What are the dates of the Zenon Papyri?

The earliest papyrus that can be associated with the Zenon archive dates to October or November of 261, and is a framgentary letter to Zenon, perhaps written by Apollonios. The latest document from the archive was collected not by Zenon, but by the man to whom he gave the archive, probably his brother, a scribe who was also named Apollonios. This document, a royal decree (prostagma) related to fiscal policy, dates to the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes, in 229/228 BCE.

Scholars have divided the documents from the archive into six different periods that correspond to major events in Zenon's life. The first part of the archive comes from the early years of Zenon's service to Apollonios (around 260 BCE). During second period, from about December 260 to April 258, Zenon worked for Apollonios in Palestine. Then, for the next two years, from April 258 to April or May 256, Zenon lived in Egypt, and worked as Apollonios' secretary. the fourth period, which includes many of the texts related to daily life in Ptolemaic Egypt, date from the time that Zenon managed the estates at Philadelphia, from April or My 256 to December 248. In 248, Zenon was dismissed as the overseer of the estates, and the next group of texts, from the fifth period, date from 248 to 240 or 239 BCE. In that year, Zenon passed the archive to someone else, and the remainder of the texts, a smaller number, date between 239 and 229/228.

The following timeline summarizes some of the major events that occurred over the years covered by the archive. For map of the Ptolemaic empire in this period, click here (opens in new window):

Events in Zenon's life
Historical Events
267-261   Chremonidean War, Ptolemies acquire holdings in east Crete, Thera, and Keos
260 Zenon enters the service of Apollonios, Zenon in Palestine Second Syrian War against Antiochus II (260-253)
259 Zenon in Palestine  
258-256 Zenon returns to Egypt  
256-248 Zenon manages estates at Philadelphia  
253   Antiochus II of Syria marries Berenike, daughter of Ptolemy II
ca. 250   Ptolemaic fleet defeats Antigonas Gonatas
248 Zenon dismissed from service at Philadelphia  
246   Ptolemy II dies; Ptolemy III becomes king, marries Berenike II
    Third Syrian War against Seleucos II (246-241)
245   Revolt of Egyptians against Ptolemies
243   Serapeum is built in Alexandria
239 Zenon passes archive to another  
229 Last document in Zenon archive Alliance between Ptolemies and Aetolian League of cities in Greece


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