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In this paper, I challenge the long-standing scholarly assumption that the musical culture of Roman Egypt was centered primarily in Alexandria, and in particular, the supposition that the musical papyri must have originated in that metropolis (e.g., Gammacurta 2006: 203). Instead, I advocate a re-evaluation of the evidence for Greek musical culture in the Nile valley, especially in the Fayum, that combines papyrological and archaeological sources in order to provide a more balanced hypothesis which acknowledges the centrality of music within Greek culture. I propose that the evidence provided by these sources suggests that, in fact, communities outside of Alexandria were capable of a higher-level of musical production than has been previously theorized, and therefore, that at least some of the musical papyri were likely written by and for professional musicians within these more rural communities.

In contrast to previous studies of the musical papyri (e.g., West 1992, Pöhlman and West 2001, Prauscello 2006), which avoid discussing these documents in terms of the specific cultural milieu of Roman Egypt, I emphasize the necessity of considering the context for which they were written and in which they were used. Even though most of the musical papyri do not have specific archaeological provenances, this does not exclude utilizing other evidence for musical practices in rural Egypt to elucidate important comparative information about the musical papyri. Such evidence includes the archaeological remains of musical instruments, where they have been found, and the documentary papyri and ostraka that refer to the activities of musicians. These sources suggest that musical professionalism was not restricted to elite contexts in Alexandria and perhaps a few of the major metropoleis, but was, in fact, an important aspect of the social and religious lives of Greek speaking Egyptians.

In order to demonstrate the type of approach to the musical papyri which I advocate in this paper, I will briefly examine two case studies: a wood-lined bronze flute from Karanis (accession number 27-C59A-NI) and P. Col. VIII 226 (P. Col. inv. 441), a late second-century-C.E. contract for musical entertainment in the village of Alabastrine. The Karanis instrument is most likely a Greek aulos or monaulos in form, although it may have been influenced by Egyptian flutes in the spacing of the finger-holes, while the contract provides specific information about the nature of musical professionalism in rural Egypt. I discuss how these two examples specifically relate to the musical papyrus P. Mich. inv. 2958, the primary topic of my dissertation, in terms of the musical resources necessary for the performance of Greek tragedy in an Egyptian setting. In this light, I suggest several hypothetical scenarios which could account for the existence of a musical document in Karanis outside of its exclusive importation from Alexandria due to the used-papyrus trade. While this paper can only present a small fraction of the evidence of the musical communities of Roman Egypt, I hope that it will provoke further study and provide the basis for across-disciplinary and multi-cultural approach to Greek music in the Roman provinces.