Holidays implied certain obligations between friends and family in Roman Egypt, of which some found expression in contracts and letters preserved on papyrus. This evidence shows how people actually negotiated duties, affection and authority among themselves and thereby gave concrete form to moral expectations in an ancient context. This paper examines how the Amesysia, a combined New Year’s and birthday celebration of the goddess Isis held for four or five days in late August (the epagomenal days and Thoth 1st)could be employed within families of different social status to define and claim obligations owed to one another. Such festivals held a general expectation for generous gifts of wine and meats from parents to children, but the relational function of these gifts and the festival itself changed depending on family’s social status and distance between its members.I argue that the Amesysia served as a marker of intimacy and distinction for professional and artisan families, while wealthier parents used this feast instead to reestablish authority over distant children who had left home for educational pursuits.
Fourteen papyri dating from 6 BC to the latter third century AD mention this feast and most are from either the Arsinoite or Oxyrhynchus except three that are unprovenanced and one from the Memphite nome.They include nursing contracts (C.Pap.Gr. 1.28, 31), a leasing contract for an oil-press (P.Fay. 95), business letters (P.Flor. 2.131, SB 20.14197, SB16.12518), private letters (P.Iand. 6.95, P.Oxy. 14.1666, SB 14.12182) a list of expenditures (P.Lond. 3.1171r), a mummy’s identification tag from near Memphis (SB 1.3462), as well as two apprenticeship contracts (P.Oxy. 41.2971, SB 20.15162), one of which specially reserved the Amesysia from the work year. Examination of the letters and contracts reveals certain expenditures and contractual expectations relevant to this celebration and portrays a moment where different families negotiated duties and affection within this provincial context.This paper therefore analyzes certain real costs and effects of cult, how it offered constraints on behavior and how different families could use it to change the shape and character of their relationships and negotiate conflict when their interests clashed.