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
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).
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.
Return to Snapshots of Daily
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.