A Nun's Dispute with Her Mother in P.Lond. V 1731
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P.Lond. V 1731, dated to 20th September AD 585 in Syene, is a document attesting the conclusion of a monetary dispute between two women, Aurelia Tsone, denoted with the term μοναχή (l. 4): Αὐρηλία Τσώνη θυγάτηρ Μηνᾶ ἐκ μητρὸς Ταπίας μοναχὴ ὁρμωμένη ἀπὸ Συήνης (and also in ll. 39, 50), and her mother, Aurelia Tapia.
The origin of the conflict between daughter and mother is a sum of money. In the text of this document, Tsone relates that she had previously claimed four gold solidi from her mother (ll. 12–14): καὶ μετὰ τὸ προβεβηκέναι με τῇ ἐννόμῳ ἡλικίᾳ ἐπεξῆλθόν σοι ἐνάγουσα ἕνεκα τῶν αὐτῶν τεσσάρων νομισμάτων. The basis for this claim, she explains, is that when her parents divorced, her father Menas gave her mother, Tapia, this money to pay for her maintenance through childhood (ll. 14–15): λέγουσα ταῦτά σοι δοθῆναι περὶ τῆς ἐκ παιδίας ἀναγκαίας μου τροφῆς. Eventually, however, the daughter returned to live in the household of Menas, who took care of her instead (ll. 15–16): διὰ τὸ οὖν τραφῆναί με ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρός μου. At her father's death, Tsone accordingly claimed the money given for maintenance back from her mother.
The document records that Aurelia Tsone won the dispute, and that it was decided that she should receive the money from her mother. We do not know how long the dispute lasted, but the papyrus informs us that there were many claims and counter-claims (ll. 18–19): καὶ πολλῶν λεχθέντων καὶ ἀντιλεχθέντων, from the moment Tsone reached legal age (ll. 13–14).
This is the only document we have specifically concerning this disagreement. However, since this papyrus belongs to the Patermouthis Archive, other papyri in the same collection contribute to our reconstruction of the story.
There are two chief points of interest in the affair: first, the situation during and after the parents' divorce; second, the fact that Tsone, their only child, is apparently a nun.
The origin of the dispute lies in the divorce of Tsone's parents, and in her mother's subsequent remarriage (l. 16): καί <σε> κολλᾶσθαι ἑτέρῳ ἀνδρί.
The pair divorced when Tsone was very young (ll. 9–11): ἐπειδήπερ πρώην ὁ μακάριός μου πατὴρ Μηνᾶς ἔσχεν σε εἰς νομίμου γάμου κοινωνίαν καὶ μετὰ τὴν γέννησίν μου ἔτι νέας οὔσης κατὰ διαβουλικὴν καὶ σατανικὴν ἐνέργειαν ἀπεχωρίσθης ἀπ᾿ αὐτοῦ. The divorce was by mutual consent, since we find the expression "through the workings of the devil and Satan you were divorced from him," a phrase typically employed in connection with such arrangements. It is also used in other Egyptian divorce deeds from the fourth century onwards, and is apparently a general formula by which both parties to the divorce are relieved of guilt.
Upon divorce by mutual agreement a woman recovered her dowry, and might also obtain other sums of money from her husband. If she remarried, however, she was supposed to put aside these amounts for the children born to the first marriage.
In Tapia and Menas' divorce decree, which has not been preserved, there was probably some kind of reference to the refund of the dowry to Tapia, together with the sum established for the maintenance of their presumably only child. In our document Tsone declares that Menas had given four gold coins to Tapia when they divorced (ll. 11–12): δεδωκότος δέ σοι τοῦ προειρημένου μου πατρὸς Μηνᾶ χρυσοῦ νομισμάτια τέσσερα. This quantity, probably stipulated in the divorce decree, was given to Tapia for the maintenance of Tsone. For this reason Tapia's claim that this was part of her dowry was rejected at trial (ll. 17–18): σοι δὲ ἀμφιβάλεις λέγουσα εἶναι τὰ αὐτὰ τέσσερα νομίσματα ὑπὲρ ἀπολύσεως μου καὶ προικός.
We can suppose that during the divorce the couple decided custody of the girl lay with the mother, and it is for this reason that the father delivered the money to Tapia for her maintenance. Apparently, however, Tapia soon remarried, and returned the girl to her father almost immediately.
Generally when a couple divorced by mutual agreement, the only legal disadvantage suffered by the woman was an interdiction on remarriage for a period of one year. We can assume, then, that Tsone remained with her mother for at least a year, although probably not much longer than that: while we do not know the precise span, Tapia seems to have remarried quickly following her divorce from Menas.
When Tsone rejoined Menas' household, he did not claim the maintenance money allocated to her, probably because he had the means to maintain the girl himself. According to law it was Menas who had to claim the four coins, and it is on these grounds that Tsone claims this money after her father's death and refers to him as makarios (l. 9): ὁ μακάριός μου πατὴρ Μηνᾶς.
Other documents in the Patermouthis Archive reveal further aspects of Tapia's life. Apparently she divorced Menas in order to marry a rich man, who belonged to an important family of Syene. Through P.Lond. V 1849 + P.Münch. I 6, dated to AD 583, we know that this wealthy second husband was named Iakobos, and that the couple had two children, Ioannes and Kako, the latter of whom married Patermouthis. We do not know when Tapia and Iakobos were married. Probably, as mentioned above, it was not long after the divorce from Menas.
By the time of the dispute with Tsone (AD 585) Tapia had, however, become a widow, Iakobos having died in AD 583. The above-mentioned P.Lond. V 1849 + P.Münch. I 6, dated to the same year, indicates that Tapia was also during this period involved in dispute with her other two children, this time concerning the division of Iakobos' property.
The progress of Tapia's dispute with Ioannes and Kako was in many ways parallel to the contest with Tsone. Having originally made extensive claims upon her deceased husband's property, she subsequently agreed that the property was to be divided into three parts between herself and the two children. Nevertheless, her son was to accuse her of defaulting upon the agreement, giving rise to another dispute. The quarrel was finally resolved nine years later in favour of Ioannes – who also received, over and above his disputed property, another four gold coins (P.Münch. I 14).
In addition, through P.Münch. I 9 (AD 585) we know that when Tsone was awarded her victory Tapia was not in Syene, but in Antinoopolis with her brother. Possibly she had been living there for two years; P.Lond. V 1860 + P.Münch. I 7, which record the attempts of her children to allocate the paternal property, is dated to AD 583 in this city.
It is impossible to know exactly how long Tapia stayed in Antinoopolis, or if she remained there the rest of her life. We can presume that when Tsone wrote this document she submitted it to Patermouthis, Tapia's son-in-law, because Tapia herself was away in Antinoopolis, and it is for this reason that the papyrus remained part of the family archive. Alternatively, Tapia's children and heirs may have preserved the document to forestall further claims by Tsone or her family upon the estate.
In fact, Aurelia Tsone appears in only this document in the Patermouthis Archive. The three times she occurs in the papyrus, she is referred to using the term μοναχή (ll. 4, 39, 50). Translated literally, the word means "alone," or "single." In the document we also find the phrase "acting on her own behalf, without a husband as guardian" (l. 8), a formula clearly indicating that Tsone is acting alone and independently. The force of μοναχή here, however, is probably more specific than the generic sense "single," for when the formula is found in another document in the same archive, in P.Lond. V 1855 + P.Münch. I 15, l. 3 (AD 493), the woman in question is not described with the term μοναχή.
In particular, from the fourth century onwards, the word is employed in the papyri as a monastic title, in both the masculine and feminine genders, and by the late sixth century the use of the word with the meaning "monk" or "nun" is well established. It is likely, then, that the word here, found always in conjunction with the name, is being used to indicate that Tsone was a nun.
It is difficult to be more precise based on linguistic evidence alone: when used as a monastic title μοναχή in the papyri does not refer to any particular kind of asceticism or monasticism. Rather, it is employed generically, and it is not immediately obvious what kind of life-style it refers to in the case of Tsone. In those papyri chiefly concerned with private or personal matters, μοναχαί appears to describe women who did not live in a monastic community, instead residing in private dwellings – apparently alone, but maintaining social relationships with the community around them. Other women, mentioned in documents oriented more towards the public sphere such as lists of accounts, seem to belong to monastic communities. In addition, terms such as Ama are occasionally encountered, indicating a woman's connection to and relationship with a monastery.
The papyrus in question, however, makes no mention of any monastic affiliation or title on Tsone's part, which it surely would have done had she been associated with an ascetic community. In P.Lond. V 1724 (AD 578–582), another personal document in the same archive, there appears a μονάζων called Ioannes, said to belong to the monastery of Pampa in Syene. Such a reference to one's monastic ties would have been near-mandatory in Tsone's case: Roman law established that any nun who lived in a monastery and was engaged in a legal dispute could not leave the institution, but had to appoint a representative to act on her behalf in court. Had Tsone belonged to a monastery, some designated person would presumably have been appointed from or by it to act in her stead.
If Tsone was a nun, then, she must have been an urban ascetic; that is to say, since she did not live in a monastic community, she must have lived alone in her own house, probably from the death of her father onwards. Such life-style is an early form of asceticism attested in our literary sources and in the papyri. In the Coptic Gnomai of Nicaea, dated to the early fifth century, the term μοναχή is used to designate a female urban ascetic; and in P.Oxy. XLIV 3203 (AD 400), the two women described as μοναχαί ἀποτακτικαί probably led an urban ascetic life. Together they owned a house, engaged in commercial transactions, and maintained social roles and relationships within their urban context; and it is to this early-established pattern of female urban asceticism that Tsone appears to conform.
Such a life-style was most likely funded by a substantial inheritance upon the death of Menas, the dispute with Tapia being essentially a side issue. Given the familial rancour that dispute against one's own mother would necessarily arouse and Tapia's skill in bothersome and protracted delaying tactics, Tsone shows herself willing to expend considerable effort and emotional strain to gain a victory that must have appeared often in doubt: revenge, perhaps, for her mother's unwillingness to care for her in childhood?
The limited evidence afforded by the papyri does not allow one to draw firm conclusions on such matters. If the information they yield about Aurelia Tsone is sparse, however, the few facts the papyri do reveal are illuminating. Tsone was apparently a nun, capable of acting freely and independently on her own behalf – and this freedom was likely a function of her urban and ascetic lifestyle, whereby she lived an independent existence in her own house. If this is true, it means that this ascetic model of life, well established in earlier epochs, persisted and was socially accepted well into the sixth century.
I would like to thank Dr. Klaas A. Worp for his suggestions for this paper, and in addition Dr. Sofía Torallas Tovar, Dr. Raquel Martín, and Dr. Alberto Nodar, to whom I am deeply indebted for their help and suggestions. All errors of fact and judgment remain my own.
The well-known Archive of Patermouthis contains some fifty documents dated between AD 493 and 613, in both Greek and Coptic, and is divided between two collections, in London and Munich. Most of these are transactions and financial disputes relating to this family. See R. de Rustafjaell, The Light of Egypt (London 1909); H.I. Bell, "Syene Papyri in the British Museum," Klio 13 (1913) 160–174; J.J. Farber and B. Porten, "The Patermouthis Archive: A Third Look," BASP 23 (1986) 81–98; J.J. Farber, "Family Financial Disputes in the Patermouthis Archive," BASP 27 (1990) 111–122; S.J. Clackson, "Four Coptic Papyri from the Patermouthis Archive in the British Library," BASP 32 (1995) 97–116; J.H.F. Dijkstra, "New Light on the Patermouthis Archive from the Excavations at Aswan. When Archaeology and Papyrology Meet," BASP 44 (2007) 179–209; K. Geens, "Archive of Flavius Patermouthis, son of Menas" at: http://lhpc.arts.kuleuven.ac.be/archives/texts/37.pdf (accessed April 2008).
This straightforward interpretation of monaché has been assumed by most scholars, including most notably Bell, op.cit. (above, n. 2) 168; P. Barison, "Ricerche sui monasteri dell'Egitto bizantino ed arabo secondo i documenti dei papiro greci," Aegyptus 18 (1938) 147; Farber, op.cit. (above, n. 2) 133; J. Rowlandson (ed.), Women and Society in Greek and Roman Egypt: A Sourcebook (London 1998) 79–80; E. Wipszycka, "L'Ascetisme féminin dans l'Égypte de l'Antiquité Tardive: Topoi littéraires et formes d'ascèse," in H. Melaerts and L. Mooren (eds.), Le Rôle et le statut de la femme en Egypte hellénistique, romaine et byzantine, Actes du colloque international (Paris 2002) 396; Geens, op.cit. (above, n. 2) 4; K.A. Worp, "On the Aureliate of Clergy and Monks," ZPE 151 (2005) 145–152, however, suggests there is room for doubt concerning whether the term means simply "alone or single," or instead refers to monks and nuns.
Sixth-century agreements regarding divorce by mutual consent refer to an evil demon as the cause of divorce. Nov. 140 (Justin II, AD 566) mentions evil demons as an element in the mutual dissolution of marriage, M. Merklein, Das Ehescheidungsrecht nach den Papyri der byzantinischen Zeit (Nuremburg 1967) 73–79; C. Castello, "La Novella 140 di Giustino II e il malvagio demone divorzista," in Μνήμη Γεωργίου Ἀ. Πετροπούλου (Athens 1984) I 302–304; J. Beaucamp, Le Statut de la femme à Byzance (4e–7e siècle) (Paris 1992) II 89–90.
Chrest.Mitt. 295 = P.Grenf. II 76 (Great Oasis, 305–306); P.Stras. III 142 = SB V 8024 (Arsin., 391); P.Herm. 29 = SB VI 9278 (Herm., 586); SB XIV 12043 (?, 6th); R.S. Bagnall, "Church, State and Divorce in Late Roman Egypt," in K.-L. Selig and R. Somerville (eds.), Florilegium Columbianum: Essays in Honor of Paul Oskar Kristeller (New York 1987) 54–57 = R.S Bagnall, Later Roman Egypt: Society, Religion, Economy and Administration. Collected Studies Series 758 (Aldershot 2003) article IV.
Cf. P.Panop. 28 = SB XII 11221 (329); Chrest.Mitt. 300 = P.Lips. I 41 (Herm., 4th); PSI I 49 (Antin., 4th); PSI IX 1075 (Oxy., 458); W.C. Till, "Eine koptische Alimentenforderung," BSAC 4 (1938) 71–78.
The custody of children after divorce was adjudicated, without prejudice to either the father or the mother, as a private decision between the couple Cf. P.Flor. I 93 = P.Lond. V 1713 (Antin., 569); P.Lond. V 1712 (Antin., 569); P.Cair.Masp. II 67154 (Antin., 527–565); P.Cair.Masp. II 67155 (Antin., 6th).
Tapia was not a party to the διάλυσις in the first family quarrel of AD 574, P.Münch. I 1. But she was certainly married to Iakobos; between 4 and 8 years later, their daughter Kako was already married to Patermouthis (P.Lond.V 1724).
E.A. Judge, "The Earliest Use of Monachos for "Monk" (P.Coll.Youtie 77) and the origins of monasticism," JAC 20 (1977) 72–89; A. Guillaumont, "Les "remnuoth" de Saint Jérôme," in Christianisme d'Égypte. Hommages à René-George Coquin. Cahiers de la Bibliothèque Copte 9 (Paris 1995) 87–92; M. Choat, "The Development and Usage of Terms for "Monk" in Late Antique Egypt," JAC 45 (2002) 5–23; id., "Fourth-Century Monasticism in the Papyri," in B. Palme (ed.), Akten des 23. Internationalen Papyrologen Kongresses (Vienna 2007) 95–101.
Designating a monk: P.Lond. V 1690 (Aphrod., 527); P.Cair.Masp. II 67170 (Pan., 562); P.Cair.Masp. II 67171 (Pan., 564); P.Oxy. XXVII 2480 (565–566); P.Cair.Masp. I 67003 (Aphrod., 567); P.Cair.Masp. I 67096 (573–574); P.Stras. VII 697 (?, 6th); SB XII 10926 (?, 6th); Stud.Pal. III 321 (Arsin., 6th); P.Cair.Mus. inv. S.R. 3733(B) + 3805 (12) + S.R. 3733 (41) (Aphrod., 6th); P.Bal. II 148 and 346 (6th–7th ); designating a nun: P.Cair.Masp. II 67141 (Aphrod., 544); P.CrumST 138 (Herm., 6th–7th); P.Köln X 421 (Aphrod., 6th); P.Sarga 159 =SB XVIII 13382 (6th–7th). Cf. P.Cair.Masp. II 67139, fol. IVr 9 and fol.VIr 14 (Aphrod., 541–545); P.Lond.Copt. I 1075 (Herm., 6th); P.Lond.Copt. I 1077 (Herm., 7th).
Judge, op.cit. (above, n. 19) 85; A. Emmet, "Female Ascetics in the Greek Papyri," Akten XVI Internationaler Byzantinisten Kongress = JÖB 32.2 (Vienna 1982) 510–512; Elm, op.cit. (above, n. 27) 238; J.E. Gohering, "Through a Glass Darkly: Images of the Ἀποτακτικοί(αί) in Early Egyptian Monasticism," in Ascetics, Society, and the Desert. Studies in Early Egyptian Monasticism (Harrisburg 1999) 53–72; E. Wipszycka, "Ἀναχωρητής, ἐρημίτης, ἔγκλειστος, ἀποτακτικός. Sur la terminologie monastique en Egypte," JJurPap 31 (2001) 159–167; Choat (2002), op.cit. (above, n. 19) 14.