Dioskoros of Aphrodito
The papyri in the archive of Dioskoros date from the mid VI to the early
VII centuries A.D. They were purchased in 1943 for the University of Michigan
by Mr. Thomas Whittemore. However, the archive of Dioskoros reaches far
beyond the borders of Ann Arbor. Papyri in the collection can be found
in Cairo, Florence, London, Alexandria, Berlin, and elsewhere in America
and Europe. Originally, the archive was discovered at Kom Ishgau, or ancient
Aphrodite in the Antaeopolite nome, in the early part of the 20th
The information that the archive provides us about the ancient city of
and its inhabitants is invaluable. The village of Aphrodite had previously
paid its taxes directly to the government, without going through the nome
During the sixth century A.D., Aphrodite requested a change from its independent
status in order to protect itself from the growing pressure of tax collectors
in Antaeopolis. The village became directly dependant on the emperor's
house, through his wife Theodora. This is attested in the petition P.
Cair. Masp. III 67283, in which the help of the empress in requested.
Due to the prominent positions that Dioskoros' family held within the
community, they would represent the village to the local and imperial
authorities, serve as witnesses, draft documents for their fellow villagers,
and were often asked to keep these documents. Hence, in the archive of
Dioskoros we find a plethora of documents pertaining to the affairs of
other members in the community, (e.g. P.
Mich. 6902, 6903,
The papyri relate to us the thirty years before the death of Dioskoros'
father, Aurelius Apollos. Our first encounter ,(P. Flor. III 280), with
Apollos is in 514 A.D. as the protokometes, (village headman),
a position that he seems to have recently acquired, ( See J. G. Keenan,
957-63). In 538, we hear of him founding a monastery, and later in 541
A.D. of a trip to Constantinople with his nephew, Victor. His visit to
Constantinople, documented in P. Cair. Masp. II 67126, is believed to
be affiliated with the city of Aphrodite's privileged
tax status or perhaps a religious pilgrimage for Apollos, now a monk,
and his nephew and a priest, Victor.
Like others of his time, Apollos acted as a middleman in leasing out
land from secular, ecclesiastical and monastic landholders in Phthla and
Aphrodite and would proceed to rent these lands out to peasant farmers
at a higher price. This was a highly entrepreneurial activity, from which
many benefited. Aurelius Phoibammon, Apollos' cousin-in-law, and his brother
Besarion, are known to have participated in this business venture. In
fact, one of these lands, which Phoibammon has taken possession of, becomes
the topic of dispute in P.
After the death of his father, Apollos, the archive and all related documents
came into the possession of Dioskoros. Dioskoros is most famous to papyrologists
for his poetry. However, Dioskoros was not only a poet but also a notary,
lawyer, administrator, property owner and more. His first official text
was the petition referred to above, (P. Cair. Masp. III 67283), written
in 547/8, yet his earliest known work was written in 543 A.D.
From the archives we are able to learn quite a bit about Dioskoros and
the rest of his family. Dioskoros himself was born sometime around 520
A.D. and he is last attested in the archives in 585 A.D. He was given
his grandfather's name, as was his own son, Apollos. His great grandfather,
however, had an Egyptian name, Psimanobet, meaning "the son of the gooseherd."
As noted by T. Gagos, this does not necessarily insinuate native origins,
but does however rule out the family as belonging to the Greek elite in
The remains of Dioskoros' family tree can be mapped out as follows, (from
T. Gagos, p. 131, fig. 1):
6922, mentioned above, several family members come together in order
to resolve a dispute over some land. In this text Apollos, son of Dioskoros,
represents his niece Anastasia alias Tecrompia and her husband Phoibammon.
It appears that the land was previously owned by the parents of Nikantinoos,
who represents the other side of the debate. Nikantinoos' parents had
formerly used this piece of land to secure a loan between the parents
of Iosephios, (the names of his parents have not come down to us), and
themselves, with Iosephios identified as the lender. Both Nikantinoos'
and Iosephios' parents had passed away, thus Nikantinoos inherited the
debt of his parents, and Iosephios the loan contract. However, the land
in dispute was inherited by Nikantinoos' nieces and nephew. Where do Anastasia
and Phoibammon come in? It appears that Nikantinoos' nieces and nephew
unwittingly sold them the land illegally, i.e. while the loan had not
yet been paid off. The outcome of the case is that Nikantinoos must pay
off his parent's debt to Iosephios, thus nullifying any hold he has on
the property and allowing Anastasia and Phoibammon to retain the property.
However, Anastasia and Phoibammon must pay a reimbursement to Nikantinoos,
possibly because they paid less than market value for the property, as
T. Gagos suggests, (see p. 24-5).
Although this document represents an "out of court" settlement, it was
drawn up in Antinoopolis.
This is due to the fact that the courts were located in Antinoopolis,
the nome capital, and if further action had been taken, the dispute would
have been settled in the very building in which the settlement was drawn
up. However, the families of Dioskoros and Nikantinoos decided on the
option of using mediators made up of their peers, that is the adult males
This document, as it would have been included in the papers of Phoibammon,
is just one of the collections of papers that Dioskoros held onto for
friends and family members. For example, P.Mich.
6902 records the sale of a house made by Aurelia Eudoxia, and in 6903
another sale by Aurelia Maria. In these texts, no mention is made of anyone
in the family of Dioskoros. Yet again in P.Mich.
6906 we do not hear of Dioskoros' family in relation to the lease
of a vineyard by Aurelius Menas, son of Psate. Thus they belong to the
archives of others, yet are being held by Dioskoros and his family.
The archive of Dioskoros thus provides us with a window not only to look
into the lives of his family members, but to reconstruct a portion of
the community and ancient city of Aphrodite and its surroundings through
further investigations into the archive. Hierarchies of the elite within
Aphrodite have been drawn based on P. Cair. Masp. III 67283, (see T. Gagos,
p. 10-15); further family trees of fellow townspeople can be mapped out;
explorations into the literary and social climate in Egypt have been based
on the poetry and documents in the Dioskoros archive, (see L.S.B. MacCoull,
Dioscouros of Aphrodito: His Work and His World (Berkeley:
1988), A. Cameron, "Wandering Poets: A Literary Movement in Byzantine
Egypt," Historia 14 (1965):470-509). Thus, the archive of Dioskoros
leaves us with much more to be discovered not only about the members of
his own family, but the inhabitants of Aphrodite, the city itself, and
Egypt at large.
For a complete list of papyri in the Dioskoros Archive at the University
of Michigan, click here.
More papyri in the Dioskoros archive can be found on the Heidelberg
website by entering Dioskoros into the Bemerkungen field of the search
engine. (Note: not all documents that appear are included in the Dioskoros
Return to Snapshots of Daily
T. Gagos, Settling a Dispute, (Ann Arbor: 1994), University
of Michigan Press.
J. G. Keenan, "Aurelius Apollos and the Aphrodite Village Elite,"
Atti del XVII Congresso Internazionale di Papirologia, Vol.
3 (Napoli: 1984): 957-63.
P. J. Sijpesteijn, The Aphrodite Papyri in the University of Michigan
Papyrus Collection, (Zutphen: 1977), Terra Publishing Co.