is more helpful for dating the text. The rarity of his patronymic Hypsistos strongly suggests that the deceased Iaccobos, son of Hypsistos, of P.Sorb. II 69 (Hermopolis) is either the same person or his brother. Therefore, this document may have been composed one generation after the Princeton papyrus. Since P.Sorb. II 69 has been dated to either 618 or 634 A.D., the Princeton papyrus probably falls in the period immediately before that, in the late sixth or early seventh century.

Session/Panel Title

Culture and Society in Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Egypt

Session/Paper Number

9.4

Share This Page

© 2019, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy