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Nemesion, son of Zoilos

Nemesion, alias Nemion or Nemesas, was a praktor, or tax collector for the town of Philadelphia in the Arsinoite nome in the early first century A.D. The earliest documents in the archive begin at 29/30 A.D. However, it is the tax documents dating from 44-58 A.D. and a letter copied by Nemesion that are of most interest to papyrologists for their contribution to the study of village administration of the laographia (poll tax) in the Julio-Claudian period and for research on ethnic tensions throughout Egypt.

As a tax collector, Nemesion's duties included the collection of all capitation taxes, that is the poll, pig and dike taxes. A census list , (P. Mich. 616), of youths who are approaching or have reached the age of 14 is included in the archive. This is to assure that the poll tax will be collected from these new tax paying individuals. Only when an individual reached the age of 62, could they cease paying taxes, (that is if they were not already included in one of the tax exempt classes of citizens).

In P. Mich 873, we find a list of taxpayers living outside the village of Philadelphia. What is most interesting about this list is that it is arranged topographically by village. Other lists within the archive also appear to be arranged topographically, according to Ann Hanson, (P.Congr. XX, 1992). However, these other lists cover only the town of Philadelphia, that is to say, they are arranged topographically from house to house. This suggests, according to Hanson, that the tax collector Nemesion collected the taxes by going door to door since names repeatedly appear in sequence in several of the documents. Fragments which overlap in sequence of names are P. Mich. 890 + P. Princ. III.123 (revised), forming part of a name list from 38/39 A.D., with P. Mich. 619r, a year ledger from 42/43; P. Mich. 876r, an alphabetical year ledger from 39/40, with P. Harr. I.72 (revised), a name list for 38/39, (only the names beginning with alpha match up); P. Mich. 791, a name list from 38/39, with P. Mich. 904 + BL. inv. 2248, which together make-up part of the year ledger from 37/38.

The expenses in Nemesion's documents show that he enlisted the help of a keryx , (a herald), paidia, (slaves), and machairophoroi, (armed guards, see P. Mich. 832) in order to collect the taxes. As Hanson suggests, the inclusion of armed guards in Nemesion's entourage only implies that he enlisted their help for appearance's sake when collecting door to door and for the protection of the taxes after they were collected. The use of guards when collecting taxes in no way implies that Nemesion had much trouble in collecting taxes in this small town..

The archive also provides us with historical information on the town of Philadelphia. P. Mich. 618 records the poll tax for the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 11th years of Claudius' reign, (51 AD). The low amount of taxes paid during these years points to an economic crisis, in part due to unusual Nile floods. The unusual flooding of the Nile was not only a grave disaster for Egypt, but also the capital of the empire, Rome. Many of Rome's citizens relied on the annual shipment of grain brought from Egypt each year. If the floods were either too high, crops were wiped out or if they were too low, not enough grain was produced. The flood of the Nile was not only the lifeblood of the Egyptians, but had become the lifeblood of the citizens of Rome also.

One document in the Nemsion archive that is of great interest to papyrologists is a copy of the emperor Claudius' letter (P. Lond. 6.1912 verso) addressed to the people of the city of Alexandria. The letter was copied by Nemesion on the back of a tax register in his archive. In the letter, Claudius remonstrates the Alexandrian citizens and the Jews for revolts. Why this document was of interest to Nemesion and perhaps to other inhabitants of Philadelphia is a question we may never fully know the answer to. However, there are several speculations as to why this letter appealed to Nemesion.

Schwartz's argument, (see Hanson, SAOC: 1992), suggests that this was not a case of "emperor watching," as many have suggested. Instead, he argues that Nemesion copied Claudius' letter because of the particular interest that he and the Philadelphian elite had in the Alexandrian citizens strife with the Jews. That is to say, the troubles of a small town mirrored those of the capital, namely some form of anti-Semitism. Hanson calls attention to Schwartz's flaws in his argument: the misreading of P. Princ. I, P. Strasb. 9.823, BGU 4.1078 and 1079. However, she supports his theory by bringing new evidence to light.

The only ethnic designations that Hanson finds in the archive are those of Semitic origins: Arabes and Ioudaios. In P.Mich. 880r, the ethnic designation Ioudaios is used a man named Isak and one named Sakolaos. The designation Arabes is respectively used for a man called Sambas. For Hanson, there is no clear anti-Semitism to be read here, but this at least indicates some degree of separatism at the local level between Semites and the general population. Thus, Claudius' letter in some way reflects the concerns of the elite population of Philadelphia.

Although the collection of taxes door to door seems to have caused little trouble for Nemesion, the town of Philadelphia had its share of troubles. The economic crisis of years 6 through 11 of Claudius' reign must have made a mark on the town, Egypt, and especially the city of Rome, who relied on the yearly excess of grain. Further stress was felt in Alexandria at least as the ethnic tensions between the Alexandrian citizens and Semites swelled. These tensions permeated to the local level in Philadelphia, as Semites retained some degree of detachment from the remaining population. From the archive we learn that life in a small town, such as Philadelphia, could be just as stressful as that of the city.

For list of posted papyri in the Nemesion archive at the University of Michigan, click here.

More papyri in the Nemesion archive can be found on the Heidelberg website by entering Philadelphia in the Ort field and Nemesion in the Inhalt field of the search engine.

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  • A. E. Hanson, "Documents from Phialdelphia Drawn from the Census Register," Actes du XV Congres International de Papyrologie Deuxieme Partie, (Bruxelles:1979): p. 60-74.

  • A. E. Hanson, "Topographical Arrangement of Tax Documents in the Philadelphia Tax Archive," Proceedings of the 20th International Congress of Papyrologists, ( Copenhagen:1992): p. 210-218.

  • A. E. Hanson, "Egyptians, Romans, Arabes and Ioudaioi in the First Century A.D. Tax Archive from Philadelphia: P. Mich. inv. 880 recto and P. Princ. III. 152 revised," Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization: Life in a Multicultural Society: Egypt From Cambyses to Constantine and Beyond, vol. 51, (Chicago: 1992):p. 133-48.