ï~~Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 45 (2008) 21-30
SB 6.9025, Cotton, and the
Economy of the Small Oasis
Roger S. Bagnall New York University
SB 6.9025 is restudied in light of the much larger amount of information now available for cotton cultivation in the oases of the Western
Desert of Egypt. The goods to be sent by the writer are shown to
be those characteristically produced in the oases and shipped to the
Valley, and it is argued that the place of writing is probably the Small
Of all active papyrologists, Jim Keenan is the one I have known the longest;
he entered graduate school at Yale in 1965, the fall of my sophomore year. He
has also been one of the most consistently stimulating of friends and colleagues, with an enviable range of reading and a serious interest in how Egypt
has changed over the post-classical centuries. I hope that some reflections on
the ancient background of one of modern Egypt's most important crops will
More than sixty years ago - in the year of Jim Keenan's birth, in fact - J.G.
Winter and H.C. Youtie published an article called "Cotton in Graeco-Roman
Egypt."'1 The article presents two private letters of the second century from the
Michigan papyrus collection, both of unknown provenance. The editors chose
these papyri because both refer to Â~pe6MvXov, cotton. Of these, the second,
although of interest in various ways, merely expresses a wish for 20 drachmas'
worth of good cotton thread with which the author, Areskousa, can make
new garments. Nothing in it helps explain the context in which the author,
a woman, was writing.2 Because most surviving private letters on papyrus of
1AJP 65 (1944) 249-258. It is reprinted in Youtie's Scriptiunculae Posteriores, vol. 2
(Bonn 1982) 665-674.
2 P.Mich. inv. 1648; the text is reprinted as SB 6.9026 and included in R.S. Bagnall and
R. Cribiore, Women's Letters from Ancient Egypt, 300 BC - AD 800 (Ann Arbor 2006)
356-357, where it is described as "well written in every respect."