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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 century.

The information that the archive provides us about the ancient city of Aphrodite and its inhabitants is invaluable. The village of Aphrodite had previously paid its taxes directly to the government, without going through the nome capital, Antaeopolis. 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, and 6906).

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. Mich. 6922.

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 Egypt.

The remains of Dioskoros' family tree can be mapped out as follows, (from T. Gagos, p. 131, fig. 1):

In P.Mich. 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 from Aphrodite.

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 archive).

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  • 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.