Snapshots of Daily Life
Snapshots Paniskos | Claudius | Dioskoros | Gaius | Nemesion | Zenon

Gaius Apolonarius Niger and His Family

The archive of Gaius Apolinarius Niger was discovered in the early 1920's in house 5006 in northern Karanis, a village in the Arsinoite nome. Documents in the Niger archive date from the mid II to the early III centuries A.D. Three generations and two households are documented in this archive consisting of over fifty papyri and ostraca. The first set of documents belonged to three siblings, Gaius Municius Aquila, and his sisters Minucia Gemella and Minucia Thermoutharion. They inherited the house in 90 A.D., (P. Mich. 2915), from their mother and father, most likely a soldier in the Roman military as designated by his children's Roman names. Thermoutharion married a Roman citizen, G. Valerius Heraclitanus and gave birth to a daughter, Valeria Diodora in 94 A.D. On February 3, 154 A.D. Valeria Diodora sold the house and two courtyards to a Roman cavalry veteran by the name of Gaius Iulius Niger for 800 drachma, (see P. Mich.3001). It is here that the archive of Gaius Apolinarius and his family begins.

Sometime before G. I. Niger purchased the house, he was honorably discharged from the military as he is referred to as a veteran in P. Mich. 3001. He lived until at least Aug. 188 as seen in P.Mich. 2970b. At one point in his life Gaius Iulius was assigned as guardian for a certain Valeria Tertia, the daughter of M. Anthestius Gemellus. In 172-3, he requested exemption from this service on the grounds that Antinoopolites were not required to serve as guardians for those who lived outside of the city. Valeria Tertia, although from a family of Antinoopolites herself, resided on her property in Karanis. For her family it was necessary to keep a guardian of the same high status as her family and herself. Gaius Iulius was granted exemption from the guardianship, yet it is unknown what became of Valeria.

Several months after the purchase of the house from Valeria Diodora, a son was born to Ptollois and G. I. Niger on July 29, 154 A.D. by the name of G. Iulius Longinus. P. Mich. 2952 is a document registering the birth of Longinus as was demanded for all Roman citizens. An important document in the archive shows the acceptance of Longinus as an Antinoite ephebe in 168/9 A.D., (P. Mich. 2985). This was an important event that occurred upon reaching the age of 14, also the age at which one began to pay the poll tax, and in which a male youth was now a part of the elite gymnasial class.

G. I. Niger had another son by the name of G. Apolinarius Niger, whose birth certificate has not come down to us. G. A. Niger is first encountered in the archives in 172 A.D., when we find him paying taxes for a garden at Kerkesoucha on behalf of a man named Marcus Antistius Tertianus, (P. Mich. 2951), then in 179 when registering catoecic land, (P. Mich. 2928). He seems to have acquired a considerable amount of property in his lifetime. This becomes apparent in a document registered after his death sometime between 184-189 A.D. In P. Mich.2977. G. A. Niger's wife and children registered the house in Karanis as their property along with many other lands and houses throughout the area in the census of 187/8.

It is interesting that Tasoucharion, the wife of G. A. Niger, only identifies her mother in this same document (P. Mich. 2977). It seems highly unlikely that Tasoucharion's father was really "unknown" in lieu of the fact that she was from a socially prominent and wealthy family of Antinoite citizens. For this reason, the identification of her father as "unknown" suggests that her father was most likely an officer in the Roman army. This is due to the fact that Roman officers were not allowed to legally marry until they were discharged, although many took "wives" and had children while still enlisted.

Gaius Apolinarius died sometime after August 184 and before March 186 and Longinus died soon after in 189, (for further details see P. Mich. VI). Thus the archive was inherited by Apolinarius' and Tasoucharion's son, G. Gemellus Horigenes. Most of the papyri in the archive belonged to him. He, too, was an Antinoite and a Roman citizen, (that is if we are to believe his claim as a Roman in P. Mich. 2916), born in 171 A. D. He is associated with the alias Horion through several documents. In documents concerning Horion, which connect him to land in Kerkosoucha, he is often styled with the name Gemellus. In a petition to the strategos concerning trespass into an olive grove (P. Mich. 2978 and 2981, a duplicate of the first), Horion describes himself as having weak vision. In several other documents Horion characterizes himself as having weak vision, an attribute shared by G. Gemellus Horigenes, (see P. Mich. 2916). The next document connecting Horion to Kerkesoucha is a receipt for tax payment in kind on catoecic land (P. Mich. 2950). In this and the previous document he distinguishes himself as the son of Apolinarius. In P. Mich. 2932 he identifies Gaius Iulius Longinus as his uncle. Both share too many similarities in family, name and appearance not to be identified as one and the same person. In addition, as Pearl and Youtie pointed out, both Horion and G. Gemellus Horigenes possessed a piece of land equaling 1 to 1 1/2 arouras in the same topos of Poulitas, (P. Mich. 2914 and 2916).

Closer attention needs to paid to Horion's petitions in that they provide us with a character study of this man and his achieved status within the community. As stated above, Horion was losing his sight by 197 A. D. During this time he wrote a petition to the strategos concerning trespass and theft of produce and threats made with a magical procedure by a certain Iulius, his wife, and friend, Sotas, (P. Mich. 2978). In the petition he appeals to the strategos as an Antinoite and claims that the perpertrators are taking advantage of him due to his weak vision. In another petition in 198, this time to the epistrategos, he writes of a tax collectors abuse of him and his mother, although he did not owe him anything. Once again, he identifies himself as an Antinoite and attributes this abuse to his failing sight:

"This person, who held me in contempt because of my infirmity Ð for I have only one eye and I do not see with it although it appears to have sight, so that I am utterly worthless in both Ð victimized me, having first publicly abused me and my mother, after maltreating her with numerous blows..." (P. Mich. 2979)

He writes next in 199/200 to the epistrategos in order to avoid a liturgy from which he is exempt because of his blindness and his status as an Antinoite citizen, (P. Mich. 2997). His final petition is in 211/12, in which he and a certain Gellius Serenus are acting as representatives for the local farmers of Kerkesoucha. In it they request that the epistrategos look into matters concerning the lack of materials provided for the maintaimence of the dikes and canals. Without materials for repair, the dikes and canals could not provide proper irrigation and many lands would run the risk of going dry.

As Alston concludes in his examination of Horion, this man at first appears weak and defenseless, yet he uses his failing sight and status as an Antinoite in order to extract a response from whoever it is that he petitions. This seems to have worked and might be the reason why he was chosen to represent the farmers of Kerkesoucha. In addition, Alston points out Horion's claim as a Roman in 214 as a tool to elevate his status. Nowhere else does Horion mention his status as a Roman, a fact that would not have been missed by officials in examining his cases.

Overall the archive of Gaius Iulius Niger covers 38 years recording the lives of 3 generations in a single household. This archive gives us an intimate view of the daily lives of this family, from the purchase of the family house to the births and deaths of the individual members. We learn the troubles of Horion with his weakening vision, yet we also see his ability to watch out for himself and his property interests through out this time. More general information such as class structure, entrance into the ephebeia and conditions of the Roman army have been extracted from this archive. With the wealth of information provided by this family, it makes one wonder if our personal papers and business documents will be held just as dearly by future generations as this archive is for us.

For a complete list of papyri in the Archives of G. Apolinarius Niger at the University of Michigan, click here.

Return to Snapshots of Daily Life


  • Alston, R. (1995) Soldier and Society in Roman Egypt: a Social History (London-New York): p. 129-33

  • Boak, A. E. R. (1927) "The Epikrisis Record of an Ephebe of Antinoopolis Found at Karanis," Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 13, (London): p.151-4

  • Pearl OM-Youtie HC.(1944) Michigan Papyri Vol. VI (The University of Michigan Press)

  • Rowlandson, J. L., Women and Society in Greek and Roman Egypt, (Cambridge: 1998): p. 139-143