ï~~Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 47 (2010) 287-288
Nikos Litinas, Greek Ostraca from Chersonesos (Ostraca Cretica Chersonesi). Tyche Supplementband 6. Wien: Holzhausen, 2008. 81 pages
+ 48 unnumbered plates. ISBN 978-3-85493-164-5.
This volume publishes an interesting archive of accounting ostraca. The
texts were discovered during a rescue excavation conducted in the area of the
ancient theater in the Roman town of Chersonesos on the northern coast of
Crete. While this city is not widely known to scholars, it was a large industrial
center in Roman Crete and a trading port that dealt in amphorae, purple extraction, and fishing.
There are ninety ostraca published in Litinas' edition. The texts come in
two forms, both of which are accounts. "Form A" begins with a Roman date
(in Greek) including the day and sometimes the month. Names of individuals
appear in the nominative, followed by a digit and unit of measure (metretai, a
liquid measure, indicating that the commodity in question was wine or oil).
Texts in the category of "Form B" also include a date (often scanty), one or the
other of only two personal names in the nominative or dative, and an amount
of money (expressed in denarii and chalkoi). The texts with metretai come
from two periods of the year, March-April and November-December; the texts
with amounts of money are dated to June. In the agricultural cycle of this area,
March-April is the time of year when the wine from the previous autumn's vintage was opened, and November-December the olive harvest and oil pressing;
June was the beginning of sailing season. In other words, the dates on the texts
confirm that "Form A" texts refer to agriculture, and "Form B" to commerce.
The texts themselves clearly represent a discrete archive. Only nine personal names appear in the texts, and the content of the texts is quite limited, as
is the number of scribes who wrote them (Litinas identifies six scribes as the
writers of one-third of the texts). The ostraca lack year dates, but Litinas convincingly places them from the second half of the second century CE through
the first half of the third century CE.
Litinas has done an excellent job of analyzing the data from the texts,
and his conclusions, while understandably speculative, are supported both by
the texts themselves and by what is otherwise known about the agricultural
and trade cycles of Crete. The archive must represent the working notes of
the manager of an agricultural estate or of a commercial enterprise dealing
in agricultural products. The workers represented in the "Form A" texts were
employees or slaves who delivered merchandise to the marketplace. The two
individuals in the "Form B" texts, both of them with names of Latin derivation,
were either accountants, bankers, or agents doing business with the owner of
the estate/commercial enterprise.