When in the winter of 1898-1899 B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt pitched their camp on the site of Qasr el-Banat in the Fayyum Oasis, a location that they would soon identify as having been the site of the ancient village of Euhemeria, they were quite disappointed to discover that, since their last visit to the place during the winter of 1895-1896, sebbâkhîn and antiquity-seekers had been very active, especially in the northern part of the ancient site. They, therefore, devoted the efforts of a six-week archaeological campaign to the south and south-west parts of Euhemeria. Among the many artefacts and papyri they had the chance to discover there, was a trove of documents forming what was subsequently described as the Lucius Bellenus Gemellus Archive. This Gemellus, a former legionary, lived in the Fayyum at the end of the first and beginning of the second century AD, where he owned several properties in the division of Themistus. These estates were managed over a period of many years by a trustful servant of Gemellus and his family, a man named Epagathus. Since this estate-manager was the recipient of many of the documents discovered, it seems now more fitting to designate this group of documents as the Epagathus Archive. Until quite recently this archive was thought to be constituted of a little over 80 documents, 25 having been published in full and 28 only described, mainly in P. Fayum while a few others, acquired on the antiquities market had been published elsewhere. To these documents one added an estimated 33 unpublished fragments of texts kept in the Papyrology Room of the Sackler Library in Oxford.
At the end of 2009, we – that is, a group of four individuals who had incidentally discovered at that time that they were all working separately on different described but not fully published texts belonging to the archive – decided to join our efforts in order to collect and publish a corpus as complete as possible of the Epagathus archive. Our first task has been to obtain images and rights of publication for documents that are now scattered among at least sixteen museums and libraries around the world and preliminary results of our investigation have already been presented by two members of our team at an international conference last summer.
The two other members of this team would like now to offer at the Philadelphia meeting a brief presentation of the work conducted more specifically on five documents so far only described by Grenfell and Hunt in their volume and currently housed in the Haskell Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, together with a sample of some of the unpublished documents still kept in Oxford.
Among the many new pieces of information which will be given at this occasion, the audience will have the pleasure to learn that what still remains in Oxford represents way more than 33 documents, that the archive, far from being essentially constituted of private letters, contained also a large group of more business-like papers (i.e. accounts and lists) – a fact that was to be suspected but had so far never been proved –, and finally that we can now demonstrate that Epagathus stayed as manager of the Gemellus family properties in that area of the Fayyum during a period of over twenty-seven years since a newly discovered private letter was still addressed to him in AD 122.