Greek Anthologies on Papyrus and their Readers in Early Ptolemaic Egypt
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1. Starting points and terms
For our present purposes, I propose to adopt the general term of "al-Hiba papers" to designate the whole of the papyri sharing an al-Hiba provenance, whatever their contents (whether literary or documentary) and present locations (these, as I have indicated elsewhere, include several German institutions which acquired them through the Deutsches Papyruskartell, DPK, between 1903 and 1914). This should prevent any confusion with the Hibeh papyri, which are of course those among the al-Hiba papers that were published in the two volumes edited by, respectively, Grenfell and Hunt (1906) and by Turner (1955) – and whose al-Hiba provenance is assured. My working hypothesis over the last few years has been that it should be possible, on the one hand, to detect the al-Hiba papers presently dispersed through several modern collections and, on the other, to trace them back to a limited number of ancient collections of documents, and of books.
Of all the stations along the itinerary followed by an al-Hiba papyrus (from the place where it was written to its present location) the one I would rather stop at is the point in space and time at which any number of the al-Hiba papers had so to say a proper life in common as an intentionally assembled collection, that is to say: a “collection” by definition. Such a collection existed (a further question would be: for how long?) in the place where the al-Hiba papers were once read and kept together, i.e. at their origin (in German: Herkunft). A collection is opposed to a casual assemblage that comes to be under circumstances having nothing to do with papyri as carriers of texts: this was indeed the case when the al-Hiba papers were made into raw material for the manufacture of mummy-cases (we do not know when and where, but let us term this the place of their recycling), and again when they became pieces on the antiquities market, to be sold (where and by whom, exactly?) to as many different buyers as possible, though often through a limited number of western local agents (at the place where they were bought: their Kaufort), until they reached their present location.
It is nevertheless from a present location that I must make my way back to my favorite station, that is: an ancient book collection, somewhere in Ptolemaic Egypt. Because of the documentation on the DPK activities that has survived there, Strasbourg is a very convenient present location to start from.
2. P.Stras. inv. W.G. 307. Provenance.
Let us reconsider a well-known literary papyrus in Strasbourg: this is P.Stras. inv. W.G. 307. In including it as number 30 of his Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World, Eric Turner titled it: "Euripides, anthology of lyric passages from tragedies," and went on to note: "Provenance unknown, c. 250 B.C., papyrus cartonnage ... A similar anthology of this period is that of Euripidean prologues in P.Hamb. 118 and 119."
This Strasbourg papyrus is a famously intricate papyrological item, involving in fact the inventory nos. W.G. 304–307. Since the preliminary edition by Wilhelm Crönert in 1922, it has been the object of a rather disjointed publication process, carried on by several scholars in succession. Editorial work on it is by no means exhausted: here, but a few pieces of information may be added to what Turner wrote.
First of all, on provenance and acquisition. The acronym W.G. that is part of the inventory number stands for "Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft": a society originally based in the then German Straßburg and established in 1906, it became a member of DPK (Abteilung B, for the acquisition of literary papyri) on January 21, 1907, and was to acquire its own papyri, on the understanding that these were to be kept together with, but distinguished from, the state-owned collection in the local Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek (now the BNUS, Bibliothèque Nationale Universitaire de Strasbourg). On the occasion of my visit to the Strasbourg collection in search of information on the acquisition of P.Stras. inv. W.G. 304–307, Alain Martin directed my attention to a dossier relating to the acquisitions of papyri at Strasbourg through the DPK in the years between 1903 and 1909. This records the acquisition, on July 22, 1909, of the DPK lot 68, including the following:
Gegenstand: ... Literarisch: Papyrus-Kartonnage des 3. Jahrhunderts v.Chr. Soweit Schrift sichtbar, erkennt man Chorlied aus Euripides' Phoinissen, identifiziert v.1520 προκλαιω, v.1554 ξιφεσιβριθων. Es scheint viel davon vorhanden zu sein.
This is recognizably our papyrus, and the Strasbourg dossier contains some information concerning the place where this Gegenstand was bought (by Friedrich Zucker, who had two years before replaced Otto Rubensohn as the DPK agent for the acquisition of literary papyri): "Gahmud Gafadûn, westlich von Fashn." There is more: the same Gegenstand also consisted of Urkunden, of which one is described in some detail. It is an order for payment to soldiers stationed at the garrison of Τεχθώ ("Anweisung zur Soldauszahlung an die Garnison" ἐν τῷ Τεχθὼ φρουρίῳ). One more detail from the document is jotted down, in order to identify what has been acquired: the order specifies in which currency the soldiers are to be paid ("Sold zu zahlen Μακεδονικοῦ ξενικοῦ χαλκοῦ"). These details allow us to identify this particular Urkunde with the document published by Preisigke in 1920 as P.Stras. II 103 (inv. W.G. 299). It is dated 210 BC.
This is welcome external evidence resulting from museum archaeology: date and place of acquisition, plus a straightforward reference to a document from the same piece of cartonnage, and mentioning a village in the Herakleopolite nome called Τεχθώ – a well attested place, strategically located for military as well as administrative and commercial purposes. It can be identified with modern Dashtût, on the Bahr Yusuf. The place where this piece of cartonnage was bought (al-Gafadûn, also near the Bahr Yusuf) can in turn be identified with the ancient village of Κορφοτοί, about 20 km south of Dashtut/Τεχθώ – but also approximately 15 km west of Fashn (Φέβιχις) and al-Hiba, respectively on the west and east banks of the river Nile.
Τεχθώ is the Betreffort (i.e. the place with which a document is concerned) of P.Stras. II 103 and of a few more Strasbourg documentary papyri, all dating from around 210 BC and pertaining to one and the same archive: let us call it "Archive B" (this is the archive of a trapezites called Hermias) to distinguish it from the archive of the oikonomos Harmachis (alias "Archive A," dating from 215/4) – which also consists of Strasbourg papyri and has Τεχθώ as a Betreffort. Not surprisingly, all of these documents bear contiguous inventory numbers, from W.G. 278 to W.G. 302 (as shown in Table 1). Some of the papyri in this series (including W.G. 303) have not been published yet – but having inspected them on the occasion of my visit to the Strasbourg collection I have little doubt that these, too, date from the third century B.C. and may therefore reasonably be considered as belonging to one or other of the two archives in question. We thus have a continuous series starting with W.G. 278 (an unpublished documentary text), and ending with the inventory numbers W.G. 304-307 (the Euripides anthology).
Both external and internal evidence may be interpreted as pointing to al-Hiba as the likely provenance of the Euripides anthology. In Alain Martin's words:
Le papyrus en question a été attribué à la W.G. de Strasbourg lors du tirage du 22 juillet 1909. Il constituait, avec une pièce documentaire, le lot 68 dans la numérotation propre à l'Abteilung B du DPK. Le lot a été acheté pour le DPK dans le mois précédant le tirage, à 'Gahmud Gafadûn, westlich von Fashn'. Je vois sur ma carte d'Egypte un lieu dit El Gafadûn, effectivement un peu à l'ouest de El Fashn: sur l'autre rive du Nil se trouve Hibeh et sa nécropole, qui peut donc être envisagée comme provenance vraisemblable pour ce morceau de cartonnage. Le document également présent dans le lot 68 a été édité comme P.Stras. 103; il date du IIIe siècle a.C. et provient du nome Héracléopolite, ce qui conforte l'hypothèse formulée ci-dessus quant à la provenance du lot. ... Pour la petite histoire, le lot a coûté 522,5 piastres.
Via Τεχθώ we can now try and go a couple of steps further.
3. Links: Strasbourg to Hamburg
Τεχθώ is also attested in another third-century BC document from cartonnage: this is P.Hamb. III 202 (inv. 638 recto), a letter addressed to the toparches (called Tryphon) of Τεχθώ Νῆσος, who was to act on account of the oikonomos (called Ptolemaios) in looking into a dispute among crown tenants (basilikoi georgoi) about the assignment of rent to be paid according to the yearly sowing plan (διαγραφὴ τοῦ σπόρου).
Hamburg joined the DPK on August 21, 1906 (the relevant circular letter is in fact preserved in the same Strasbourg dossier I have referred to above). One feels the need for further details of the kind seen in the descriptive note in the Strasbourg dossier, concerning the acquisition of the Hamburg papyri; documentation still available in Hamburg, on the other hand, seems to be scanty. In the present case, one must rely on internal evidence, while museum archaeology is reduced to careful consideration of the inventory numbers.
The Hamburg papyrus bearing the inventory number 638 is comprised within a series of additional third-century BC documents whose al-Hiba provenance is revealed by internal evidence, i.e. by a combination of places, people, and the kind of business they deal with.
Let me sum up the argument I have been developing up to this point:
- Hamburg was a member of, and acquired papyri through the DPK
- P.Hamb. 202 has the same Betreffort as P.Stras.103 (Τεχθώ /Dashtut)
- It is from cartonnage
- It dates from the third century BC
- It is part of a series of papyri whose provenance can be argued to be al-Hiba, on the basis of both museum archaeology and internal evidence.
4. Third-century BC anthologies from al-Hiba cartonnage in Strasbourg, Hamburg and elsewhere
From these considerations, it seems to me that the following conclusions may be drawn:
- A series of P.Hamb. papyri (continuous by inventory numbers) are certainly to be counted among the al-Hiba papers: for our present purposes, I propose to term them a Hamburg al-Hiba series (see Table 2);
- the Betreffort of one of these (P.Hamb. III 202) is Τεχθώ;
- the coincidence in Betreffort between P.Stras. II 103 (together with other papyri of the Archive B and of the Harmachis archive in Strasbourg) and P.Hamb. III 202 may support an al-Hiba provenance of a series of P.Stras. (which are, in their turn, continuous by inventory numbers);
- if so, we also have a Strasbourg al-Hiba series (see Table 1) including (at its end) P.Stras. W.G. 304–307 (acquired at Gafadûn, near al Hiba), a well-known Euripidean anthology which is
- (as already noted by Turner) similar in content to P.Hamb. II 118 and 119;
- the inventory numbers of these two Hamburg papyri (639 + 640 and 648, respectively) are again comprised in the Hamburg al-Hiba series;
- the similarity in content of the Strasbourg and Hamburg anthologies is no matter of chance: all to the contrary, it is explained by their belonging, respectively, to the Strasbourg al-Hiba series and to the Hamburg al-Hiba series, i.e. by their having a common provenance,
- which in turn is arguably a consequence of their common origin in what I shall for the time being call an anthological section in a Greek book-collection somewhere in Ptolemaic Egypt.
- If so, all third-century BC anthologies from cartonnage that can by the same token be shown to be part of an al-Hiba series existing at other present locations in fact share the same origin.
- If so, they must be studied as a whole, as they may be expected to show common traits regarding the texts selected, handwriting, lay-out and (perhaps above all) criteria adopted in the selection of texts.
5. What is in a Betreffort
If I am asked "where does this procedure start from," my answer will be that it starts from a number of places with which a number of unquestionably al-Hiba documents are concerned: in German terms (as employed by Wolfgang Habermann in his 1998 article) my Hauptkriterium is indeed that of Betreffort. But even at this very preliminary stage the Betreffort criterium will not function on its own: it must be combined with the date of a document, for two documents sharing the same Betreffort may well date from different times; and even then, two contemporary documents referring to the same places may well have different provenances and/or origin or, for that matter, the same provenance but a different origin. In other words, it seems to me that the Betreffort is chronologically, but not logically first, and that our criteria are better arranged in a circle, or perhaps in a spiral, rather than along a one-way line. The most expedient and sensible way to get started on this kind of research is indeed from places and their names in documents – but once it is first started, and when we consider the next possible al-Hiba paper, it does not so much matter at which point we begin reasoning along this circle, provided we constantly take care to check and combine all the pieces of information available for each and any candidate for an al-Hiba provenance.
From the point of view of this kind of research, provenance is most clearly proved, whenever this is possible, by external evidence, i.e. by museum archaeology. The Betreffort, on the other hand, relates to the contents of a papyrus: it is therefore (only part of the) internal evidence, which may or may not point to its provenance. And there is a pitfall to be avoided here: the Betreffort (the place or places a document speaks of) is not necessarily the place it speaks from – and this, its origin, is what ultimately interests me. In other words: if Betreffort is the starting point in my research, origin is the point I want to arrive at. We have a way of saying in Italian: dimmi con chi vai, e ti dirò chi sei. By knowing the company a papyrus kept, I will know more of its Sitz im Leben, and this is the object of my study. What interests me is the intention behind the collecting and keeping together (where? by whom? for what purpose?) of the documents belonging to a particular archive. In sum: I am not focusing primarily on the contents of each papyrus, but on its origin, i.e. on the collection it once belonged to, and particularly on the intention with which it was formed – and my reason for proceeding in this way is that by thus putting a papyrus in context I shall be able to make better use of it as a source for whatever story it has to tell, eventually "reducing" it to a wider historical perspective.
This is more generally understood for documentary papyri than it is for literary ones, which are much more commonly treated in isolation, and "reduced" to being characterized by what I would call alien (as distinguished from external and internal) criteria, such as for instance author or literary genre or market value, in that these criteria belong with the modern interpreter's mind and world – not, however, with the world in which our papyri had their origin. But like documents, literary papyri were not, as a rule, found in isolation, and should we succeed in retracing the company they once kept – that is to say if we retrieve the original unity of a number of book-rolls once belonging to the same collection – we might then have something to say about the quality and purpose of that collection: the intention and circumstances animating it, causing this particular collection to exist. This in turn would tell us something specific about the level of Greek literacy and the readership habits in one place at one time in Egypt. And after that, we might proceed to a comparison with what we already know, or might want to know on the same topics in other places, at different times – both in Egypt and elsewhere. Reciprocally, research of this kind would tell us something specific about the nature and reason for existence of each literary papyrus which comes under consideration, enabling us to evaluate it more accurately as a representative of the literary tradition it belongs to.
6. Wider intentions?
How then do I, starting from common provenance, argue for common origin, too? In an ideal (or ideally simple) world a whole archive (say: the Zenon archive) or library (say: the Herculaneum library) would be found at, or near the place where it originally belonged, and in its original condition. Failing this, the uniqueness of an ancient collection of documents, or books, can only be proven by identifying the common intention that kept them together. If we grasp the intention according to which a collection of documents (or books) were kept together, we shall know where they belonged, and that they belonged together. Knowing the actual name of this place (if at all possible) is in fact less important, and in any case second to knowing that it was one place. And there may be wider intentions to be grasped, which are perhaps all too easily ignored. Reasoning from what I know of Ptolemaic documentary papyri from the Herakleopolite nome, and as far as official archives are concerned, I find it difficult to believe that there were as many archives as there were officials in each district of Ptolemaic Egypt. Archives presently labeled under the name of various Ptolemaic officials, and the like, were perhaps but sections, or dossiers, in one and the same larger archive, kept in a central administrative office in the capital of the nome, and assembled according to the wider intentions of the main nome officials, and of the central administration in Alexandria. Similarly, there may have existed different, and still distinguishable sections in what once was one book collection which eventually came to be part of the al-Hiba papers.
7. Post scriptum
P.Köln XI 448 (retrieved from cartonnage, and published in 2007) bears witness to the same officials (Agathokles, assistant to an epimeletes; and Theon, the oikonomos), Betreffort (Techtho Nesos) and kind of transaction (payments to soldiers) as the documentary Strasbourg papyri (in particular, the group I have indicated as "Archive B"). Though apparently acquired at a much later time, 448 obviously has the same provenance and origin as the Strasbourg documents (and so do the other texts of the so-called "Archiv des Theomnestos," comprising P.Köln XI 438–451). This fact entails consequences that will have to be discussed elsewhere, starting from the following basic question: there can be no doubt that these Köln papyri originate from the Herakleopolites (as stated in the editio princeps), but where exactly was their origin in that district? In other words: which local administration kept, and eventually discarded them from its archives?
|P.Stras. W.G. Inv.||Ed.||Subject||Date|
|W.G. 277||SB I 4512||
|W.G. 278(al-Hiba (?) series begins)||Not published. Seen 6–2–07|
|W.G. 279||563||Archive A (Clarysse 2)||15–11–215|
|W.G. 280||562||Archive A (Clarysse 1)||13–11–215|
|W.G. 281||622||Archive B||210|
|W.G. 282||625||II BC|
|W.G. 283||Not published. Seen 6–2–07|
|W.G. 284||102||Accounts||III BC?|
|W.G. 285||111||Archive A (Clarysse 7)||215–214|
|W.G. 286||112||Ptolemaios to Phanesis: Report on Accounts, Request for Ships||II BC?|
|W.G. 287||113||Archive A||9–12–215|
|W.G. 288||623||ca. 200|
|W.G. 289||108||Archive B||210|
|W.G. 290||SB 14, 11649||Archive A (Clarysse 8)||14/04/215|
|W.G. 291||Not found 6–2–07|
|W.G. 292||107||Archive B||210|
|W.G. 293||104||Archive B||210|
|W.G. 294||109||III BC?|
|W.G. 295||Not published. Seen 6–2–07|
|W.G. 296||93 = SB XVI 12287||Archive A (Clarysse 4)||10–2–214|
|W.G. 297||94||Archive A (Clarysse 6)||III BC|
|W.G. 298||95||Archive A (Clarysse 5)||28–1–214|
|W.G. 299||103||Archive B||210|
|W.G. 300||105||Archive B||210|
|W.G. 301||Not published. Seen 6–2–07|
|W.G. 302||106||Archive B||210|
|W.G. 303||Not published. Seen 6–2–07|
|W.G. 304–307||Recto: Euripidean Anthology + Verso: Phoenix & C.||III BC|
|W.G. 308(al-Hiba (?) series ends)||872||Terminus ante quem: A.D. 204/5 or 231/2|
|Inv.||Frame||Ed.||Subject||Date or Prov.|
|309 ≈ 636||P.Hamb. I 26 ≈ P.Hamb. II 189||215 BC|
|617 + 659 + 661||P.Hamb. II 161|
|631 recto||631–632||Blank or abraded|
|631 verso||P.Hamb. IV 237||15–6–265 or 6–6–227 BC|
|632 recto||631–632||P.Hamb. IV 235 (Taf. 1)||261/60 or 232/22|
|632 verso||P.Hamb. IV 236 (Taf. 1)||III BC|
|633 recto||219/218 or 202/201|
|633 verso||P.Hamb. II 121||Anthology (Aratus etc.)|
|634||P.Hamb. II 172|
|635||P.Hamb. II 171|
|636 ≈ 309||636–638||P.Hamb. II 189 ≈ P.Hamb. I 26|
|637||Not from al-Hiba?|
|638||P.Hamb. III 202||III BC|
|639 + 640 recto||P.Hamb. II 168 (Taf. 11)||III BC|
|639 + 640 verso||P.Hamb. II 118 (Taf. 1)||Anthology of Euripidean prologues|
|641||641–644||Not from al-Hiba?|
|642||Not from al-Hiba?|
|643||P.Hamb. II 131|
|645||P.Hamb. II 122|
|646 + 666 recto||P.Hamb. II 163|
|646 verso||See inv. 666 verso = P. Hamb. II 124|
|647||P. Hamb. II 143|
|648||P. Hamb. II 119||Anthology of Euripidean prologues|
M.R. Falivene, "The Literary Papyri from Al Hiba: a New Approach," in Akten des 21. Internationalen Papyrologenkongresses (Stuttgart-Leipzig 1997) I 273–280; ead., "Il censimento dei papiri provenienti da Al Hiba: principi metodologici, con qualche esempio," in Atti del XXII Congresso Internazionale di Papirologia (Florence 2004) I 411–420; ead., "A scuola nell'Egitto tolemaico. Testi dalla "biblioteca" di Al Hiba," in M.S. Celentano (ed.), Ars/Techne. Il manuale tecnico nelle civiltà greca e romana. Atti del Convegno Internazionale. Università "G. D'Annunzio" di Chieti-Pescara (Alexandria 2003) 43–49.
Genesis of the Deutsches Papyruskartell: O. Primavesi, "Zur Geschichte des Deutschen Papyruskartells," ZPE 114 (1996) 173–187; on its functioning: A. Martin, "Papyruskartell: The Papyri and the Movement of Antiquities," in A.K. Bowman, et al. (eds.), Oxyrhynchus. A City and its Texts (London 2007) 40–49.
These questions were also asked by T. Purola, "Einige Gesichtspunkte zu den literarischen Papyri, die in Mumienkartonagen erhalten sind," in Akten des 21. Internationalen Papyrologenkongresses. APF Beiheft 3 (Stuttgart-Leipzig 1997) II 1088–1090, and further considered by E. Salmenkivi, Cartonnage Papyri in Context. New Ptolemaic Documents from Abu Sir al-Malaq. Comm. Hum. Lit. 119 (Helsinki 2002). They also apply to the Tebtynis papyri that were "disgorged" from crocodile mummies: A.M.F.W. Verhoogt, Menches, Komogrammateus of Kerkeosiris. Pap.Lugd.Bat. XXIX (Leiden-New York-Cologne 1998) 7–21 (Chapter Two: "Crocodiles and Papyrus").
W. Crönert, "Griechische literarische Papyri aus Strassburg, Freiburg und Berlin," Nachrichten von der Königl. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen. Philologisch-Historische Klasse (1922) 17–26, 31–32.
Its stages have been summed up by M. Fassino, "Revisione di P.Stras. W.G. 304–307: nuovi frammenti della Medea e di un'altra tragedia di Euripide," ZPE 127 (1999) 1–46 (p. 1: "Abbreviazioni bibliografiche").
After the First World War, the society moved to Heidelberg, then (to this day) to Frankfurt, where it is to this day: http://www.bio.uni-frankfurt.de/stp/WissenschaftlicheGesellschaft/index.htm
Email of 5 February 2007, from Alain Martin and forwarded by Paul Heilporn: it is quoted here below, p. 210. I wish to thank Daniel Bornemann, Paul Heilporn and Alain Martin for their help on the occasion of my visit to the Strasbourg papyrus collection in February 2007.
As shown on the Map at the end of M.R. Falivene, The Herakleopolite Nome. A Catalogue of the Toponyms, with Introduction and Commentary. Am.Stud.Pap. XXXVII (Atlanta 1998). See also, in the Catalogue, the relevant entries for each village.
As far as I was able to ascertain during the week I devoted to the papyrus collection of the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Carl von Ossietzky several years ago (June 1999). I wish to thank Eva Horvath for the helpfulness she showed me on that now distant occasion.
The coincidences between some of these Hamburg papyri and the Hibeh Papyri put the al-Hiba provenance of a number of Hamburg papyri beyond any possible doubt; cf. P.Hamb. II, "Einleitung" (p. viii): "Von den Urkunden lassen sich die meisten ihrem Inhalt nach in den Gau von Oxyrhynchos lokalisieren. Diese stehen zeitlich und inhaltlich in enger Beziehung zu den im ersten Band der Hibeh-Papyri veröffentlichen Texten;" and P.Hib. II, "Preface" (p. vi): "This is not the place to draw up a list of Ptolemaic papyri which have found their way into other collections. It is clear, however, that apart from the documents formerly at Berlin, published in BGU VI, a not inconsiderable number of texts from this site are now in the collections at Hamburg and at Heidelberg. A few pieces are at Manchester, and possibly El-Hibe is the origin of some of the texts in Strasbourg" (E.G. Turner).
As can be evinced from the Kurze Geschichte der Papyrus-Sammlung in Köln available on line at
When more than one papyrus is under the same frame (as listed in this column), it seems likely that papyri extracted from the same cartonnage were kept together, if possible; however, "aliens" may occasionally have been placed in a frame, just because the available space was suited to them.