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ï~~Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 45 (2008) 189-207 Villages and Patronage in Fourth-Century Egypt: The Case of PRRoss.Georg. 3.8 Dominic Rathbone King's College London Abstract This paper proposes a reinterpretation of PRRoss.Georg. 3.8, a fourthcentury letter from the villagers of Euhemeria to their "master and patron" Nechos, which has often been discussed as one of the earliest examples of an Egyptian village under the patrocinium of a wealthy landowner. I suggest instead that Nechos was the local praepositus pagi, probably in the mid- to later 340s, trying to enforce an imperial edict ordering the return of fugitive inhabitants to their home villages. The villagers' assertion that they had never surrendered their bodies may mean no more than they had never been arrested and detained by the state. However, the growing practice of private detention and subjection for debt may have influenced their assertion. Although the restricted distribution and content and the geographical context of the papyri from the fourth-century Arsinoite nome limit their value as evidence for fourth-century developments in general, it is also doubtful that contemporary Oxyrhynchite texts provide evidence for the patronage of villages, let alone for the beginnings of the colonate. 1. The text The village in Byzantine Egypt is a topic of which Jim Keenan is master and patron.' As one who rarely ventures beyond AD 300, I hesitantly offer this reconsideration of P.Ross. Georg. 3.8, a fourth-century letter from the villagers of Euhemeria of the Arsinoite nome (Fayyum) to Nechos their "master and patron."' The text was purchased by Zereteli before 1914, and published with a plate by him and Jernstedt in 1930, since when it has often been discussed 'Synthesis in J.G. Keenan, "Byzantine Egyptian Villages," in R. S. Bagnall (ed.), Egypt in the Byzantine World, 300-700 (Cambridge 2007) 226-243. I thank Nick Gonis, Todd Hickey, Peter Parsons, Alan Bowman, and Stephen Colvin for various advice.
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