Owners and Owned

The people who knew how to read and write, as a rule, were people of means, who could afford an education for their children. They were also the people who found multiple uses for writing, such as detailing the sources of their wealth, keeping the financial records of their estate, registering their deeds and transactions, and tracking the people who worked for them. People who did not have sufficient means to afford an education do figure in the documents we find, but by and large they are talked about. They are rarely if ever authors of the texts that have been preserved. The same holds true for many of the slaves, who were an important part of ancient society. However, some slaves were highly literate and functioned as the teachers of the wealthy.

image of an acknowledgement of the receipt of a dowry Acknowledgement of the receipt of a dowry. P. Mich. inv. 719 (P. Mich. V 343). Greek. – Tebtunis (Umm el-Brigat), Fayum, Egypt. 54/55 C.E.

This text comes from the archive of Kronion, a notary in the village of Tebtunis, and dates to the early first century C.E. In the contract, Chrates and his family acknowledge the receipt of a dowry and wedding gifts from the family of his wife Kroniaine. The parties also make provisions for the return of the dowry and wedding gifts in case of a divorce.

Surprisingly, the text, written by, or on behalf of one of the contracting parties, is left unfinished in mid sentence. The actual contract, which would have been written by the notary, is not present (see the large blank space above the text). It is known from other examples that the notary would first have the contracting parties write a version of the contract in their own handwriting (or, if they were illiterate, written on their behalf). After that the notary would write the actual contract above the text. It is not known why this contract was left unfinished; perhaps it was just an extra copy that the notary did not need.

The following list of dowry and bridal gifts was included in the contract. It gives an idea of the marriage exchanges among the Greek-Egyptian village elite in the first century C.E.

  • 2,160 silver drachmas
  • a gold necklace
  • a gold earring
  • a gold lunette [an ornament]
  • a pair of silver armlets
  • a silver bracelet
  • a silver spoon
  • bronze utensils
  • a box for ointment
  • a folding mirror
  • six bronze water jars
  • women's utensils
  • a cypress chest
  • three women's dresses (one white, one ivy-colored, one scarlet)
  • ten cloaks of various colors
  • a female child slave (5 years), born in the house, whose name is Ammonous
image of a document to loan money Loan of money. P. Mich. inv. 76 (P. Mich. III 192). Greek. – Oxyrhynchos (Behnesa), Egypt. – April 18, 60 C.E.

This contract involves a loan of 200 drachmas by Thermouthion to her husband Dioskous. In a marriage without a written marriage contract, contracts like this could more or less replace the dowry. In this particular case, the contract was later cancelled, as shown by the thick lines through the text. Indeed, we know from other sources that the loan was repaid one year later, after the divorce of Thermouthion and Dioskous.

image of a letter to a wet-nurse Letter to a wet-nurse. P. Mich. inv. 122 (P. Mich. III 202). Greek. – Provenance unknown, Egypt. – May 5, 105 C.E.

A letter from Valeria and Thermouthas to Thermouthion, three women about whom little else is known. The senders try to convince Thermouthion of the advantages of becoming a wet-nurse to Thermouthas's baby. One of the advantages Valeria and Thermouthas mention is that the rate for nursing the child will be higher than usual because the child is free-born and not a slave.

image of the account of an estate Account of an estate. P. Mich. inv. 273 (P.Mich. XI 620). Greek. – Theadelphia, Fayum, Egypt. 239-240 C.E.

A copy of a series of financial reports (rents received, expenditures in money and kind) concerning the operations of a large Fayum estate, from the manager Alkimedon to the proprietor Valerius Titanianus.

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