Listening to Hard Rock helps Egyptologist make Middle-Kingdom Papyrus Discovery

In 2010 a doctoral student at Johns-Hopkins University in Baltimore named Marina Escolano-Poveda was present at a conference of Egyptologists in Mallorca. While there she visited the small and obscure local museum.  There she discovered some papyrus fragments written in demotic.  Over time she studied these and found them to belong to the early Middle Kingdom.  In the end, her repeated efforts to find out what they were bore fruit.  She was working on her doctorate, on a different period, so work on the fragments had to take place at night. She recalls the moment:

I remember perfectly the moment when I had this revelation. It must have been 3 o’clock in the morning. I was listening to the song ‘Salir’ by the group Extremoduro. I then realised that the papyrus I was looking at was by the same author as that of La Dispute![1]

The fragments belonged to a famous text, the Dialogue of a Man with his Ba, preserved as part of a set of 4 papyrus rolls in Berlin.  These came from a notorious 19th century dealer at the court of the khedive Ismail.  His real name is unknown, but he called himself Jean d’Anastasie.  He offered them for sale at Sothebys in March 1837, claiming that they originated at Thebes/Luxor, as no doubt they did.  This was the same dealer who also uncovered the library of Greek magical papyri.  The four rolls were purchased by Lepsius in 1842 who lodged them in the Berlin museum. Today it is P. Berlin 3024.

There was some damage to the start of the roll, as is not uncommon.  So it is likely that some portions split off, and were subsequently sold separately by the enterprising dealer.  Some have since been identified in the Amherst collection. Nothing is known about how they came to Mallorca.

The fragments are P. Mallorca I and II.  I found a photograph on this paywalled site:

Papyrus Mallorca I – fragment of P. Berlin 3024, Dialogue of a man with his Ba.

The find was published, and thankfully this is both in English, and open-access: Marina Escolano-Poveda, “New Fragments of Papyrus Berlin 3024,” in: Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde, 144 (2017) pp. 16-54 (accessible here).

There’s stuff out there, people.  If you look, you find it.  It doesn’t matter who you are, so long as you persist.

  1. [1]There are various tabloid accounts online.  This one is from Euronews, “Alicante Egyptologist Solves Enigma Of 4,000-Year-Old Manuscript”.

Theotokos: A review of the scholarship on the paleographical date of P.Ryl. III 470 (“Sub Tuum Praesidium”)

In 1929 papyrologist C.H. Roberts published a papyrus fragment from Egypt.[1]  The text is in Greek, and is a Christian prayer, containing the word “theotokos”.  The fragment is held by the John Rylands Library in Manchester, where it has the shelfmark P.Rylands 407 (online here).  Here is the excellent image from that site:

P.Rylands III 470, via Manchester Digital Collections.

The statements made by Roberts have dominated all subsequent discussion of this papyrus.  Here is a page-grab of it.

This is a catalogue entry, not a journal article, so it is inevitably concise, and the details are provisional.  Roberta Mazza (2019) adds to this description:

The manuscript in question was purchased in Egypt by J. Rendell Harris in 1917 and published by C. Roberts in 1938.3 It is a small fragment that presents many aspects of interest for its material shape and the text it carries. In his edition, Roberts proposed a date in the fourth century with a question mark due to the many doubts the papyrus raised. Roberts’s discussion in the introduction addressed both the handwriting and the material features of the object, as well as the textual content. Written along the fibre of a leaflet, the back of which is blank, was clearly a hymn or prayer to the Mother of God, as indicated by the vocative θεοτόκε at line 4. The shape of the capital letters – tall and compressed, adorned by decorative serifs – was briefly discussed and compared to the chancellery style of that used in a letter of the prefect Subatianus Aquilas, securely dated to 209 CE (SB I 4639).[2]

The letter of Subatianus Aquila dates to 209 AD, and looks like this (this wonderful image from Berlin, online here):

P.Berl.11532. Edict of the prefect, Subatianus Aquila, and signed by him personally.

I would have liked to add images of the other papyri mentioned below, but I have not found these online.

This “chancellery style” mentioned here is referred to by Stegmüller, below.  Likewise the “peculiar Alpha found in 470” mentioned by Roberts is something that Hans Förster was later to pick up on.  It is clear that cautious old Colin Roberts is not at all comfortable with the date insisted on by E. Lobel.

Before we examine how this publication has been received down the years, it is probably best to say something about methodology.

The process of assigning a date to a papyrus fragment, or indeed any manuscript, relies on two independent pieces of data.

  • The first is the paleographical date.  The trained paleographer consults handbooks filled with examples of papyri where the text itself contains a date, or where the papyrus can certainly be assigned a date on some other grounds.  He then compares these with the papyrus under inspection, and assigns it a date based on similarities of letter shape, abbreviations, and so on.  It is inevitably a subjective process, but rewarding if done carefully.
  • The second is the historical date that emerges from the text, and particularly the history of doctrine.  The Christian religion has elaborated its teachings considerably since the looser apostolic age, in response to various pressures and indeed fashions, while proceeding to the very careful language of Trent.  Texts may therefore be placed somewhere along that timeline, based on whether they are similar to other doctrinal expressions characteristic of a period of history.

In both cases, it is necessary to start from what is certainly known, and assess the undated object against it.  The undated object should not be dated before the earliest evidence of something, nor after the latest evidence of it.  It is generally wisest to place it closer to the middle of the bell curve, in the absence of any other evidence, rather than close to an outlier.

A Bell Curve for probability, showing occurrences over time.

Following the 1938 Roberts publication, the next step came in 1939 from Father F. Mercenier O.S.B., who recognised – there are advantages to having priests in papyrology – that the text was an early version of the Marian prayer, “Sub Tuum Praesidium” (“Under thy Compassion”).  But on the date Mercenier, like so many since, merely repeated the judgement of Lobel and Roberts.[3]

1940 featured an over-excited claim by Ortiz de Urbina, S.J., stating, “we also note that ἀειπαρθένος – still rare – appears in Didymus of Alexandria and in the Sub Tuum Praesidium,” although in fact the fragment does not contain it, nor is it part of the earliest text, but a later addition.[4]  Again this simply accepted the date given by Roberts and Lobel.

The first reassessment of the paleography of Lobel appeared in 1952 from Otto Stegmüller.  It reads as follows (via Google translate – German in the footnote).  I have added emphasis.

Our joy at finding the Sub tuum praesidium on an old papyrus is dampened by the difficulty of dating the piece. The date of origin of the papyrus is of great interest to us, especially as evidence of the veneration of the Mother of God before the Ephesinum is very sparse. Are we coming back with our fragment much beyond that point in time? The editor, Mr. Roberts, first acquaints us with the judgment of the paleographer Lobel. “Lobel would be unwilling to place 470 later than the third century. But such individual hands are hard to date, and it is almost incredible that a prayer addressed directly to the Virgin in these terms could he written in the third century”. Roberts concludes that our papyrus cannot have been written before the second half of the 4th century.  P. Mercenier brings in his work the dating of Lobel and that of Roberts, without deciding on one. All further mentions of the papyrus therefore place it in the third or fourth century.

Is this dating justified?  In the first instance, the paleography must be heard. But it must be explained from the outset that it cannot give a reliable judgement. The writing belongs to the so-called chancellery style, which has remained essentially the same over the centuries. The firm starting point for the dating is the letter of the governor Subatianus Aquila of the year 209 AD. Our writing certainly belongs to this style, which was developed and practiced in the Alexandrian chancery. Individual letters, especially some ornaments, suggest that our writing is a little later than the Subatian letter. We know very similar writings from the Book of the Iliad in the Morgan Collection (end of the 3rd or beginning of the 4th century; Schubart, Paleography fig. 95) and from the Stockholm forgers’ book (first half of the 4th century; Schubart fig. 96 ). These writings, originating in Egypt, give us a justification for taking the beginning of the 4th century as the earliest point for our writing. Paleography has to be content with that. To this day, it is unable to decide whether the script was written in the 4th, 5th or 6th century. The Coptic liturgy gives us a certain term ante quem. Texts that exist in the Byzantine and Coptic liturgy must be dated before the turn of the 5th and 6th centuries, since no Greek text was included in the Coptic liturgy after this point in time.[5]

In 1969 there was a paper by G. Giamberardini, “Sub tuum praesidium” e il titolo “theotokos”, in: Marianum: Ephemerides Mariologiae 31 (1969) 324-362, often referenced in the literature.  This criticises severely the reconstruction of Mercenier, but there is no attempt at a paleographical dating.  Instead it merely endorses that of Lobel, and supporting it by a non-paleographical argument from supposed early uses of the word “theotokos”; where himself admits (p.352):

“Having suspected the authority of Origen, the tendency has arisen to consider interpolated and spurious all the documents prior to the Athanasian period, in which the Θεοτόκος appears.”[6]

In 1995 the first of two papers by Austrian papyrologist Hans Förster appeared, which form the first serious study of the papyrus.[7]  I cannot very well give this excellent paper in full here, but it is quite difficult to access, and I thought that it would help if I translated a few sections into English and put them here.  Unlike all previous papers, there is a section (p.186-7) specifically to the paleography.  I’ve run it through Google Translate (the original German is in the footnote):

Digression on the Exact Dating of the Manchester fragment13:

The first thing that catches the eye is the comparatively narrow and tall way the letters are written. The streaks of the ε, for example, are so short that in line 10 Roberts reads a ρ instead of an ε. Despite the uncial handwriting, the μ is not written like a capital Latin “M”, but rather resembles two adjacent “1”s in Latin cursive; the crossbar of the η is in the upper third of the letter.  The υ, like the α, is very peculiar and corresponds to a Latin “V”, while the λ corresponds to an upside down “V”; the usual extension of the right diagonal to the top left does not take place.  The κ consists of two independent parts. There is a noticeable gap between the vertical downstroke and the two diagonals, which are drawn in one sweep.  This form of the κ can be found, for example, in a psalm fragment from the first half of the 8th century, P.Amst. I 2114.  The crossbar of the η written very high up is also found in a liturgical calendar from the year 535/6, the P.Oxy. 135716.  The form of the μ on that papyrus also resembles the form found in P.Ryl. III 470.  The  κ in this papyrus, however, in contrast to P.Ryl. III 470, is written as a continuous letter.  The δ in P.Oxy. 1357 has a diagonal stroke to the top left, while in the fragment P.Ryl. III 470 it is written like a triangle.  The previously mentioned form of the κ, an identical form of the π, the above-mentioned form of the μ and an ε with similarly short strokes can also be found in P.Berol 13269, which is assigned to the 7th/8th Century16.  P.Lond. 1817, dated in the 6th century, still alternates between the uncial and the above-mentioned form of the μ, and similarities to the Manchester fragment exist with regard to the ε and the κ, because the gap between the two parts of the κ in P. Lond. 1817 is not as large as in P.Ryl. III 47017.  In summary it can be said that a dating to the 3rd or 4th century must be regarded as very improbable. Based on the comparative texts cited, P.Ryl. III, 470 belongs between the 6th and 7th centuries. The 5th century is unlikely as the date of origin, but cannot be completely ruled out. The use of brown ink, of which there is no evidence prior to the 4th century, also points in this direction18.

13.  As for paleographic dating, it should be noted that majuscule manuscripts, as Roberts himself writes in his commentary, are extremely difficult to date. At the ends of the strokes of κ, λ, ι, ε, and σ are small dots of ink that give the writing an artificial, or, as Lobel put it, decorative appearance. For a similar phenomenon in magical texts, cf. p. 7 col. 17; pt 10; p. 36 col. 2; P. 36 Col. 7 in: K. Klassendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae. Die griechischen Zauberpapyri (=The Greek Magical Papyri) II, Stuttgart 2nd ed. 1974. Lobel cites the letters ο, ι and ε as the important comparative letters for his dating.

14.  H. Maehler, G. Cavallo, Greek Bookhands of the Early Byzantine Period. A. D. 300-800, London 1987, 188.

15.  Maehler, Cavallo, Bookhands (see note 14) 68.

16.  See R. Seider, Paläographie der Griechischen Papyri II 2: Literarische Papyri, Stuttgart 1970, 179.

17.  Seider, Paläographie II 2 (see note 16), 175f.

18.  I am indebted to H. Harrauer for the discussion. See also V. Gardthausen, Griechische Paläographie 1: Das Buchwesen im Altertum und im byzantinischen Mittelalter, Leipzig 2nd ed. 1911, 203-217. He writes (p.205) that around the 5th century AD “a brownish, also metallic ink came into use” and quotes Schubart in this context in note 5 on the same page, who speaks of a brownish-red ink , which can be found in the papyri from the 4th century AD. At the same time, the more valuable brown ink was only used for important texts.[8]

The paper is full of relevant material.  Förster notes that there are folds in the papyrus, which mean that originally it was folded into a very narrow strip.  This, he infers, together with the “almost monumental” letters and decorated form, the brown ink, the folds, and the blank reverse, suggests that it was an amulet.  This would explain the “unique script” observed by Roberts.  Note 8 discusses the form of the alpha, which Roberts felt was characteristic of inscriptions:

8.  This form of the α is common in inscriptions. An example of a template for an inscription showing an α with a broken crossbar is P. Vindob. G. 26.013, cf. Sijpesteijn, P.J., Wiener Melange, II. Christliches, a) Ein Trishagios-Hymnus, ZPE 40 (1980) 92-95. However, the form of the μ on the inscriptions is not identical to that shown on the Manchester papyrus. C. M. Kaufmann, Handbuch der altchristlichen Epigrafik, Freiburg i. Br. 1917; this form of the α has, for example, a grave inscription from the 5th century (p. 75), an inscription above the burial chamber door of Abbess Thekla (p. 290f), the writing samples from Antioch from the 5th and 6th centuries on p 413 and the Greek inscriptions on pp. 414ff. The Coptic Shenute epitaph, which is cited on p. 75f, also has an α with a broken crossbar. However, all the inscriptions cited show a form of the μ, which corresponds to a capital Latin “M”, while there are magical papyri in which the α has the form described. See P. Mil. Vogl. 127 from the 2-3rd century: I. Gazzaniga, M. Vandoni, Papiri della Universitä degli Studi di Milano, Milan 1965, pp. 59f. This also speaks against its use as a template for an inscription and more for its use as an amulet.[9]

He ends with this summary:

After new paleographic study of P.Ryl. III 470, the early dating of this fragment – to the 3rd century -,  which has hitherto been generally accepted in theological scholarship, cannot be maintained. The dating to the 6th or even 7th century means that its value as a source of historical evidence that has often been assigned to this fragment falls apart. A Viennese fragment that transmits the same text means that the previously considered possible supplements are almost entirely based on the Byzantine form of the antiphon constricted. The question arises as to whether this antiphon could possibly have found its way into the Eastern liturgy from the Western liturgy. The variety of forms known in the West[47] supports this, while only two Greek forms of this antiphon are known, each of which shows only marginal deviations from one another. The papyrus from Manchester was used as an amulet. A sometimes assumed use as a template for an inscription is ruled out.

47.  See on this Giamberardini, „Sub tuum praesidium“ (note 10), 331-336.[10]

The paper was noted in the review of recent publications, C. Römer, “‘Christliche Texte II”, in: Archiv für Papyrusforschung 44 (1998), 129-39, which said (p.138):

“A new dating to the 6-7th century of P. Ryl. III 470 (not convincing to me) attempted by H. Förster…”

983 Eine Neudatierung auf das 6.-7. Jh. n. Chr. des P. Ryl III 470 (für mich nicht überzeugend) versucht H. Förster, Zur ältesten Überlieferung der marianischen Antiphon “Sub tuum praesidium”, Biblos 44,2, 1995, 183-192”

Ten years later, in 2005, Förster returned to the subject in a further paper, this time taking account of paleographical evidence from Coptic papyri.[11]  Here is an extract, p.106 f.:

On the Paleographical Dating

Lobel uses only a few letters to justify his dating. However, the overall impression of the text seems to contradict its dating. Of course, the “singular alpha”, which is said to be used primarily in inscriptions, is a particular problem in paleographical dating.  In this respect, a look beyond the Greek texts is required: such an alpha can be found in a whole series of Coptic texts, where it is found primarily in Greek of Greek. Reference need only be made to Brit. Mus. Or. 6782, fol.1.  The inscriptions of the depiction of Saints Theodoros and Mercurius in Vat. Copto 66, fol. 210 and 287 also offer an alpha within the Greek passages, as is also found in the Greek text that contributed to the early dating of the origin of the antiphon Sub tuum praesidium.[27] However, this alpha is neither recorded in the Paläographie by Cramer[28] or in Stegemann’s Paläographie.[29] This does not mean, however, that this particular alpha is only found in the Greek passages of Coptic literary texts.[30]  The inscription of the depiction of Mary on Pierpont Morgan Lib. M. 597 also offers the “strange” Alpha in a Coptic context[31]. The same Alpha form can also be found on a mummy tablet  from the Coptic period.[32]

In this context it is noticeable that a whole series of other “noteworthy” aspects in the manuscript of the papyrus from Manchester can also be explained by a closeness to the Coptic manuscript tradition.  We neeed only refer to the point-like thickening of the ends of many strokes.  For Greek literary texts from the period mentioned, this can rightly be described as eccentric, but for Coptic literary texts a large number of documents can be found, especially from the 8th and 9th centuries[33]. Also the Upsilon and the Mu can probably be better explained by their closeness to this writing tradition than by assigning the text to the 2-3, or 4th century. In this context, it must be particularly emphasized that, for example, the alpha of the comparative texts cited by Roberts could not be more different. In the case of the comparative texts cited for the early dating, one can therefore only speak of very selective points of contact, but this does not seem sufficient for an early dating, if at the same time the points of contact with the Coptic scribal tradition of the 8th and 9th centuries are so conspicuous that this must be described as a close relationship.

So if you take the overall impression of the text, a later date does not seem unjustified, the parallels to the Coptic manuscripts leave a date of the 8-9th century as more probable than the dating of the manuscript to the 2-3, or even the 4th century.

As a consequence of these considerations, it must be stated that not only circumstantial evidence, but very clear parallels can be cited against the often over-enthusiastic classification of the Manchester papyrus as the oldest witness of the antiphon Sub tuum praesidium.  In this respect, the Vienna copy of this antiphon[34], which is from the 6/7 century, must considered to be the oldest copy.[12]

27. See J. Leroy, Les Manuscrits Coptes et Coptes-Arabes illustres. BAH 94. Paris 1974, plate 105.
28. See M. Cramer, Koptische Paläographie. Wien 1964. Table I
29. See Stegemann, Koptische Paläographie. 25 Tafeln…, Heidelberg, 1936.
30. For example, P. Vindob. K. 7589. The edition of which is currently being prepared by the author is such an alpha: cf. the corresponding section of the parchment on Plate 4.
31. See Leroy, Manuscrits, plate 35.
32. See H. Froschauer, “Tradition im koptischen Bestattungswesen. Ein christliches Mumientafelchen aus den Beständen Tamerit in der Papyrussammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek.” Eirene 40 (2004) 91-100; 96: “The […] Alpha is […] characterized by a jagged middle branch with a descender. When the letter is rotated 180°, it takes on the shape of an omega. However, whether this spelling was consciously intended as a ligature of alpha and omega and thus perhaps even connected to the sign of the cross of the Christian symbolism of beginning and end, is rather doubtful and cannot be treated as more than speculation.” But the letter is also part of a Greek word in the passage quoted by Froschauer – in this respect it cannot represent the sign of the cross with “Alpha and Omega”; the cross is also very often to be found at the beginning of the text on a small mummy tablet; the “strange” alpha described above is usually not to be found in the vicinity of a sign of the cross; and, ultimately the rotation of an entire codex or an inscription on a tombstone, required for the recognition of the speculatively possible ligature in the first place, is rather impractical. So this alpha must be taken solely as a decorative variant of this letter, which is typical of the Coptic period, and is therefore of interest as a help in dating an undated text. On the Viennese parchment leaf, too, the alpha is to the left of the column and is somewhat enlarged, so here the decorative character of the letter is obvious.[13]
33.  Cramer. Palaographie, table 13
34.  This is P. Vindob. G. 17.944; see K.Treu and J. Diethart, Griechische literarische Papyri christlichen Inhaltes II. Wien 1993, 56 and plate 16, there listed as fragment 29.

This seems to be the latest paleographical discussion.  There are many other papers which repeat the Lobel dating, always in passing, but none of them seem to be aware of Förster’s arguments.

In 2014 Anne-Marie Luijendijk, Forbidden Oracles? The Gospel of the Lots of Mary, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2014, p.30, n.87 mentions the question thus:

87. P.Ryl. Gr. III 470 (ed. Roberts). … The best edition is Stegmuller, “Sub tuum praesidum”. The date of the papyrus is disputed. Stegmuller (ibid., esp. at 82) places it at the end of the fourth century. Förster proposes a much later date in several publications: „Zur altesten Uberlieferung“, idem, „Fruheste Zeugnisse der Marienfrommigkeit“, and idem, „Die alteste marianische Antiphon“. Romer („Christliche Texte“, 138) deems Förster’s arguments “not convincing” („fur mich nicht uberzeugend“). …

A collection of papers in 2015, Presbeia Theothokou: The Intercessory Role of Mary across Times and Places in Byzantium (4th-9th Century), (online here) contained two relevant papers.

Theodore de Bruyn wrote (p.116, n.18):

18. Förster’s article of 2005 has, to my knowledge, not been considered in any of the more recent studies of the origins of the cult of Mary. Some studies also do not take his article of 1995 into account, e.g., Johnson, “Sub tuum praesidium,” 254–55; Price, “The Theotokos,” 89 n. 4 (corrected in Price, “Theotokos: The Title,” 56 n. 1, but without substantial discussion). A full consideration of Förster’s arguments is beyond the scope of this paper; I hope to discuss them elsewhere. Suffice to say, however, that any argument for a third- or fourth-century date for the antiphon must take as its point of departure the paleographical considerations of Förster (as well as Stegmüller) allowing for a later date for P.Ryl. III 470. Lobel’s brief paleographical remarks in P.Ryl. III 470 intro. cannot remain the principal basis for assigning the papyrus an early date. The issue is now no longer whether a prayer referring to Theotokos can be assigned to the third century; Roberts’ argument on that point has, obviously, been refuted. The issue is whether an antiphon whose earliest witnesses may be assigned to the sixth or seventh centuries or later originated in the third century.[14]

And Arne Effenburger wrote (p.50) that Förster had ‘convincingly explained, the papyrus – in the present material form probably a “protective amulet – can only have been created “between the 6th and the 7th century” due to paleography and the use of brown ink, which is why “a dating to the 3rd or 4th century as very improbable”’.[15]

A 2021 paper in Polish by P. Towarek, “Prayer „Sub Tuum praesidium”: Time of Origin, Place in Liturgy and Reception in Musical Culture. Outline of the Issues,” Vox Patrum80, 239–268 (online here, with English abstract).  The abstract states:

In the discussion on the question of its dating, many researchers pointed, for example, to the 3rd century (Giamberardini, Starowieyski). It turns out, however, that in the light of the latest palaeographic research, this time should be moved to the 6th/7th or even 8th/9th century (Hans Förster, Theodore de Bruyns, Arne Effenberger).

The Trismegistos website for the papyrus here gives it the reference TM 64320 / LDAB 5541 with a date of AD 700-900, and references the Förster 2005 paper, “followed by Mihalyko, p. 353”.  The latter is A. T. Mihálykó, The Christian Liturgical Papyri, Studien zur Antike und Christentum 114, Tübingen (2019), p. 353 no. 267:

A. T. Mihálykó, The Christian Liturgical Papyri (Studien zur Antike und Christentum 114) p. 353 no. 267

The most recent paper known to me is H. Munoz, “Papiro griego Rylands 470: notas a una de las más antiguas oraciones a la Virgen / Greek Papyrus Rylands 470: Notes to One of the Oldest Prayers to the Virgin”, in: Estudios Clásicos 163 (2023), 59-67 (online here with bibliography) which is not paleographical.  It mentions the Förster dating, and adds (n.4) that it is “contested by Römer 1998 and Luijendijk 2014,” which rather misleads the reader.

It seems that it may be a while before knowledge of the question-mark over the date of P.Ryl.III 407 becomes general.  Let us hope that the question will attract more professional paleographers to examine the date again.

  1. [1]C. H. Roberts , Catalogue of the Greek and Latin Papyri in the John Rylands Library Manchester, Volume III, Theological and Literary Texts (Nos. 457-551), Manchester: Manchester University Press, (1938), p.46-47 (p.62 of the PDF).  Downloadable from here.
  2. [2]R. Mazza, Dating Early Christian Papyri: Old and New Methods – Introduction, “Journal for the Study of the New Testament” 42/1 (2019), p. 49-50.  She also calls the Lobel dating “a shaky provisional date”.
  3. [3]P.-F. Mercennier, “L’Antienne mariale grecque la plus ancienne.,” Le Muséon, 52 (1939), pp. 229-233.  Unfortunately I have not been able to access this, so am reliant on the account given by Stegmüller.
  4. [4]I. Ortiz de Urbina S. J., “Lo sviluppo délia Mariologia nella Patrologia Orientale,” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 6 (1940), 54: “Notiamo inoltre che ἀειπαρθένος — ancora raro — fa capolino in Didimo Alessandrino e nel Sub tuum praesidium”.  Again I have not been able to access this, so rely on Stegmüller.
  5. [5]Otto Stegmüller, “Sub tuum praesidium. Bemerkungen zur ältesten Überlieferung.,” Zeitschrift für Katholische Theologie, 74 (1952), pp. 76-82: “Die Datierung. — Unsere Freude darüber, daß wir das Sub tuum prae sidium schon auf einem alten Papyrus finden, wird durch die Schwierigkeit der Datierung des Stückes gedämpft. Die Entstehungszeit des Papyrus ist für uns von größtem Interesse, zumal Zeugnisse einer Muttergottesverehrung vor dem Ephesinum sehr spärlich sind. Kommen wir mit unserem Stück wesentlich über diesem Zeitpunkt zurück? Der Herausgeber, Mr. Roberts, macht uns zuerst mit dem Urteil des Paläo graphen Lobel bekannt. „Lobel would be unwilling to place 470 later than the third Century. But such individual hands are hard to date, and it is almost incredible that a prayer addressed directly to the Virgin in these terms could be written in the third Century”7. Roberts kommt zum Schluß, daß unser Papyrus nicht vor der zweiten Hälfte des 4. Jahrhunderts geschrieben sein kann. P. Mercenier bringt in seiner Arbeit die Datierung von Lobel und die von Roberts, ohne sich für eine zu entscheiden. Alle weiteren Erwähnungen des Papyrus setzen diesen daher ins dritte oder vierte Jahrhundert. Ist diese Datierung berechtigt? Als erste Instanz ist die Paläographie zu hören. Aber sie muß von vornherein erklären, daß sie kein sicheres Urteil abgeben kann. Die Schrift gehört zum sogenannten Kanzleistil, der über Jahrhunderte hinweg im wesentlichen gleich bleibt. Der feste Ausgangspunkt für seine Datierung ist der Brief des Statthalters Subatianus Aquila vom Jahre 209 n. Chr8. Unsere Schrift gehört sicher zu diesem Stil, der in der alexandrinischen Kanzlei ausgebildet und geübt wurde. Einzelne Buchstaben, besonders einige Verzierungen legen nahe, unsere Schrift etwas später als den Subatianusbrief anzusetzen. Ganz ähnliche Schriften kennen wir aus dem Iliasbuch der Sammlung Morgan (Ende des 3. oder Anfang des 4. Jh.; Schubart, Paläographie Abb. 95) und aus dem Stockholmer Fälscher buch (erste Hälfte des 4. Jh.; Schubart Abb. 96). Diese aus Ägypten stammenden’ Schriften geben uns ein Recht, den Anfang des 4. Jahrhunderts als frühesten Terminus für unsere Schrift anzunehmen. Damit muß sich die Paläographie begnügen. Mit ihren Mitteln kann sie bis heute nicht entscheiden, ob die Schrift im 4., 5. oder 6. Jahrhundert geschrieben ist. Einen gewissen Terminus ante quem gibt uns die koptische Liturgie. Texte, die in der byzantinischen und in der koptischen Liturgie vorhanden sind, müssen vor der Wende des 5. und 6. Jahr hundert angesetzt werden, da nach diesem Zeitpunkt kein griechischer Text mehr in die koptische Liturgie übernommen wurde9.”
  6. [6]Messa in sospetto l’autorità di Origene, si è creata la tendenza a ritenere interpolati e spuri tutti i documenti anteriori al periodo atana- siano, nei quali si nomina la Θεοτόκος.
  7. [7]H. Forster, “Zur ältesten überlieferung der marianischen Antiphon Sub tuum praesidium”, in: Biblos:  Osterreichische Zeitschrift fur Buch- und Bibliothekswesen 44 (1995) 183-192.
  8. [8]Exkurs zur genauen Datierung des Fragmentes aus Manchester13:  Zunächst fällt die vergleichsweise schmale und hohe Schreibweise der Buchstaben auf. Die Ausstriche des ε beispielsweise sind so kurz, daß Roberts in Z. 10 anstelle eines ε ein ρ liest. Trotz der unzialen Handschrift ist das μ nicht wie ein großes lateinisches „M“ geschrieben, sondern ähnelt eher zwei nebeneinanderliegenden „1“ in der lateinischen Schreibschrift; der Querbalken des η findet sich im oberen Drittel des Buchstaben. Das υ ist, ebenso wie das α, sehr eigen und entspricht einem lateinischen „V“, während das λ einem umgedrehten „V“ entspricht; die sonst übliche Verlängerung der rechten Diagonale nach links oben findet nicht statt. Das κ besteht aus zwei unabhängigen Teilen. Zwischen dem vertikalen Abstrich und den beiden Diagonalen, die in einem Schwung durchgezogen werden, findet sich ein merklicher Zwischenraum. Diese Form des κ findet sich zum Beispiel in einem Psalmenfragment aus der 1. Hälfte des 8. Jh., P.Amst. I 2114. Der sehr weit oben geschriebene Querbalken des η findet sich auch in einem liturgischen Kalender aus dem Jahr 535/6, dem P.Oxy. 135715. Auch die Form des μ auf diesem Papyrus gleicht der Form, wie sie sich in P.Ryl. III 470 findet. Das κ wird in diesem Papyrus jedoch im Gegensatz zu P.Ryl. III 470 als zusammenhängender Buchstabe geschrieben. Das δ hat im P.Oxy. 1357 einen Ausstrich der Diagonalen nach links oben, während es bei dem Fragment P.Ryl. III 470 wie ein Dreieck geschrieben wird. Die angesprochene Form des κ eine identische Schreibung des π, die beschriebene Form des μ sowie ein ε mit ähnlich kurzen Ausstrichen findet sich auch in P.Berol 13269, der in das 7./8. Jh. eingeordnet wird16. P.Lond. 1817, in das 6. Jh. datiert, wechselt noch zwischen der unzialen und der beschriebenen Form des μ, Ähnlichkeiten zum Fragment aus Manchester bestehen hinsichtlich des ε und des κ, wobei der Spalt zwischen den beiden Teilen des κ in P. Lond. 1817 nicht so groß ist wie bei P.Ryl. III 47017. Zusammenfassend läßt sich sagen, daß eine Datierung in das 3. bzw. 4. Jh. als sehr unwahrscheinlich zu gelten hat. Aufgrund der angeführten Vergleichstexte dürfte P.Ryl. 111,470 zwischen dem 6. und dem 7. Jh. entstanden sein. Das 5. Jh. ist als Entstehungszeitpunkt unwahrscheinlich, kann jedoch nicht völlig ausgeschlossen werden. Die Verwendung von brauner Tinte, für die es keine Belege aus der Zeit vor dem 4. Jh. gibt, weist ebenfalls in diese Richtung18.
  9. [9]8.  Diese Form des α ist bei Inschriften verbreitet. Ein Beispiel für eine Vorlage für eine Inschrift, die ein α mit gebrochener Querhaste aufweist, ist P. Vindob. G. 26.013, vgl. Sijpesteijn, P. J., Wiener Melange, II. Christliches, a) Ein Trishagios-Hymnus, ZPE 40 (1980) 92-95. Allerdings ist auf den Inschriften die Form des μ nicht identisch mit der, die der Papyrus aus Manchester zeigt. Vgl. hierzu C. M. Kaufmann, Handbuch der altchristlichen Epigraphik, Freiburg i. Br. 1917; diese Form des α hat zum Beispiel eine Grabinschrift aus dem 5. Jh. (S. 75), eine Inschrift über der Grabkammertür der Äbtissin Thekla (S. 290f), die Schriftproben aus Antiochien aus dem 5. und 6. Jh. auf S. 413 sowie die griechischen Inschriften auf S. 414ff. Auch die koptische Schenute-Grabschrift, die auf S. 75f angeführt wird, hat ein α mit gebrochener Querhaste. Alle angeführten Inschriften weisen jedoch eine Form des μ auf, die einem großen lateinischen „M“ entspricht, während sich magische Papyri finden, in denen das α die beschriebene Form hat. Vgl. hierzu P. Mil. Vogl. 127 aus dem 2/3. Jh.: I. Gazzaniga, M. Vandoni, Papiri della Universitä degli Studi di Milano, Mailand 1965, S. 59f. Auch das spricht gegen die Verwendung als Vorlage für eine Inschrift und für eine Verwendung als Amulett.
  10. [10]Nach einer erneuten paläographischen Untersuchung des P.Ryl. III 470 ist die bisher in der theologischen Wissenschaft allgemein vertretene Frühdatierung dieses Fragmentes in das 3. Jh. nicht zu halten. Der historische Zeugniswert, der diesem Fragment häufig zugesprochen wurde, fällt mit der Datierung in das 6. oder sogar 7. Jh. Durch ein Wiener Fragment, das den selben Text überliefert, werden gleichzeitig die bisher erwogenen Ergänzungsmöglichkeiten fast vollständig auf die byzantinische Form der Antiphon eingeengt. Es ist zu fragen, ob diese Antiphon möglicherweise aus der westlichen in die östliche Liturgie Eingang gefunden haben könnte. Dafür spräche die Vielfalt der Formen im Westen47, während nur zwei griechische Formen dieser Antiphon bekannt sind, die jeweils nur marginale Abweichungen voneinander zeigen. Der Papyrus aus Manchester wurde als Amulett verwendet. Eine bisweilen angenommene Verwendung als Vorlage für eine Inschrift scheidet aus.
  11. [11]Hans Förster, «Die älteste marianische Antiphon – eine Fehldatierung? Überlegungen zum “ältesten Beleg” des Sub tuum praesidium», in: Journal of Coptic Studies 7 (2005), pp. 99-109.
  12. [12]Lobel verwendet nur einige wenige Buchstaben, um seine Datierung zu rechtfertigen. Allerdings scheint der Gesamteindruck des Textes seiner Datierung eher zu widersprechen. In besonderer Weise ist natürlich das “singuläre Alpha”, das ja angeblich vor allem bei Inschriften Verwendung findet, ein Problem bei der paläographischen Datierung. Insofern ist der Blick über die griechischen Texte hinaus geboten: Ein derartiges Alpha lässt sich für eine ganze Reihe koptischer Texte belegen, dort findet es sich vor allem in griechischen Passagen. Es sei hierfür nur auf Brit. Mus. Or. 6782. fol. 1 verwiesen. Auch die Beischriften der Darstellung der Heiligen Theodoros und Merkurios auf Val. Copto 66. fol. 210 und 287 bieten innerhalb der griechischen Passagen ein Alpha, wie es sich auch in dem griechischen Text findet, der zur Frühdatierung der Entstehung der Antiphon Sub tuum praesidium beigelragen hat27. Allerdings wird dieses Alpha weder in der Paläographie von Cramer28 noch in der Paläographie von Stegemann verzeichnet29. Dies bedeutet jedoch nicht, dass dieses besondere Alpha nur in den griechischen Passagen koptischer literarischer Texte zu finden wäre30. Auch die Beischrift der Darstellung der Maria auf Pierpont Morgan Lib. M. 597 bietet innerhalb eines koptischen Textzusammenhanges das “merkwürdige” Alpha31. Auch auf einem Mumientäfelchen aus koptischer Zeit findel sich die beschriebene Form des Alpha32.

    In diesem Zusammenhang fällt auf. dass auch eine ganze Reihe anderer „merkwürdiger“ Aspekte in der Handschrift des Papyrus aus Manchester durch eine Nahe zur koptischen Handschriftentradition erklärt werden kann. Es sei nur auf die punktartigen Verdickungen der Enden vieler Hasten verwiesen. Für griechische literarische Texte aus dem angesprochenen Zeitraum darf dies wohl mit Recht als exzentrisch bezeichnet werden, für koptische literarische Texte lässt sich jedoch eine Vielzahl von Belegen vor allem aus dem 8. und 9. Jahrhundert finden33. Auch das Ypsilon oder das My kann durch eine Nahe zu dieser Schrift-tradition wohl besser erklärt werden als durch eine Einordnung des Textes in das 2/3. bzw. 4. Jahrhundert. Besonders betont werden muss in diesem Zusammenhang, dass zum Beispiel das Alpha der von Roberts angeführten Vergleichstexte wohl nicht unterschiedlicher sein kann. Man kann also bei den für die Frühdatierung angeführten Vergleichstexten nur von sehr punktuellen Berührungen sprechen, dies scheint jedoch für eine Frühdatierung nicht ausreichend, wenn gleichzeitig die Berührungen mit der koptischen Schriftüberlieferung des 8. und 9. Jahrhunderts so auffällig sind, dass dies als Naheverhältnis bezeichnet werden muss.

    Wenn man also den Gesamteindruck des Textes nimmt, so scheint eine Datierung in spatere Zeit wohl nicht ungerechtfertigt, die Parallelen zu den koptischen Handschriften lassen eine Einordnung in das 8/9. Jahrhundert als wahrscheinlicher gelten als die Datierung der Handschrift in das 2/3. oder selbst das 4. Jahrhundert.

    Als Konsequenz dieser Überlegungen muss damit festgehalten werden, dass nicht nur Indizien, sondern sehr eindeutige Parallelen gegen die oftmals begeisterte Aufnahme des ältesten Zeugnisses der Antiphon Sub tuum praesidium angeführt werden können. Insofern darf ab sofort der Wiener Beleg dieser Antiphon34, der aus dem 6/7. Jahrhundert stammt, als der älteste Beleg gelten.

  13. [13]Vgl. Froschauer. „Tradition“. 96: „Das […] Alpha ist durch […] eine gezackte Mittelhaste mit Unterlänge gekennzeichnet. Diese erhalt bei Drehung des Buchstabens um 180° die Form eines Omega. Ob mit dieser Schreibweise allerdings bewußt an eine Ligatur von Alpha und Omega und damit vielleicht sogar im Zusammenhang mit dem Kreuzzeichen an die christliche Symbolik von Anfang und Ende gedacht wurde, ist eher zu bezweifeln und kann über den Status einer Spekulation nicht hinausführen.“ Da der Buchstabe auch an der von Froschauer zitierten Stelle Teil eines griechischen Wortes ist — insofern kann er nicht das Kreuzzeichen mit „Alpha und Omega“ repräsentieren —, da ferner das Kreuz sehr häufig am Anfang des Textes auf einem Mumientafelchen zu finden ist, da darüber hinaus das beschriebene, „merkwürdige” Alpha meistens nicht in der Nähe eines Kreuzzeichens zu linden ist und da Letztlich die Drehung eines ganzen Kodex oder auch einer Inschrift auf einem Grabstein, die überhaupt erst zum Erkennen der spekulativ für möglich gehaltenen Ligatur führt, eher unpraktisch ist, wird man dieses Alpha einzig für eine dekorative Variante dieses Buchstabens halten müssen, die für die koptische Zeit typisch und damit als Datierungshilfe eines undatierten Textes interessant ist. Auch auf dem Wiener Pergamentblatt steht das Alpha links neben der Kolumne und ist etwas vergrößert, der dekorative Charakter des Buchstabens ist also offensichtlich.

  14. [14]T. de Bruyn, “Appeals to the intercessions of Mary in Greek Liturgical and Paraliturgical texts from Egypt” in: L. Peltoma etc, Presbeia Theothokou: The Intercessory Role of Mary across Times and Places in Byzantium (4th-9th Century), Wien (2015), p.115-129; p.116 and n.18.  Online here (PDF), and at JSTOR here.
  15. [15]A. Effenburger, “Maria als Vermittlerin und Fürbitterin”, in: L. Peltoma etc, Presbeia Theothokou: The Intercessory Role of Mary across Times and Places in Byzantium (4th-9th Century), Wien (2015), 49-108; p.50 f.

The Letter of Claudius to the Alexandrians

In 41 AD an embassy arrived in Rome from the Greeks of Alexandria.  The emperor Claudius responded with a letter, which was read in the city.  The Prefect of Egypt, L. Aemilius Rectus, then ordered copies to be made and circulated to other cities of the region, with a covering letter dated 10 November 41.  One of these copies was made on the back of a tax register from Philadelphia, written on papyrus, and it has survived!  The entry and transcription is here.  It is held in the British Library, where it has the shelfmark of P. Lond. VI 1912v, or BL Papyrus 2248.  Usefully, it is online in full colour.

H. I. Bell in 1924 made a very literal translation.  This followed the lines on the papyrus as far as possible, and so is quite hard to read.  It is online here.

I thought it might be interesting to produce something a little more readable from Bell’s translation.  I split up the long columns into paragraphs, added commas, split sentences, and moved the odd word around to reflect better normal English word order.  I have not consulted the Greek.

Lucius Aemilius Rectus says: Since all the city was not able to be present at the revelation of the most sacred and beneficial letter to the city, because of its size, I thought it necessary to publish the letter, so that, man by man, each understanding the letter, you may wonder at the majesty of our god Caesar and be grateful for his goodwill toward the city.  2nd year of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, Imperator, month of Neos Sebastos, 14th day.

    *    *    *    *

Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, Imperator, Pontifex Maximus, having the Tribunician power, Consul designate, to the city of the Alexandrians, greeting.

Tiberius Claudius Barbillus Apollonios son of Artimidoros, Chairemon son of Leonidas, Marcus Julius Asclepiades, Gaius Julius Dionysios, Tiberius Claudius Phanias, Pasion son of Potamon, Dionysios son of Sabbion, Tiberius Claudius, Apollonios son of Ariston, Gaius Julius Apollonios, Hermaïskos son of Apollonios – the ambassadors from you – after delivering the decree to me, went on extensively about the city, drawing my attention to the goodwill towards us which for some time, as you should know well, has been held in trust with me.  For you are respectful with regard to the emperors, as has become evident to me from many things, especially how you are both eager about my house and how that eagerness is returned, of which ‑ I mention the latest, passing over others ‑ the greatest witness is my own brother, Germanicus Caesar, when he spoke to you publicly in his own voice.

Therefore, I did happily accept the honours granted me by you, even though I am not prone to such things. First of all I leave it to you to treat my birthday as august in the manner that you yourselves proposed.  Also I agree to the erection in several places of statues of me and my family, for I see you are eager to establish everywhere reminders of your piety towards my house.

Concerning the twin golden statues, however, the one of the Claudian‑Augustan Peace shall be set up at Rome, as was suggested, and as my most honoured friend Barbillus entreated while I demurred, on account of seeming too arrogant.  The other, moreover, in a manner you see fit, shall process among you on eponymous days.  Moreover, a throne shall accompany it, adorned with any decoration you wish.

It might, then, perhaps be silly, after accepting such honours as these, to refuse the establishment of a Claudian tribe and groves according to the custom of Egypt; therefore I also grant these things to you.  Moreover, if you wish you may erect an equestrian statue of Vitrasius Pollio my procurator.

Moreover, regarding the erection of the four horse chariots at the entrance into the chora, which you wish to set up for me, I agree to setting up one near the place called Taposiris in Libya, another near Pharos in Alexandria, a third near Pelusium in Egypt.  But I deprecate my own high priest and the building of a temple, not wishing to be arrogant towards men of my own day.  For sacred things and the like are granted by every age to the gods alone, as special honours, in my opinion.

About the requests, however, which you have been eager to get from me I decide as follows: all who became epheboi up to my leadership I confirm, and I protect for them the citizenship of the Alexandrians, with the privileges and indulgences of the polis, to all except any who have escaped your notice as born from slaves, while becoming epheboi.  And no less with respect to other matters I wish everything to be confirmed which was graciously granted you by leaders before my time, and kings and prefects just as the god Augustus had confirmed.

The neokoroi of the the temple in Alexandria, which is of the god Augustus, I wish to be chosen by lot, in the manner as those in Canopus of the same god Sebastos are chosen by lot.   About the political offices becoming triennial, you seem to me to have planned quite well; for archons out of fear of rendering account of governing badly will behave more moderately with you for the duration of their offices.

About the boule, however, whatever may have been your situation under the old kings, I would have nothing to say.  You know clearly that, however, under the emperors before me, you had none.   As a novel business, now set before me for the first time, and because it is unclear whether it will be useful to the polis or my affairs, I wrote to Aemilius Rectus to investigate, and to inform me if it is necessary for the institution to be established, and, if it should be right to draw one together, the manner to do it.

But as for the riot and uprising against the Judaeans, – or rather, if the truth be told, the war, – which of the two sides was responsible, even though your envoys strove for great honour from the confrontation, and especially Dionysios son of Theon, still I did not want to have a strict investigation, while storing up in myself unrepentant rage against the ones starting again.

But I announce frankly that, unless you put a stop to this destructive, relentless rage against each other, I shall be forced to show what a benevolent leader is when turned toward righteous rage. For this I yet again still bear witness that Alexandrians, on the one hand, behave gently and kindly with the Judeans, the inhabitants of the same city from a long time ago, and not be disrespectful of the customs used in the ritual of their god, but let them use their customs as in the time of the god Augustus, even as I myself, after hearing both sides, have confirmed.

To the Judeans I give strict orders not to agitate for more than they had before, nor, as though dwelling in two cities to send in future two delegations, which had never been done before; nor to intrude in the gymnasiarchic or kosmetic contests, reaping the fruits of their households while enjoying the abundance of benefits without envy in a foreign polis.  Nor shall they introduce or bring in Judeans from Syria, or sailing down from Egypt, from which I shall be forced to have serious suspicions; or else I shall take vengeance on them in every way as though rousing up some common plague on the world.

If, after you stand aside from these things, you both should wish to live together with gentleness and kindness towards each other, I shall send forth to the highest degree providence for the city, as belonging to our household from bygone times.

I bear witness to my companion Barbillus, that he always shows regard for you before me, and who, just now, with complete zeal for honour, has consulted about the contest about you, and to Tiberius Claudius Archibios my companion.


P. Lond.VI 1912v – Letter of Claudius to the Alexandrians in 41 AD.

How papyrus rolls lost their tops and bottoms – from Oxyrhynchus

A truly fascinating post at Papyrus Stories tells us what happened when an archive of papyrus rolls was neglected in the early 2nd century.

“The documents shown to me by the clerk Leonides (…) were in some cases deprived of their beginning, or damaged, or moth-eaten (…). Since the books have been hastily moved from one place to another repeatedly, lying on top of each other and unattached (…). Some were eaten away at the top because of the dry heat (…) and since they are being handled daily, and their material is brittle, it happened that some were destroyed in parts, others were without beginnings, and some had even fallen apart.”

This was only part of the story.  There was a position, Keeper of the Fayum archives, but by 107 AD Leonides was the man responsible for day to day care.  The rolls were already in a mess.  Over the next 50 years all those concerned were involved in endless bureaucratic argument and appeals to the prefect over whose fault this was and what should be done, and who should pay for it.

I recommend reading the whole article.  It is an interesting insight into the disfunction of the administration at that period, from the Prefect down.  But more, it explains how it is that we get so many texts which are missing the beginning.

For the last year I have myself been trying to obtain access to a document in an archive near me, where petty bureaucrats simply won’t solve the problems they themselves create.  I’ve had to give up, in fact.  So I have quite a bit of fellow-feeling for the poor souls caught up in this mess!


Blog recommendation: Papyrus Stories, by Jenny Cromwell

It’s been a while since I saw a blog that I wanted to add to the sidebar, but this evening I found one.  It’s called Papyrus Stories, and it may be found here:

There is also a linked Twitter account, @Papyrus_Stories.

The desert climate of Egypt has preserved enormous quantities of “waste paper”.  The rubbish dump of the Greek city of Oxyrhynchus in particular yielded so many in the excavations before 1914 that they are still being published a century later.

Most of these papyrus documents are things like personal letters, tax receipts, and the like.  So they shine a light into the lives of all sorts of people.

The blog posts consist of taking one such document, and telling the story that is found in it.  They are really very interesting and charming.



A papyrus of the lost Autobiography of Hadrian; and a papyrus of the lost History of Seneca the Elder

The excellent Carole Raddato posted on her blog this image of a papyrus fragment.  It turns out to be a portion from the lost autobiography of Hadrian, which, it seems, was written in letter form.  The papyrus is from Oxyrhynchus (of course).  Here is a part of what she tells us:

This papyrus (OIM E8349), which Is not on display, was found at the site of Backhias (Umm el ‘Atl) in Egypt by the scholars Grenfell, Hunt, and Hogarth who excavated in the Fayum in end of the 19th century. The document is written on the back of a 2nd century AD tax list. It claims to be a letter from the emperor Hadrian to someone named Antoninus, who can be identified as Hadrian’s successor Antoninus Pius. The papyrus is not large, consisting of only 20 lines, written in two different hands. The first fifteen lines are written clearly, while the last five (which repeat the first five lines on the papyrus) are written far more irregularly, which shows this was a school text.

A translation of the papyrus, from J. Bollansée’s article: “P. Fay.” 19, Hadrian’s Memoirs, and Imperial Epistolography, published in the journal Ancient Society 1994, is as follows:

Imperator Caesare Hadrianus Augustus to his highly-esteemed Antoninus, greeting. Above all I would like you to know that I am being released from life neither untimely nor unreasonably, pitably, unexpectedly or with faculties impaire, though – as I have perceived – I thus may appear to do you wrong, you who sites at my bedside, never ceases to comfort me and urges me to hold on. Consequently I feel compelled to write you the following, not, by Zeus, to cunningly paint some vulgar picture stretching the truth, but to give a straightforward and accurate account of the facts themselves (…)
My natural father was taken ill and died as a private citizen at forty, hence I have survived him by more than half his age; I have approximately reached the same age as my mother, who lived to be sixty. I am presently in my [sixty-third] year…

This text is thought to form part of Hadrian’s autobiography which was probably written in epistolary form to his successor Antoninus Pius. Other Romans had written their political autobiography in this form such as Sulla who wrote his autobiography to his lieutenant L. Lucullus and Augustus who wrote his autobiography to Agrippa and Maecenas. Several literary sources explicitly note that Hadrian wrote his autobiography.

Very nice!

Another recent papyrus find is reported by La Republica.  The papyrus is from Herculaneum and is P.1067, although the article (in Italian) does not give the text.  But there are some fascinating slides of  the whole roll!


The only surviving handwriting of an emperor: Theodosius II and a petition from Aswan

How many of us know that there is a papyrus with the handwriting of a Roman emperor on it?  I certainly did not, until I learned of it from a tweet by Richard Flower.  But so it is.

The papyrus comes from Elephantine in Egypt, the island of Philae, opposite the modern town of Aswan, which is ancient Syene.  Papyri from the island were sold to dealers throughout the 19th century; some excavation took place in the early 20th, first by a German expedition, then a French.  Shockingly, while the Aramaic and Greek papyri discovered by the German excavators have been published, most of the Demotic, hieratic and Coptic papyri remain unpublished.[1]

The writing is by Theodosius II, who died in 450 AD after falling off his horse, and is dated to 425-430 AD.  The bishop of Syene, who had an Egyptian name, Appion, had written to the emperor (in Greek).  Nubian raiders were attacking the town.  The bishop asked for soldiers to protect it.

The emperor’s reply is not preserved, but a copy of the petition was attached to it, and on it some words in Latin, which are generally thought to be the emperor’s own hand.

The papyrus is now at Leiden, where the papyri were given letters, A-Z.  This is Leiden Papyrus Z (P. Leid. II. Z), catalogued here.  The papyrus is online at the Rijksmuseum in Leiden here.

It’s hard to even see the lettering on the papyrus, which is only written on the recto side.  Click on the image for a larger one, or visit the Rijksmuseum site for more photographs.

The emperor’s handwriting is at the top right of the sheet.  I’ve autoleveled an extract here:

Apparently the emperor wrote, “…bene valere te cupimus”, i.e. “…we desire that you be well.”

The document is translated for us in B. Porten &c, The Elephantine Papyri in English, 1996, p.441, entry D 19.  It is in two columns.  The first consists of an unreadable line, followed by the emperor’s words.  This is all that is left of the imperial reply.  The second column, headed by a Latin title “copy of the petition” contains the Greek text, written by a scribe.

For interest, here is the translation, slightly smoothed out:

[ . . . ] we desire that you be well.

Copy of Petition.

Address to the masters of land and sea and every nation of mankind, Theodosius and Valentinianus, the eternal Augusti, petition and supplication

From Appion, bishop of the legion of Syene and of Contra Syene and of Elephantine, in your province of Upper Thebaid.

Your Benevolence is accustomed to stretch out a right hand to all who are in need. Therefore I too, having learned this clearly, have come to these petitions, the matter being thus:

Situated with my churches in the midst of the sinful Barbaria[ns], the Blemmyes and the Nobadae, we are subject to many stealthy attacks by them, with no soldier protecting our places.

Therefore, since the churches under me have been humbled and are unable to protect the very ones who flee to them , I prostrate myself, rolling on the ground before your divine and immaculate footsteps so that you deem it right to decree that the holy churches [under me] be guarded by the soldiers among us, and that they obey me and heed me in all matters, just as the soldiers stationed in the fortress so-called “of Philae” in your Upper Thebaid will be at the service of the holy churches of God in Philae.

For thus we will be able to live without fear […] and follow […] most stern decree […] being issued against those who have transgressed […] what has been divinely ordained by you, every deceit of an opposing party, past or future, being null and void, with your divine [… and] special grace in this matter being addressed to the most magnificent and conspicuous count and duke of the frontier district of the Thebaid.

And having obtained this, I shall send up the customary prayers for your eternal power for all (time).

Apparently nothing in the archive of other papyri suggests that the request was honoured.

The request reminds me a little of the Donation of Constantine.  It has been suggested that this was originally composed in the 6th century during the Lombard invasions of Italy.  The idea is that it was a way for the Bishop of Rome to gain control of the remaining Byzantine garrisons, in order to protect the city.  Bishops were figures of authority in their communities in the late empire, and perhaps this story could be replicated wherever the secular power began to fail.

But how exciting to see the handwriting of a Roman emperor!

  1. [1]The Elephantine Papyri in English, p.4.

The log book of Inspector Merer from Wadi al Jarf and the pyramid of Cheops / Khufu

So now we know how the stones were transported to build the pyramids of Egypt!!  They were moved by boat.  We know now this, thanks to a discovery in 2013 of a papyrus, in some boat storage caves on the Red Sea.  The find has caused a bunch of picture stories online this summer, such as this one at the Smithsonian, the Sun,  and I believe a TV documentary by Channel 4, Egypt’s Great Pyramid: The New Evidence.  The first volume of papyri from the find has just been published in book form.

Like most people, I tend to be sceptical of newspaper reports about wonderful finds in Egypt.  But this is entirely genuine!  There is some hard info here, and a very nice article from “The harbour of Khufu on the Red Sea coast at adi al-Jarf, Egypt” in Near Eastern Archaeology 77:1 (2014), 4-14 (PDF here), which shows a piece of the papyrus:

The papyrus is from the early 4th Dynasty, around 2,500 BC. It is the journal, daybook, or logbook, of Inspector Merer, who perhaps wrote it with a reed pen himself, and was in charge of a team of about 200 men.  It is, in fact, the most ancient inscribed papyrus ever found in Egypt.  It dates from the reign of Cheops, or Khufu as we must call him, the builder of the Great Pyramid.  In fact it dates from year 27 of his reign, when the pyramid was actually being finished, and its outer casing of fine Tura limestone was being fitted.

Most of the new book will be specialist stuff.  But, bless them, the team have put online a great deal of useful material!

The website of Prof. Tallet and his team is AMeRS, the “Association Mer Rouge-Sinai”.  An interview with Dr. T. is available in video here.  But even better, at this post, there is a PDF containing those portions of the book of general interest, with an analysis in English.  This includes … translations into English and Arabic (why not French?), and the post also has an English abstract:

At the end of this month, the first volume dedicated to the Wadi el-Jarf papyri will be published at the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology in Cairo. These documents, found at the entrance of the storage galleries, are exceptional, since they are the most ancient inscribed papyri ever found in Egypt. Like most of the remains of the harbor of Wadi el-Jarf, they are from the reign of Khufu. Pierre Tallet choose for this first volume, to deal with two of the best preserved papyri (papyrus A and B), belonging to the logbook written by the inspector Merer, whose team was engaged in the transportation by boat of limestone blocs from the quarry of Tura to the construction site of the great pyramid of Khufu at Giza.

English and Arabic translation of the Egyptian text and synthesis of the data [1705_Tallet]

This is wonderful, and it is remarkable how few people have linked to it.

I’ve reformatted the English translation for ease of reading, and here it is.  “Akhet-Khufu” is the Great Pyramid, the “Horizon of Khufu”.  “She Khufu” means “the pool of Khufu”, short for “Ro-She Khufu”, the “entrance to the pool of Khufu”, which is perhaps the headquarters for the administration of the pyramid project, situated on the artificial lake near the mortuary temple.  Ankhhaf was Cheops’ half-brother, and in charge of works including the pyramid construction.

First day : […] spend the day […] in […].
[Day] 2: […] spend the day […] in? […].
[Day 3: Cast off from?] the royal palace? [… sail]ing [upriver] towards Tura, spend the night there.
Day [4]: Cast off from Tura, morning sail downriver towards Akhet-Khufu, spend the night.
[Day] 5: Cast off from Tura in the afternoon, sail towards Akhet-Khufu.
Day 6: Cast off from Akhet-Khufu and sail upriver towards Tura […].
[Day 7]: Cast off in the morning from […]
Day 8: Cast off in the morning from Tura, sail downriver towards Akhet-Khufu, spend the night there.
Day 9: Cast off in the morning from Akhet-Khufu, sail upriver; spend the night.
Day 10: Cast off from Tura, moor in Akhet-Khufu. Come from […]? the aper-teams?[…]
Day 11: Inspector Merer spends the day with [his phyle in] carrying out works related to the dyke of [Ro-She] Khuf[u …]
Day 12: Inspector Merer spends the day with [his phyle carrying out] works related to the dyke of Ro-She Khufu […].
Day 13: Inspector Merer spends the day with [his phyle? …] the dyke which is in Ro-She Khufu by means of 15? phyles of aper-teams.
Day [14]: [Inspector] Merer spends the day [with his phyle] on the dyke [in/of Ro-She] Khu[fu…].
[Day] 15 […] in Ro-She Khufu […].
Day 16: Inspector Merer spends the day […] in Ro-She Khufu with the noble? […].
Day 17: Inspector Merer spends the day […] lifting the piles of the dy[ke …].
Day 18: Inspector Merer spends the day […]
Day 19 […]
Day 20 […] for the rudder? […] the aper-teams.

[Day 25]: [Inspector Merer spends the day with his phyle [h]au[ling]? st[ones in Tura South]; spends the night at Tura South
[Day 26]: Inspector Merer casts off with his phyle from Tura [South], loaded with stone, for Akhet-Khufu; spends the night at She-Khufu.
Day 27: sets sail from She-Khufu, sails towards Akhet-Khufu, loaded with stone, spends the night at Akhet-Khufu.
Day 28: casts off from Akhet-Khufu in the morning; sails upriver Tura South.
Day 29: Inspector Merer spends the day with his phyle hauling stones in Tura South; spends the night at Tura South.
Day 30: Inspector Merer spends the day with his phyle hauling stones in Tura South; spends the night at Tura South.

[First day ] the director of 6 Idjer[u] casts of for Heliopolis in a transport boat-iuat to bring  us food from Heliopolis while the Elite (stp-sȝ) is in Tura.
Day 2: Inspector Merer spends the day with his phyle hauling stones in Tura North; spends the night at Tura North.
Day 3: Inspector Merer casts off from Tura North, sails towards Akhet-Khufu loaded with stone.
[Day 4 …] the director of 6 [Idjer]u [comes back] from Heliopolis with 40 sacks-khar and a large measure-heqat of bread-beset while the Elite hauls stones in Tura North.
Day 5: Inspector Merer spends the day with his phyle loading stones onto the boats-hau of the Elite in Tura North, spends the night at Tura.
Day 6: Inspector Merer sets sail with a boat of the naval section (gs-dpt) of Ta-ur, going downriver towards Akhet-Khufu. Spends the night at Ro-She Khufu.
Day 7: sets sail in the morning towards Akhet-Khufu, sails towing towards Tura North, spends the night at […]
Day 8: sets sail from Ro-She Khufu, sails towards Tura North. Inspector Merer spends the day [with a boat?] of Ta-ur? […].
Day 9: sets sail from […] of Khufu […].
Day 10: […]

[Day 13 …] She-[Khufu] […] spends the night at Tur]a South.
[Day 14: … hauling] stones [… spends the night in] Tura South.
[Day 15:] Inspector Merer [spends the day] with his [phyle] hauling stones [in Tura] South, spends the night in Tura South.
[Day 16: Inspector Merer spends the day with] his phyle loading the boat-imu (?) with stone [sails …] downriver, spends the night at She-Khufu.
[Day 17: casts off from She-Khufu] in the morning, sails towards Akhet-Khufu; [sails … from] Akhet-Khufu, spends the night at She-Khufu.
[Day 18] […] sails […] spends the night at Tura .
[Day 19]: Inspector Merer] spends the day [with his phyle] hauling stones in Tura [South ?].
Day 20: [Inspector] Mer[er] spends the day with [his phyle] hauling stones in Tura South (?), loads 5 craft, spends the night at Tura.
Day 21: [Inspector] Merer spends the day with his [phyle] loading a transport ship-imu at Tura North, sets sail from Tura in the afternoon.
Day 22: spends the night at Ro-She Khufu. In the morning, sets sail from Ro-She Khufu; sails towards Akhet-Khufu; spends the night at the Chapels of [Akhet] Khufu.
Day 23: The director of 10 Hesi spends the day with his naval section in Ro-She Khufu, because a decision to cast off was taken; spends the night at Ro-She Khufu.
Day 24: Inspector Merer spends the day with his phyle hauling (stones? craft?) with those who are on the register of the Elite, the aper-teams and the noble Ankhhaf, director of Ro-She Khufu.
Day 25: Inspector Merer spends the day with his team hauling stones in Tura, spends the night at Tura North.
[Day 26 …] sails towards […]

Day x+1: [sails] downriver […] the bank of the point of She-Khufu.
Day x+2: […] sails? from Akhet-Khufu […] Ro-She Khufu.
Day x+3: [… loads?] […Tura] North.
Day x+4: […] loaded with stone […] Ro-She [Khufu].
Day x+5: […] Ro-She Khufu […] sails from Akhet-Khufu; spends the night.
Day x+6: [… sails …] Tura.
Day x+7: [… hauling?] stones [in Tura North, spends the night at Tura North.
Day x+8: [Inspector Merer] spends the day with his phyle [hauling] stones in Tura North; spends the night in Tura North.
Day x+9: […] stones [… Tura] North.
Day x+10: […] stones [Tu]ra North;
Day x+11: [casts off?] in the afternoon […] sails? […]

x+1 […Tura] North […] spends the night there.
x+2: […] sails [… Tura] North, spends the night at Tura North.
x+3 [… loads, hauls] stones […]
x+4 […] spends the night there.
x+5 […] with his phyle loading […] loading a craft.
x+6 […] sails [… Ro-She?] Khufu […]
x+7 […] with his phyle sails […] sleeps at [Ro]-She Khufu
x+8 […]

It is really fascinating to read this account of the days of a man much like ourselves, writing some 4,500 years ago!  Well done, Dr Tallet and friends, for making this accessible to us all!

Pierre Tallet, Les papyrus de la Mer Rouge I: Le “Journal de Merer”.

An extant “sillybos” – parchment label – from an ancient roll

The British Library manuscripts blog has produced a rather marvellous article by Matthew Nicholls on Ancient Libraries.

But what made it special to me was an image of an item which I had never seen before.

As we all know, ancient books were written on rolls of papyrus.  The modern book form or “codex” belongs to late antiquity.  But the title of the work in each roll was written on a parchment slip known as the sillybos, or sometimes sittybos – the literature doesn’t indicate which is correct – which protruded from the end, allowing the reader to find out which roll he needed without unrolling any of them.

Cicero refers to such items in his letters to Atticus.  In book 4, letter 8, 2, we read:[1]

Postea vero quam Tyrannio mihi libros disposuit, mens addita videtur meis aedibus. Qua quidem in re mirifica opera Dionysi et Menophili tui fuit. Nihil venustius quam illa tua pegmata, postquam mi sillybis libros iIlustrarunt. Vale. Et scribas ad me velim de gladiatoribus, sed ita, bene si rem gerunt; non quaero, male si se gessere.

Since Tyrannio has arranged my books, the house seems to have acquired a soul: and your Dionysius and Menophilus were of extraordinary service. Nothing could be more charming than those bookcases of yours now that the books are adorned with title-slips. Farewell. Please let me know about the gladiators: but only if they are behaving well; if not, I don’t want to know.

 In book 4, letter 5.4 we read:[2]

Domum meam quod crebro invisis est mihi valde gratum. Viaticum Crassipes praeripit. Tu “de via recta in hortos.” Videtur commodius ad te: postridie scilicet; quid enim tua? Sed viderimus. Bibliothecam mihi tui pinxerunt constructione et sillybis. Eos velim laudes.

I am very grateful to you for going to see my house so often. Crassipes is swallowing all my travelling money. You say I must go straight to your country house. It seems to me more convenient to go to your town house, and on the next day. It can’t make any difference to you. But we shall see. Your men have beautified my library by binding the books and affixing title-slips. Please thank them.

A painting from Herculaneum shows an example of a roll with a sillybos dangling out of the end of the roll:

Matthew has posted here an image of one, attached to its original roll:

The slip has on it the name of “Bacchylides” – a poet of the 5th c. BC – with the title of the work, the Dithyramboi, underneath.  The bit of text attached is from the 17th dithyramb. The manuscript is BL papyrus 2056 (= P.Oxy. 1091), and is 2nd century AD in date.  It is, of course, from Oxyrhynchus, as is papyrus 733, the unique manuscript of Bacchylides’ poems.

It’s wonderful to see something like this.  It’s obvious how these could become detached, and a work could become anonymous and untitled.

Here is a parchment sillybos of the 1st-2nd century AD which became detached from a copy of the lost work, Sophronos, Mimes on Women. (I take this from Sarah Bond’s excellent article on the same subject).  This item is P.Oxy.II 304:

Another sillybos of the 1-2nd century is preserved from a copy of the 9th book of Hermarchus against Empedocles, POxy vol. 47, 3318.

A 2nd century AD sillybos comes from a commentary (hypomnema) on the Simonidea, possibly the Sayings of Simonides, POxy 25, 2433:

Even more interestingly, Dr B. tells us that a sillybos might be known as an index in Latin (although Cicero uses the Greek term), as we find in Livy 38, 56.  Here the lost speech of Scipio against Naevius (it looks as if Scipio was speaking for the defence) had Naevius’ name mentioned only in the sillybos, not in the speech itself:

[6] The index8 of the speech of Publius Scipio contains the name of Marcus Naevius, tribune of the people; the speech itself lacks the name of the accuser; it calls him now “a ne’er-do-well,” now “a no-good.” 

Note that a number of other sillyboi may be seen at the Oxyrhynchus website here.

I was also able to find another ancient depiction of a sillybos, protruding from a roll in the paintings from Pompei.  I found this online here.

Updated 21/07/2018 with additional images.

  1. [1]Loeb edition, vol. 1, p.292-3.
  2. [2]Loeb edition, vol. 1, p.284-5

A parchment fragment of Agrippa Castor “Against Basilides”?

A correspondent writes to tell me that there is a 5th century parchment item in the Bodleian Library in Oxford – a fragment from Egypt, of course – listed in the catalogue here, which the cataloguer attributes to Agrippa Castor:

Shelfmark:  MS. Gr. th. g. 3 (P)
Summary Catalogue no:  31812
Summary of contents: Theological controversy with B (? part of Agrippa Castor’s lost refutation of Basileides).
Language: Greek
Origin: Egyptian
Date: 5th century (?)
Material: parchment

This is very interesting, and I could wish that the parchment was online.

Agrippa Castor wrote around 135 AD against the 24 books of the gnostic Basilides.  Unfortunately all his work is lost, and we know about him only from Eusebius (HE IV, c.7), Jerome (De Viris Illustribus c. 21), and Theodoret (Haereticarum Fabularum Compendium I, c.4, PG 349C).  The Eusebius is as follows:

5. But as there were at that time a great many members of the Church who were fighting for the truth and defending apostolic and ecclesiastical doctrine with uncommon eloquence, so there were some also that furnished posterity through their writings with means of defense against the heresies to which we have referred.

6. Of these there has come down to us a most powerful refutation of Basilides by Agrippa Castor, one of the most renowned writers of that day, which shows the terrible imposture of the man.

7. While exposing his mysteries he says that Basilides wrote twenty-four books upon the Gospel, and that he invented prophets for himself named Barcabbas and Barcoph, and others that had no existence, and that he gave them barbarous names in order to amaze those who marvel at such things; that he taught also that the eating of meat offered to idols and the unguarded renunciation of the faith in times of persecution were matters of indifference; and that he enjoined upon his followers, like Pythagoras, a silence of five years.

8. Other similar things the above-mentioned writer has recorded concerning Basilides, and has ably exposed the error of his heresy.

Jerome writes as follows:

Agrippa surnamed Castor, a man of great learning, wrote a strong refutation of the twenty-four volumes which Basilides the heretic had written against the Gospel, disclosing all his mysteries and enumerating the prophets Barcabbas and Barchob and all the other barbarous names which terrify the hearers, and his most high God Abraxas. whose name was supposed to contain the year according to the reckoning of the Greeks. Basilides died at Alexandria in the reign of Hadrian, and from him the Gnostic sects arose. In this tempestuous time also, Cochebas leader of the Jewish faction put Christians to death with various tortures.

Theodoret writes:

And Basilides also had prophets, Barcabas and Barcoph and some others equally barbarian. And he formed other most abominable myths from these which I have not included because of the damage to those who will happen upon them.

And Isidore, the son of Basilides, with a certain addition, strengthened the mythology of [his] father. And Agrippa, surnamed Castor, Irenaeus, Clement’s Stromata and Origen struggled against these, while contending for the truth.[1]

Catalogues of fragments are not a reliable guide to the contents.  No doubt the fragment utters some anti-gnostic sentiments, perhaps mentions Basilides; and it would be most interesting to see it!

  1. [1]Glenn Melvin Cope, An analysis of the heresiological method of Theodoret of Cyrus in the “Haereticarum fabularum compendium”, thesis, Catholic University of America, 1990; p.92.