Rulers and Ruled

The papyri from Egypt are very informative about the written interactions between the state and its subjects. At regular intervals the state would draw up detailed lists of every aspect of its subjects' lives, from the land they farmed and the crops they grew to the composition of their families and the taxes they owed. Ordinary people could also address the state in writing for their own purposes and concerns. For example, they would petition the state if they perceived that they had been wronged.

image of the declaration of performance of a sacrifice Declaration of performance of a sacrifice. P. Mich. inv. 263. Greek – Theadelphia (Ihrit), Fayum, Egypt. – June 21, 250 C.E.

A woman and her daughter declare under oath in 250 C.E. that they have publicly performed a sacrifice to the traditional gods. To make the document valid, three official witnesses attest to the performance of the sacrifice. (One of them is a "slow-writer," who can hardly write his name). That same year, the Roman emperor Decius persecuted Christians who refused to perform such sacrifices.

image of a tax roll Tax roll. P. Mich. inv. 4171, columns 49-50. Greek. – Karanis (Kum Ausim), Fayum, Egypt. – 173 C.E.

This daily register shows the payments taxpayers in the village of Karanis made for various taxes (here, poll tax and land taxes). The entire roll on which the register was written is estimated to have been longer than 100 feet with more than 170 columns. About 6,500 lines are preserved, this covering nearly a year of tax collection in Karanis. Scholars cut up the roll after it was discovered so that conservation and study of the text would be easier. It is currently preserved in 82 glass "sandwiches" like the one shown here.

image of a household declaration for census Household declaration for census. P. Mich. inv. 158a (SB XX 14666). Greek. – Alabanthis, Fayum, Egypt. - 159/160 C.E.

Two copies of a household declaration from Paesis son of Nebteichis. Every fourteen years the Roman government organized a census of all inhabitants of its empire, and required every household head to submit a declaration listing the members of his household, including lodgers and slaves. Notably, these two copies lack the name of an addressee. It is likely that Paesis or the official who collected the declarations would have been expected to add the name of a particular addressee above each text before sending the copies to the respective offices that required them.

image of an order for an arrest Order for arrest. P. Mich. inv. 3242. Greek. – Dinnis, Fayum, Egypt. – 3rd century C.E.

Written in a large upright hand, this order for the arrest of unnamed individuals is addressed to the chief of police of the village of Dinnis. He is to deliver persons who were "wanted" by the tax collectors of another village:

To the chief of police of the village of Dinnis. Deliver the persons who are wanted by the tax collectors of Bacchias. If you do not deliver them, you come up with your assistant.

(The last line ends in a design to fill the space to the margin.)

image of a register of merchant ships Register of merchant ships. P. Mich. inv. 5760a (P. Bingen 77). Greek. – Alexandria (found in Karanis), Egypt. – 2nd century C.E.

A unique register of merchant ships arriving in Alexandria from various ports of the Mediterranean. One ship might be a huge grain-carrier (ca. 675 or 900 cubic meters) coming back from Ostia, the port of Rome, laden with ballast. Other ships were carrying wine, oil, timber, and figs from Syria (Laodicea), Southern Turkey (Side), and Crete. Most of the boats were named after classical Greek gods (Zeus, Aphrodite) or allegories (Fortune, Hope).

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