Ancient Egypt: History and culture
Ancient Egypt: Decrees of King Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II, 28th April 118 BCE
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Decrees of King Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II, 28th April 118 BCE

[1-13] King Ptolemaios and Queen Kleopatra the sister and Queen Kleopatra the wife proclaim an amnesty to all their subjects for errors, crimes, accusations, condemnations and charges of all kinds up to the 9th of Pharmouthi of the 52nd year, except to persons guilty of willful murder or sacrilege. And they have decreed that persons who have gone into hiding because they were guilty of theft or subject to other charges shall return to their own homes and resume their former occupations, and their remaining property shall not be sold... And they remit to all persons the arrears up to the same period in respect of both rents in grain and money taxes, except to hereditary lessees who have given a surety. (...) - P.Tebt.0005: 7 papyri of various sizes; the whole roll measured ca. 29 x 217 cm.
This papyrus contained copies of various decrees and was made by the village scribe of Kerkeosiris.
-amnesty: The amnesties were promulgated in order to put an end to the dynastic war which had been going on from 132 till 119 BCE. Before him Ptolemy V had taken similar measures in 186 BCE after a civil war. Their immediate aim was to stabilize society, improve the relationship between Greeks and Egyptians, reinvigorate the economy by persuading workers and farmers to return to their jobs and thus improve the income from taxation, without which the state was not viable.
[22-35] And they have decreed that the (officials of the custom-house) shall not ... nor seize goods unless they find upon the wharf at the harbours of Alexandria something on which duty has not been paid or of which the importation is forbidden; these they are to bring to the dioiketes. Likewise persons who travel on foot up the country from Alexandria by the land-route which leads ... and persons crossing from one tongue of land to another shall have no payment of any kind demanded or exacted from them except the legal duties. Likewise in the case of persons importing goods through the foreign mart ... the seizure is to be made at the custom-house itself. -(officials of the custom-house) shall not ...: Corruption had always been a problem in ancient Egypt with officials expecting gifts from the people they came into contact with, and often simply taking whatever they fancied. During the upheavals the payment of wages to the state employees had been erratic and they had to come to rely heavily on their private initiative to create income.
-dioiketes: title given to a manager of an estate, also to the manager of the royal estate, i.e. the vizier.
-travel: cf. Travel in ancient Egypt
[36-46] And they have decreed that all recipients of grants of land and all holders of temple or other land en aphesei, both those who have encroached on the crown land and all others who hold more land than that to which they are entitled, shall, on giving up (?) the excess and declaring themselves and paying a year's rent, be released from payments due from them up to the 51st year, and the legal tenure of their holdings is guaranteed to them. And that the picked forces, and the native soldiers who own ten or seven arouras, and their leaders, and all others placed in that class, and the native marines, and those who ... , shall have the legal ownership of the lands which they have possessed up to the ... year, and shall not be subject to accusation of interference. And they remit to every one the arrears of the work-tax. -en aphesei: in relinquishment. In ancient Egypt land was considered to belong to the king, unless he had expressly relinquished it. By Ptolemaic times this was to a large extent academic.[5]
-51st year: of the reign of Ptolemy VIII
-aroura: (Greek) The ground covered by a yoke of ploughing oxen in one day, about 2700 mē
-work-tax: Bagnall[6]: liturgikon
[50-72] And they have decreed that the temple land and other sacred revenues which belong to the temples shall remain assured to them, and that the temples shall receive the tithes which they used to receive from holdings and gardens and other land. And in like manner the appointed sums or what they received from the treasury for the pay of the temples and the other sums granted to them up to the 51st year shall be paid to them regularly, as in the case of their other revenues (?), and no one shall be allowed to take anything from these sources of income. No one shall take away by force anything of what has been dedicated to the gods, nor apply forcible persuasion to the superintendents of the sacred revenue, whether derived from villages or land or other temple revenues, nor shall the tax on associations or the crown-tax or the artaba-tax be paid upon what has been dedicated to the gods, nor shall the temple lands be worked on any pretext, but they shall be left to be administered by the priests. And they remit to the overseers of the temples and the chief priests and priests the arrears on account of both the tax for overseers and the values of woven cloths up to the 50th year. Likewise they remit to holders of honorable offices, or of posts as prophet or scribe, or of other sacred offices in the temples, the arrears owed in the temples for the emoluments demanded on certain occasions up to the 50th year. Likewise they remit the penalties incurred by those who have extorted more (than their due) emoluments up to the same period. Likewise to holders of such offices in the lesser temples, both shrines of Isis and feeding places of ibises and hawk-shrines and Anubis-shrines and the like, they remit the corresponding arrears and penalties up to the same period. (...) -sacred revenues which belong to the temples: the Egyptian priesthood was a potential threat to the rule of the Ptolemies and had to be appeased by ensuring their possessions and guaranteeing them an income from the treasury.
-holding: Bagnall:[6] vineyards
-artaba-tax: typically one artaba of wheat per arura.[4] The artaba was a dry measure of about 27 litres under the Ptolemies, formerly it had been about 36 litres.
-feeding places of ibises and hawk-shrines: in Ptolemaic times animals were kept in large numbers in some temples and were, for a fee, killed and mummified. Huge animal cemeteries have been found from that epoch.
[77-82] And they have decreed that the expenses for the burial of Apis and Mnevis should be demanded from the crown revenues, as in the case of the deified personages. Likewise in the case of the other sacred animals the sums required (shall be paid by the crown). (Likewise) those honorable offices and posts as prophet or scribe which have been bought for the temples out of the temple revenues, and of which the prices have been paid, shall remain assured to the temples, but the priests are not permitted to make over these offices to other persons. -Apis and Mnevis: two bull deities who were becoming ever more popular among the Hellenists. The Osirian Apis, Serapis, was introduced into the Egyptian pantheon during the Reign of Ptolemy I in the hope of affording common religious ground to Greeks and Egyptians. Serapis remained more popular with the Hellenists than the indigenous population and became a god worshipped in the whole Roman Empire.[3]
[83-84] And they have decreed that no one is to be dragged away of forcibly ejected from the existing places of asylum. -places of asylum: Decrees concerning asylum had been posted frequently at the temples under Ptolemy VIII and later. They were apparently not obeyed, possibly because they were not respected anymore or abused by people fleeing the unsafe countryside or looking for economic relief.[2]
[85-92] And since it sometimes happens that the sitologoi and antigrapheis use larger measures than the correct bronze measures appointed in each nome ... in estimating dues to the state, and in consequence the cultivators are made to pay (more than the proper number of choinikes?), they have decreed that the strategoi and the overseers of the revenues and the basilikoi grammateis shall test the measures in the most thorough manner possible in the presence of those concerned in the revenues of ... and the priests and the cleruchs and other owners of land en aphesei ..., and the measures must not exceed (the government measure) by more than the two ... allowed for errors. Those who disobey this decree are punishable with death. -sitologoi: officials who exacted the tax on fields of wheat in kind right on the threshing floor and had the produce then stored in royal granaries.
-antigrapheis: appointed by the oeconomus the antigrapheis were in charge of the revenues payable to the companies of tax-farmers.
-correct bronze measures: Measuring has always been problematical and states have been at great pains to ensure there was no cheating. Using false measures was both morally reprehensible and counted heavily against a person in the afterlife, and was a criminal offence in this. According to Diodorus Sicculus falsifiers of measures had both hands cut off.[1] This decree makes the use of false measures by officials a capital offence.
[93-98] And they have decreed that the cultivators of vine-land or gardens throughout the country, if they plant them between the 53rd and 57th years in the land which has become flooded or dry, shall be left untaxed for five years dating from the time at which they plant them, and from the sixth year for three years more they shall be required to pay less than the proper amount, payment being made in the fourth year, but from the ninth year onwards they shall pay the same as the other owners of land in good condition; and that cultivators in the country belonging to Alexandria shall be allowed an extra three years' grace. -shall be left untaxed for five years: a measure to encourage planting of new trees and vineyards, by not exacting a land tax during the unproductive period of the gardens and a lesser tax while productivity is still low.
[99-101] And they have decreed that those who have bought from the Crown houses of vineyards or gardens of other (holdings?) or boats or anything else whatever, shall remain in undisturbed possession, and they shall not have persons quartered in their houses. (...) -shall remain in undisturbed possession: a measure designed to prevent further upheaval by ruling out claims of people returning to their former properties.
-they shall not have persons quartered in their houses: a measure to encourage specific groups of people, whose economic activities were seen to be of special importance.
[134-146 = 147-167] And they have decreed that owners of houses which have been pulled down or burnt shall be permitted to rebuild them according to the prescribed measurements. And that persons who own private houses in the village shall likewise be allowed to build up their homes to the height of ..., and rebuild the temples to the height of 10 cubits, except the inhabitants of Panopolis. No one is to collect anything whatever from the cultivators and the tax-payers and the persons connected with the revenues and the honey-workers and the rest for the benefit of the strategoi or chiefs of the guards or archiphylakitai or oikonomoi or their agents or the other officials. Neither strategoi nor holders of official positions nor their subordinates nor any other persons whatever shall take the richest Crown land from the cultivators by fraud or cultivate it at choice. -prescribed measurements: there were all sorts of building regulations and they were different in town and in the country.
-except the inhabitants of Panopolis: Panoplis had apparently been the centre of opposition to Ptolemy VIII.
-tax-payers: Austin:[7] the workers in government monopolies (hypoteleis)
-strategoi: generals
-chiefs of the guards: chiefs (epistatai) of police of a whole nome
-archiphylakitai: chiefs of police of a single village
-shall take the richest Crown land: during the civil war leaders of armed men had become very powerful. This measure was intended to prevent them from translating that military into economic power.
[168-177] The following classes, the Greeks serving in the army, the priests, the cultivators of Crown lands, the ..., all the wool-weavers and cloth makers, the swineherds, the gooseherds, and makers of ..., oil, castor-oil, honey, and beer, who pay the proper sums to the Crown, shall not have persons quartered in the one house in which each of them lives, and in the case of their other buildings which may be used for quarters, not more than half shall be occupied for that purpose. -oil: Austin:[7] sesame oil
[178-187] And they have decreed that the strategoi and the other officials may not compel any of the inhabitants of the country to work for their private service, nor use their cattle for any purpose of their own, nor force them to feed calves and other animals for sacrifice, nor force them to provide geese or birds or wine or grain at a price or on the occasion of renewals, nor oblige them to work without payment on any pretext whatever. -renewals: Austin:[7] renewal of their office
[188-192] And they remit to the guards throughout the country the penalties incurred by making false returns in connection with the government inspections and the produce which they have lost; and they remit the sums which have been paid them for arrears or for other reasons but which have disappeared, up to the 50th year.
[193-206] And (they have decreed) that those who have failed to deliver to the Crown at a price the oil-yielding produce from cleruchic or temple or other land up to the same period, and those who have failed to supply transport for the assembly are released from the penalties which they have incurred. Likewise that persons who have failed to provide reeds and light material for the embankments (are released from the penalties which they have incurred). Likewise the cultivators of Crown lands, the priests and other owners of land in release, who have failed to plant the proper number of arouras up to the 51st year, are released from the penalties which they have incurred, but the planting (of the proper number) shall be made from the 52nd year onwards. And they remit the penalties incurred by those who have cut down wood on their own property in contravention of the published decrees. -cleruchic land: land granted to soldiers and some servants of the Crown, originally only for the soldier's lifetime, since the end of the 2nd century BCE treated as private property which could, since the 1st century, also be inherited by daughters.[8] At Kerkeosiris in the Fayum in 118 BCE about half the land belonged to the Crown, a third was held by cleruchs and a sixth belonged to the temples.[9]. Cf. Landed Property
[207-220] And they have decreed in cases of Egyptians who bring actions against Greeks and in cases of Greeks who bring actions against Egyptians, or of Egyptians against Egyptians, with regard to all classes except the cultivators of Crown land and the tax-payers and all others connected with the revenues, that where Egyptians make an agreement with Greeks by contracts written in Greek they shall give and receive satisfaction before the chrematistai; but where Greeks make agreements by contracts written in Egyptian they shall give satisfaction before the native judges in accordance with the national laws; and that suits of Egyptians against Egyptians shall not be dragged by the chrematistai into their own courts, but they shall allow them to be decided before the native judges in accordance with the national laws. -tax-payers: Austin:[7] workers in government monopolies
-chrematistai: Greek judges. Ptolemaic Egypt had a number of judicial systems and one was judged according to one's ethnicity used. According to this decree inter-ethnic contracts were adjudicated according to the language in which they were written. In some cases, such as those where women were involved, there could be considerable differences in the outcome. Women had more rights under Egyptian law and would, if at all possible, preferable appeal to native courts.
-native judges: Austin:[7] laokritai
-national laws: Austin:[7] laws of the country (i.e. Egyptian laws)
-Egyptians shall not be dragged by the chrematistai into their own courts: an innovation which should have prevented Greek judges from taking over the whole judicial system in Egypt, judging cases between ethnic Egyptians.[10] In practice the decree proved ineffective.[11]
[221-247] And they have decreed that collectors of private debts must not on any pretext whatever get control over the persons of the cultivators of Crown land or the tax-payers or the others whom the previously issued decrees forbid to be brought up for accusation; but the executions in cases which come before the collectors shall be levied upon the rest of the debtor's property which is not exempted by the following decree. And they have decreed that in the case of cultivators of Crown land the collectors shall not sell up one house containing their working implements, or their cattle or other equipment necessary for cultivation, nor shall they apply the working implements to working temple land or any other on any pretext whatever. And in the same way they shall not sell the cloth-weaving tools of the cloth-weavers and the byssus-makers and the wool-weavers and all persons engaged in similar trades on any pretext whatever; nor shall any other persons take possession of or use the tools required for cloth-weaving or byssus-manufacture than the tax-payers themselves and the byssus-workers, who alone shall use them in the temples themselves for the service of the sovereigns and the vestments of the other gods. This decree specially protects the means the royal peasants needed to farm Crown lands with, in order to prevent them from going fallow and protecting the king's income from them. Similarly it protects the tools of trade of workers in the royal monopolies.
-byssus: fine linen for the use of kings and gods
[248-251] And (they have decreed) that no one holding an official position or any one else shall impose labor upon the cloth-weavers and byssus-workers and robe-weavers gratis or at reduced wages.
[252-264] And they have decreed that no one may appropriate boats for his own use on any pretext whatever. And that neither the strategoi nor any others who are in charge of the Crown, State or sacred interests may arrest any one for a private debt or offence or owing to a private quarrel and keep him imprisoned in their houses or anywhere else on any pretext whatever; but if they accuse any one, they shall bring him before the magistrates appointed in each nome, and shall receive or give satisfaction in accordance with the decrees and regulations. -if they accuse any one, they shall bring him before the magistrates appointed in each nome: an early case of habeas corpus, protecting workers from private vendettas by the mighty.

Source: APIS Advanced Papyrological Information System, accessed 17th May 2009

M. M. Austin, The Hellenistic world from Alexander to the Roman conquest: a selection of ancient sources in translation, Cambridge University Press, 2006
Roger S. Bagnall, Peter Derow, The Hellenistic Period: historical sources in translation, Wiley-Blackwell, 2004, pp.95ff.
Michel Chauveau, David Lorton, Egypt in the age of Cleopatra: history and society under the Ptolemies, translated by David Lorton, Cornell University Press, 2000
Dorothy J. Crawford, Kerkeosiris: an Egyptian village in the Ptolemaic period, CUP Archive, 1971
Manfred Lurker, Lexikon der Götter und Symbole der alten Ägypter, Scherz 1998
Andrew Monson, Rule and Revenue in Egypt and Rome: Political Stability and Fiscal InstitutionsPrinceton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics, August 2007
Andrew Monson, Communal Agriculture in the Ptolemaic and Roman Fayyum, Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics October 2007
A. M. F. W. Verhoogt, Menches, komogrammateus of Kerkeosiris: the doings and dealings of a village scribe in the late Ptolemaic period (120-110 B.C.)., Brill, 1998
Frank William Walbank, The Cambridge Ancient History, Part V, The Fifth Century B.C., Cambridge University Press, 1984
[1] Diodorus Siculus, Historic Library Vol 1, Chap. 78
[2] Chauveau 2000, p.18
[3] Lurker 1998, p.183
[4] Monson August 2007, p.8
[5] Walbank 1984, p.148
[6] Bagnall 2004, p.95ff.
[7] Austin 2006, p.505f
[8] Verhoogt 1998 p.111
[9] Monson October 2007, p.6
[10] Bagnall 2004, p.100.
[11] Austin 2006, p.508

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