In this paper, I consider local migration within the Arsinoite nome of Egypt during the first century or so of Roman rule. I revisit this subject, previously treated by Horst Braunert as part of his exhaustive study Die Binnenwanderung, in order to incorporate the valuable data of newly edited papyri and supplement their biases with other papyri of a more anecdotal nature. This reconsideration, moreover, brings to light new social and administrative implications of local migration.
In the first half of this paper, I lay out the papyrological evidence for migration within the nome. The bulk of this evidence is in the form of extensive tax lists from Philadelphia. Here, I present my work on P.Tebt. 2.400, a list of migrants from Tebtunis, which illustrates that the phenomenon of local migration was a widespread feature not limited to Philadelphia. The synoptic nature of these documents enables a quantitative analysis, revealing aspects of the geography, demography, and networks of migration. I supplement these lists with papyri that attest to instances of migration that were not formally recorded, especially those of women and minors. The papyrological evidence demonstrates that this phenomenon was a common feature of daily life, pushing back against the stereotype of the Egyptian peasant bound to his or her land.
I take a step back in the second half of my study, considering the relevant administrative papyri as a phenomenon in their own right. I argue that they reflect a tension between the provincial administration’s ideologically-charged conception of the Egyptian population and the reality of widespread movement on the ground. Because of this paradox and the fiscal necessity to account for migrants, local officials were forced to innovate and develop ad hoc structures, of which the surviving papyri are the product. This framework of analysis examining the context behind the papyri thus illustrates how the imperial administration could use decentralization and reliance on local elites to its own advantage, avoiding the steep demands that a centralized approach would have necessitated
Culture and Society in Greek Roman and Byzantine Egypt