Egyptian Women in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt — The Economic and Legal Activities of Women in Demotic Texts

A Dissertation Proposal Submitted to The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

By Alexandra A. O'Brien

©1996-2000 All Rights Reserved
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
University of Chicago
Approved* July 15th 1996
Defended: November 8th 1999
Degree Conferred: December 10th 1999

A copy of the completed dissertation is available via ProQuest ID 304542542

Table of Contents


I propose to construct a model of the economic and legal activities of women in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt as represented in Demotic documentary texts. This will involve detailed study of economic and legal documents written in Demotic such as marriage agreements, annuity contracts, wills, documents of divorce, sale, receipt, and renunciation, as well as letters. Many of these documents come from family archives. Most of these will be from published sources. Such a model will be compared with the existing model of women in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt presently based on Greek sources. Greater knowledge of the lives of Egyptian women in these periods can also be used to add to knowledge of women in the Pharaonic period, due to the differing nature and greater quantity of the material surviving from later times.

The periods of Egyptian history under discussion here are Ptolemaic and Roman, i.e. from the conquest of Alexander in 332 BC to the end of the 1st/early 2nd Century AD after which time Demotic ceased to be used for writing official documents. The texts which are the focus of the study are written in Demotic. This form of Egyptian began to be used in the time of Psammetichus I of the 26th Dynasty (ca. 650 BC) and by the end of this Dynasty, Demotic was the chief means of recording business and everyday transactions. In the Ptolemaic period Demotic was also used to write literary texts.1 Under the Romans, Demotic ceased to be used for business documents, probably because of government policy, although the production of literary, religious and scientific texts continued.2 Thus most of the Demotic texts which will be used in this dissertation date to the Ptolemaic period, especially as these are chiefly of a legal and economic nature.

Problem and State of the Question

The materials we have at our disposal with which to reconstruct the social history of Ancient Egypt and its neighbours are written texts on papyrus and ostraca. There are also archaeological remains and formal inscriptions, but it is textual material which will be the focus of this project. This includes literary texts in which women appear, occasionally in economic roles. However the majority of remains are the by-products of legal and economic activity from the predominantly male, public sphere, rather than from the domestic realm of women. Much of this documentary material is in Greek and provides a huge amount of information which could benefit from comparison with the Demotic material. The study of texts giving information about women and their activities as legally and economically active persons would permit a more complete and coherent picture of the lives of women in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt. A clearer picture of the lives of women, as represented in Demotic texts, will enhance the image we have of the lives of Hellenistic women, as manifested in Greek documentation from the same period.3 Furthermore, the information gained from this (relatively) late period of Ancient Egyptian history will serve to provide a model for the, at least in some respects, much less detailed picture we have of women in the Pharaonic period. Although Deir el Medina has provided us with information on economic and legal issues, most of the documentation from this site is of an informal nature - notes scribbled on ostraca for personal rather than official use - and supplies us with more information of a "domestic" nature. There are far more papyri, especially formal documents, remaining from the later periods of Egyptian history.

At present I know of the following published scholarly works presenting a "comprehensive social model" for an Egyptian woman:

  • Desroches Noblecourt, C. 1986. La femme au temps des pharaons. Paris: Editions Stock.
  • Millard, Anne. 1976. The Position of Women in the Family and in Society in Ancient Egypt: with special reference to the Middle Kingdom. 3 vols. London: University of London.
  • Pomeroy, Sarah. 1990. Women in Hellenistic Egypt: From Alexander to Cleopatra. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
  • Robins, Gay. 1993. Women in Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum.
  • Wilfong, Terry G. 1994. "The Woman of Jeme"; Women's roles in a Coptic Town in Late Antique Egypt. Chicago: University of Chicago.4

I am aware of two general surveys which attempt to give an impression of women in pharaonic Egypt:

  • Tyldesley, Joyce. 1995. Daughters of Isis: Women of Ancient Egypt. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  • Watterson, Barbara. 1991. Women in Ancient Egypt. Stroud: Alan Sutton.

Further issues involving Egyptian women have been studied; topics such as marriage and inheritance, amongst others, have been well explored: law,5 marriage and marriage contracts,6 economy,7 inheritance,8 literature,9 and religion.10 The lives of Egyptian women have also received attention in surveys of Late Antiquity: whether in surveys of women in that period or of Late Antique Egypt.11 There are published (family) archives which involve women from the Pharaonic period12 as well as the Late, Ptolemaic and Roman.13

However, rarely are such issues taken beyond the data and studied as aspects of the life of an Egyptian woman or with a view to producing a model for the life of an Egyptian woman: her roles as a member of a household, and her economic and legal activity whether on behalf of her family or in her own right, and how these differed from or were the same as those of an Egyptian man. Integrating these individual aspects would go some way towards providing a comprehensive model which could be compared with that existing for Ptolemaic or Roman period women in Greek texts14 or women elsewhere in the Near East.15 Indeed, women's history - whether in terms of representations of women in literature or women as legal and economic entities - has attracted considerable attention in the areas of classical and biblical studies, for example:16 Jewish women in biblical studies,17 in the Hellenistic world,18 and in Egypt.19

A considerable amount of work has been done on the social history of Egypt in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods.20 However, almost all of this is based on Greek material studied by Classicists and thus approached from the viewpoint of the Classical world. As Bowman and Woolf write, "...the Greek papyri from Ptolemaic Egypt have been very well served by Greek papyrologists whilst the far smaller number of Demotists has not been able to do justice to a corpus of demotic papyri which is very much larger than the published sample would suggest."21

Comparison between Egypt and other Hellenized areas or elsewhere in the Roman Empire is productive and relevant; Egypt was, after all, a part of the Hellenistic world and the Roman Empire. However, without consideration of traditions and practices of native Egyptians, understanding of the Greek material cannot be complete. The relative inaccessibility of the Demotic material prevents its extensive use by Classicists, and, as Pomeroy writes, " historians interested in Ptolemaic Egypt...would welcome more studies of the indigenous women by Demotists."22 Egyptologists themselves have lacked interest in the history of Egypt's later periods, tending to regard it as "degenerate." As Ritner writes: "Note how few Demotists there are in the world, how few contemporary Egyptologists extend their interests past Tutankhamen and the New Kingdom 'flowering.' In the past, Demotists have been considered almost 'suspect' to 'mainstream' Egyptologists."23

Nevertheless, our picture of Egypt in the Hellenistic period is skewed by the continued inattention to Demotic sources and indeed, Egyptian traditions and history in general. It is probable that most of the population were Egyptians speaking Egyptian,24 although there is ample evidence to show that Egyptians became Hellenized and learnt Greek.25 However, as discussed below, the ethnic distinction is problematic. After the passing of the Roman Empire and the arrival of Christianity, Coptic was used as the language of everyday transactions by much of the population,26 and thus Egyptian must have continued to be spoken, presumably by those for whom it was a "mother tongue."27 It seems unlikely that many Greek speakers would have taken the trouble to learn to write Egyptian, although they may well have learnt to speak it, perhaps with a limited vocabulary, for everyday transactions. Varying degrees of competence in a language are reflective of the various uses to which it is put. A person's facility with a language depends on the needs of the individual concerned and a limited vocabulary in, for example, written Demotic, should not be seen as a defeciency as it may well have been quite sufficient for the purposes of a particular individual.28 With Greek being the language of the ruling administration, ability to write Egyptian would have brought little benefit, other than perhaps on a personal level for those married to Egyptians or living in a largely Egyptian speaking community, outside the main Greek centers (such as Alexandria and the Fayum). An example of such a "mixed marriage" would be Dryton, the Greek cavalry officer, born in Ptolemais, a Greek city in Upper Egypt, who lived in the largely Egyptian town of Pathyris (modern Gebelein, south of Luxor29).30 His wife Apollonia also had an Egyptian name, Senmonthis, and conducted business in both Greek and Egyptian.31 The couple had five daughters, each of whom had double names like their mother and like her, too, used both Greek and Demotic for their transactions.32

The issue of ethnicity in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt is very problematic and not, ultimately, central to the present inquiry.33 What is important is that there is ample documentation relevant to the study of women in Demotic as well as Greek, but these Demotic sources have hitherto not been considered in the study of women in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt. The two corpora would appear to include a similar range of material: marriage documents, contracts involving various types of property and wills, amongst others. Thus, the distinctions are: the language in which the document was written, who wrote the document and the contents (the formulae of a contract, for example, which might vary depending on the language used). Such differences do not imply that a document written in a certain language had greater legal weight than one written in another language, rather that it might have been more effective in a given context.

Although ostensibly ethnic labels were at times used by individuals in reference to themselves in legal documents, it is hard to define what such labels actually meant to those involved and whether they served any purpose outside the legal sphere. In other words, were such labels, when used, purely legal terms or did this reflect a broader ethnic category applying to an individual in all circumstances and thus with possible effects on their daily life? The evidence suggests that the latter was not the case, at least not in the Ptolemaic period.34 As Goudriaan points out, Preaux observed that "we do not have knowledge of any juridical definition of `Egyptians' in use during the Ptolemaic epoch," but this "did not prevent the inhabitants of Egypt from mutually labeling their compatriots in ethnical terms; in other words what we might call a social definition of `Egyptian' and `Hellene' did exist and function."35 Hellenes and Egyptians were not classes, nor professional groups nor were they distinguished by status.36 It would also seem to be difficult to distinguish who exactly was "Hellene" or "Egyptian," as "nomenclature proved to be a wholly unreliable guide for establishing the ethnic identity of the persons mentioned in our sources, and this conclusion is valid from the end of the third Century BC onwards."37 Under the Romans the issue of "ethnic identity" is somewhat different, due to their division of society into classes based on distinctions between Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians (various levels of citizenship of the Empire), at least until AD 212 when Caracalla extended Roman citizenship to almost every inhabitant of the Empire.38

From the example of Apollonia and her daughters it would appear that the same person (i.e. man or woman) could conduct business in either Greek or Demotic. This causes one to ask, how did a person choose which language to use and why? Was a document treated differently depending on the language in which it was written, or was it merely a matter of an administrative difference, i.e. that it was treated the same way, but went to a different office to be dealt with by administrators who could read that particular language (after having been registered and summarized in Greek)? Or were all documents dealt with in the same office regardless of the language they were written in? In other words, did this represent a social or legal difference? According to the Amnesty Decree of Ptolemy VIII and the two Cleopatras of 118 BC, documents written in Egyptian were dealt with by Egyptian courts, i.e. according to Egyptian law, whereas documents written in Greek were dealt with in Greek courts.39 In the case of Greek law a woman would need a kyrios (guardian) to act on her behalf,40 and for Apollonia with a husband who may have been away much of the time,41 this requirement might have proved problematic. Thus she conducted business in Demotic as, not needing to have to find a man to act as her guardian, it must have been more convenient to operate within that legal system.42 It appears then, that a woman with access to both, chose that which was more advantageous to her.43

With a possibly deliberate choice having been made as to whether to transact business in Demotic or in Greek, and with the fact that these documents were dealt with within different legal systems, depending on the language in which they were written, it should be possible to find differences in the way women appear in the documents. Detailed study of Demotic legal and economic texts involving women would allow us to determine some of the roles women were playing in society at this time: what they were and were not able to do legally and economically, and whether or not this differed from the activities of men, and if so, in what ways. The material available records a variety of transactions providing information on detailed issues: what kind of property did women receive as dowry, is there any evidence that this could include land or other immovables (such as houses or parts thereof) as well as movables?44 Did the property a woman received at marriage in her dowry represent her entire share of the property she could inherit from her parents? From the evidence of the texts, women could own land. How did they acquire this (by means of dowry, inheritance or purchase)? As Pomeroy states of land ownership in Egypt under the Romans:

The importance of land ownership in a country such as Egypt that is based on an agricultural economy can not be overestimated. Land owners are fortunate people, even though landownership in a conquered territory could not be the mark of privilege that it had been in a city-state like Athens. Under Roman rule, there was no differentiation between women and men in terms of political rights in the sense that both sexes were equally subject to the Romans. But the release of land to ownership by women conferred on them a share equal to men's share in the chief means of production.45

Thus, with Egypt being an agricultural economy, ownership of land was the key to a significant and powerful role in society. The degree to which women were landowners, and the freedom with which they could use and dispose of any land, or indeed any property, they owned would give some indication of the status of women in Egyptian society, their place in their families, and their abilities and powers within the economy at large, especially in relation to those of men. Furthermore, where did they stand in relation to joint property acquired in marriage and in relation to their parents' property? Did a woman lose all claim to her parents' property on marriage and receipt of her dowry? What happened to a woman's property or dowry on her death?46 Who inherited these things? What happened in the case of a childless couple? What happened in the case of divorce?47 How did these compare with the position of men?

As far as Pharaonic Egyptian women are concerned, the impression given in the surveys referred to above is that, although there may be a quantitative difference (there are far more texts involving men than involving women) there are few qualitative differences, the notable ones being the lack of evidence for women as scribes or only rare occurrences of them as witnesses to documents.48 The following quote is an example of the undocumented statements frequently made in popular literature about women in Ancient Egypt and the Ancient Near East in general:

...there is enough evidence in the form of court documents and legal correspondence to show that, in theory at least, the men and women within each social class stood as equals in the eyes of the law. This equality gave the Dynastic Egyptian woman, married or single, the right to inherit, purchase and sell property and slaves as she wished. She was able to make a valid legal contract, borrow or lend goods, and even initiate a court case. Perhaps most importantly of all, she was allowed to live alone without the protection of a male guardian. This was a startling innovation at a time when the female members of all other major civilizations were to a greater or lesser extent relegated to a subordinate status and ranked with dependent children and the mentally disturbed as being naturally inferior to males. The contemporary written laws of Mesopotamia and the later laws of Greece and Rome all enshrined the principle of male superiority, so that the regulation of female behaviour by males was seen as a normal and natural part of daily life throughout most of the ancient world.49

Some continuity in Egyptian practices from Pharaonic into Ptolemaic and Roman times is demonstrated in the Demotic documents where women continued to act for themselves without the need of a male guardian and undertook the same activities, with the same freedoms, in dealing with movable and immovable property, as men.50 Although there is less documentation from before the Ptolemies, parallels can be found from earlier periods of Egyptian history,51 as well as later.52 Texts from elsewhere in the Near East provide informative parallels, for example, the archive of Babatha,53 as well as somewhat earlier material from Elephantine (Mibtahiah's archive and other Aramaic texts),54 Neo-Babylonian texts,55 and Hellenistic Babylonian material,56 all of which include a similar range of documents to that of the Demotic and Greek material: legal, economic and administrative texts (including marriage contracts, sales and loans).


I propose to construct a model for the economic and legal capabilities of women in Demotic texts. Comparison with similar material from elsewhere in the Near East as well as both earlier and later Egyptian material will be used in constructing this model. This could then be integrated with the existing model for women derived from Greek texts to arrive at a more comprehensive overview of the status of women in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt.57 This will require the identification and collection of Egyptian language documents involving women from Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt. I do not intend to prepare new editions of the texts in the corpus (most of which will be from published sources), but will re-edit documents when necessary for my own use. My plan is to enter transliterations and translations into a database in a searchable form which would enable me to look for words (e.g. names and titles). This can be done using the bibliographic programme, "Pro-Cite" using a modified method of transliteration based on the system used in Beinlich's Egyptian Wordlist.58 I do not plan on making this database available as part of the final dissertation, rather it will be a tool used in analysis of the documents and in the production of tabular summaries of the database in an appendix of the dissertation. This will facilitate quantitative study of the texts an obvious starting point being the construction of indices of names, terms, and concepts occurring in the papyri (which, as said, will be summarized in appendices). I am also in the process of tabulating important information contained in the documents under the following headings:

  1. accession/catalogue or plate number of the document (depending on how it is identified in publication
  2. date (this would allow for tracing of possible changes over time)
  3. provenience (this would allow the tracing of any possible regional variations)
  4. type of document (i.e. the nature of the transaction recorded in the text)
  5. names of parties involved (where possible)
  6. number of witnesses (which in Demotic texts seem to be always male59)
  7. name of the scribe when recorded
  8. number of copies of the document
  9. note on any anomalies in the above categories, or any other detail of note. This provides a place for including information not covered by the above headings. These are limited to information included in all, or most, of the texts (this varies depending on the heading). Further headings would include more information but this would produce innumerable columns, due to the inconsistency of the details included in the texts and this would not necessarily be any more helpful in terms of quantitative analysis (as at times there may only be one example).
  10. where the text is published

The tabulation of the above information about these documents enables analysis of fundamental questions such as:

  • In what kinds of transactions were women involved and what role did they play?
  • Were women parties to contracts as individuals in their own right
  • without the male guardian (apparently) required for women in Greek documents? This question is asked as this seems to be the most striking difference, potentially, between Egyptian and Greek women.60
  • Did women witness documents? There are only rare references to women doing this in texts from the Pharaonic period,61 how does the situation in the Demotic material compare?
  • Were women scribes?
  • What details of parentage were included in the identification of parties (i.e. were matronymics included as well as patronymics)?
  • What differences are there between practices in the Ptolemaic and in the Roman periods?62

In the body of the dissertation this material might be framed under the following headings:

  1. Women as primary agents in transactions
  2. Women as secondary and tertiary agents in transactions (e.g. in matronymics, or mentioned incidentally within the body of a document)
  3. Comparison of the Demotic model with that from the earlier periods of Egyptian history
  4. Comparison of the model produced from texts in Demotic and that produced from contemporary texts in Greek, perhaps here also comparison with other Near Eastern cultures.

The database would be used to research further questions, such as what titles did women have, how often and when did they occur, which officials did women have dealings with. Searching for occurrences of names would enable the tracing of the activities of particular individuals. It is possible that such searches will enable the reconstruction of archives, or collation of material regarding groups of related individuals. Collating texts in this way increases the value of the information found in them, as pointed out by Pestman.63 Archaeological reports of sites from the period will illustrate important points in the texts (house layout, objects described as property, for example),64 and would tie in with the provenience field in the database, where a text was found as part of an archaeological excavation. Detailed analysis of Demotic documentary texts as proposed above, with reference to the standard descriptive and analytical methodologies common in other historical analyses of women,65 will provide a working model of the legal and economic abilities and undertakings of women in Demotic texts in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. The value of such a model will be increased by comparison with similar material from other periods of Egyptian history and elsewhere in the Near East, as described above. It is inconceivable that indigenous Egyptian culture had no influence on immigrant populations, and thus, understanding the lives of women operating in the Egyptian language will increase the awareness of the influence of Egyptian traditions on the lives of Hellenistic women and the cultural milieu in which these women operated. This will go some way to countering the, at present, unbalanced (incomplete and thus, incorrect) picture of women in this period, which is based almost entirely on sources written in Greek.


*In accordance with the rules of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of the University of Chicago this dissertation proposal was approved by the dissertation committee and successfully defended at a public hearing. The members of the committee are:

  • Professor Janet H. Johnson (Advisor)
  • Professor Robert K. Ritner
  • Professor Martha T. Roth
  1. Johnson, 1991b: 1. [Return to text]
  2. Lewis, 1993a: 276-277. [Return to text]
  3. As described in Pomeroy, 1990. Pomeroy's work is focused on the Ptolemaic period, and the term "Hellenistic" is used by her in reference to persons who operated within a Greek speaking milieu who regarded themselves as Greek (as opposed to Egyptian) and is so used here. [Return to text]
  4. Also Bryan, Capel, Johnson, Markoe, and Hershey Roehrig. 1997. Mistress of the House, Mistress of Heaven; Women in Ancient Egypt. New York: Hudson Hills Press Incorporated. [Return to text]
  5. Meleze-Modrzejewski, 1995; Pestman, 1995: 79-87; Scholl, 1995. [Return to text]
  6. Katzoff, 1995 ; Luddeckens, 1960; Martin, 1995; Pestman, 1961.; Smith, 1995; Thompson, 1934. [Return to text]
  7. Manning, 1992; Menu, 1989; Pestman, 1969a & b; Shore, 1968; Thompson, 1934. [Return to text]
  8. Clarysse, 1995; Pestman, 1968 and 1969a; Thompson, 1934. [Return to text]
  9. Depla, 1994. [Return to text]
  10. Naguib, 1992 and 1993; Robins, 1993a. [Return to text]
  11. Bagnall, 1995b and 1993a: 92-98, 130-132 and 181-207; Clark, 1993. [Return to text]
  12. Goedicke, 1984; James, 1962; Wente, 1967 and 1990. [Return to text]
  13. Amir, 1959; Andrews, 1990; Boswinkel and Pestman, 1982; Glanville, 1939; Pestman, 1980, 1981, 1993 and 1994; Shore and Smith, 1959: 52-60. Spiegelberg, 1913; Thompson, 1934. [Return to text]
  14. Pomeroy, 1990. [Return to text]
  15. See notes 17, 18 and 19. For Persia see, Brosius, 1996 and for Neo-Babylonian material see Roth, 1989a & b and 1993a. [Return to text]
  16. The bibliographical information in this paper is in no way intended to be exhaustive. [Return to text]
  17. Archer, 1994; Brock, 1994; Meyers, 1989. [Return to text]
  18. Archer, 1990; Levine, 1991. [Return to text]
  19. Porten, 1968: 234-263. [Return to text]
  20. Bagnall, 1985 and 1993a; Bradley, 1980; Lewis, 1983 and 1986; Thompson, 1994 and 1988. [Return to text]
  21. Bowman & Woolf, 1994b: 11: the small number of Demotists probably being due to lack of interest in the field of Egyptology itself (see note 23). [Return to text]
  22. Pomeroy, 1990: vii. [Return to text]
  23. Ritner, 1992: 284f. [Return to text]
  24. Lewis, 1983: 18f and 1986: 4. [Return to text]
  25. In fact it appears that this may even have been the intention of the rulers: "Through education...and tax-breaks, the new Greek rulers encouraged the adoption of their language within the administration of Egypt" (Thompson, 1994: 77) as part of an overarching policy: "...the Ptolemies used education combined with tax incentives to encourage Hellenisation among the majority population of Egypt"(idem: 82). Thompson thinks it likely that bureaucrats received specialised scribal training due to the varied technical nature of Ptolemaic administrative documents (idem: 77). Lewis writes that Dryton, a Greek cavalry officer living in the largely Egyptian town of Pathyris had his third will witnessed by five men, four of whom "signed in native [i.e. demotic] script because there is not in this area the like number of Greeks" (1986: 99). See also Johnson, 1991a: 125-126. [Return to text]
  26. See Wilfong, 1994, for use of Coptic in everyday transactions. [Return to text]
  27. Even within the writing of Greek texts in Egypt there is much reason to stress the survival of Egyptian as a spoken language: "... the argument that Greek triumphed because of the greater sipmlicity of its alphabet implies that those who learnt it were not literate in Egyptian, but ... the rush, the Egyptian writing instrument, used instead of the reed for writing Greek in bilingual offices suggests rather the employment of scribes literatre in both languages .... I suspect that the Egyptian remained their first spoken language" (Thompson, 1994: 78). [Return to text]
  28. As pointed out by Ray (Ray, 1994,: 63f ) there are levels of literacy, varying with its use: One might term this "functional literacy" e.g. competence limited to writing mummy labels, and inability to write much else, "since this state of semi-literacy was sufficient for the everyday needs of the writer, it may not have been felt as a deficiency." Ray continues: "It is worth recalling the truism that ability to read and ability to write are not the same; certainly they do not correspond exactly in any society. This is especially true of a complex writing system such as demotic. The number who could read demotic, at least for simple economic purposes, is likely to have been considerable, although still far below that which is supposed to apply in the modern West. On the other hand, the number of demotic writers was doubtless far more restricted; this can be deduced, among other reasons, from the competence of the surviving texts...Demotic, like other scripts, was employed in a wide variety of situations, and the need for literacy, as well as the uses to which it was put, would have varied correspondingly widely"(Ray, 1994: 64). [Return to text]
  29. Baines and Malek: 73 and 82. [Return to text]
  30. It seems that Dryton's wife, Apollonia, was descended from a family of Egyptianized Greeks (Ritner, 1984: 187). However, that Apollonia was descended from Greeks is denied by Bagnall who considers her description of herself as Greek as a social affectation (Bagnall, 1988: 23-24). [Return to text]
  31. Lewis, 1986: 88-103 and Pomeroy, 1990: 103-124, especially 118. [Return to text]
  32. Pomeroy, 1990: 118-119. [Return to text]
  33. Addressed at some length in Goudriaan, 1988 and Bilde et al., 1992. [Return to text]
  34. Ritner, 1992: 289 and note 33. [Return to text]
  35. Goudriaan, 1988: 116. In other words, people might have referred to themselves as being Greek or Egyptian in a particular document but outside of the document, in the Ptolemaic period at least, there is no evidence that status was linked to the ethnicity implied in such labels (certainly not officially). As discussed below, the same cannot be said of the sophisticated hierarchy of Roman citizenship, based to a largely on ethnicity, which replaced the Ptolemaic situation. [Return to text]
  36. As note 33. See also Bowman, 1986: 122-128. [Return to text]
  37. Goudriaan, 1988: 117. However, nomenclature seems to "accurately reflect ethnic origin" in the Family Archive from Siut (Johnson, 1991a: 128). [Return to text]
  38. Bowman, 1986: 122-128; Lewis, 1983: 18-35; Seidl, 1973: 129-136. [Return to text]
  39. Bowman, 1986: 62-63 and Lewis, 1983: 185-195 and 1993a: 279. With Egypt's absorption into the Roman Empire, the volume of documentation (but not religious, literary or scientific texts) in Demotic declined sharply and there is reason to believe that this was the product of Imperial policy. The apparent cessation of the "bipartite judiciary," to which there are no references in any source from the Roman period, reinforces that this was probably intentional of the part of the government (Lewis, 1993a: 276-281). "Egyptians stopped writing their business documents in Demotic because the Roman reorganization of the administration of Egypt denied such documents the recognition, or status, they had previously enjoyed"(idem: 277). [Return to text]
  40. Pomeroy, 1990: 119f.; Huzar, 1988: 359-360; and Seidl, 1973: 139, and, despite the ius (3) liberorum, according to which a woman could act for herself without a guardian (Pomeroy, 1988: 718 & 721 and Seidl, 1973: 139f.), Seidl notes "doch treten die Frauen in den Papyri der Romerzeit meistens in einem kyrios auf" (Seidl, 1973: 140). However, in pointing out how misleading the information documents give can sometimes be, Pestman refers to land owned by one woman, Tatehathyris, who leases it on her own behalf before marriage and does so on at least one more occasion after marriage. Her husband then leases this same land and represents it as belonging to him without mention of his wife (Pestman, 1990: 52). However, here it is a question of the land being a family asset, and thus the man is acting on behalf of his family as the land is a family asset. Pestman also notes numerous occasions when women acted in Greek law without a guardian but notes that "no scholar has been able to determine whether the use of the kyrios changed over time, or whether such assistance was required only in certain kinds of cases" (Pomeroy, 1990: 200 note 84 and Pestman, 1969b: 17-19). See also Pestman, 1995. [Return to text]
  41. As suggested in Pomeroy, 1990: 120. [Return to text]
  42. Pomeroy, 1990: 120f. [Return to text]
  43. Further questions arise from this point: - Why would a Greek husband allow his Egyptian wife to do this? Why does he not make her act through a guardian? [Return to text]
  44. The giving of movables or immovables as dowry may have had a range of sociological implications, see Pomeroy, 1988: 714-715. [Return to text]
  45. Pomeroy, 1988: 711. This statement also serves to illustrate a lack of understanding of Pharaonic Egyptian traditions and their significance to Hellenistic Egyptian society, as "from an Egyptian point of view things may not have changed as much in Ptolemaic Egypt as a study of only the Greek records would suggest...the Ptolemies brought with them no fundamental changes in the structure of Egyptian society, including bureaucracy." (Johnson, 1991a: 131). In Egypt, if one is to look at Egyptian society as a whole, and not only that operating in the Greek speaking milieu, there could not be a question of "release of land to ownership by women" because women had always been able to own land. Such misunderstanding is apparent elsewhere in Pomeroy's work: "The principal reason for the high status of women in Ptolemaic Egypt is the reduction in the polarity between the sexes. This new balance is apparent in both literature and life," (Pomeroy, 1990: xvii.). Again, as far as the Egyptian sources are concerned it would appear that if women had a "high status" in Ptolemaic times, this would merely be a continuation of the equality with men they had previously enjoyed in Pharaonic times (at least in terms of their legal position, and as expressed in the surveys referred to above). [Return to text]
  46. Pestman, 1969a. [Return to text]
  47. See note 46. [Return to text]
  48. See note 61. [Return to text]
  49. Tyldesley, 1995: 37. [Return to text]
  50. "A great number of mainly hieratic and demotic legal papyri demonstrate that Egyptian women had equal rights to men. Unlike Greek women they could, according to Egyptian law, freely enter into agreements and no guardian (kyrios) was required to assist them" (Pestman, 1990: 52) also cf. Pestman, 1961: 182-184. [Return to text]
  51. Allam, 1981, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1990a & b, 1991 and 1996; Fischer, 1989a, 1989b; Luddeckens, 1960; Bierbrier, 1982; Cerny, J. 1945; McDowell, 1990; Menu, 1989; Millard, 1976; Pestman, 1961, 1968, 1969a & b and 1994 (this last, the Persian period archive of Tsenhor, serves as a pre-Ptolemaic control against which to compare the material from the Greek influenced Ptolemaic period); Robins, 1993b; Ward, 1989 and Watterson, 1991. [Return to text]
  52. Wilfong, 1994 and Clark, 1993. [Return to text]
  53. Lewis, 1989. [Return to text]
  54. Cowley, 1923; Kraeling, 1953; Muffs, 1973; Porten, 1968 and Yaron, 1957a, b & c, 1958a, b & c, 1959, 1960a & b, and 1961a & b. [Return to text]
  55. Beaulieu, 1993; Harris, 1989; Roth, 1987, 1989a & b, and 1993a. [Return to text]
  56. McEwan, 1995; Oelsner, 1986 and 1995; Van der Spek, 1995. [Return to text]
  57. Such as that provided in Pomeroy, 1990. [Return to text]
  58. This is an "on-line" searchable database at: [Return to text]

   and the "Manuel de Codage" transliteration system is explained at:

  1. See note 61. [Return to text]
  2. There are, however, occurrences of women acting without guardians in Greek documents (see note 40 above). [Return to text]
  3. Robins, 1993b: 137 "while some female witnesses are known, the majority were men." Nebnefer's adoption of his wife involved female witnesses (Watterson, 1991: 32). For the "Adoption Papyrus" see Gardiner, 1941: 23-29, Cruz-Uribe, 1988b: 220-223. [Return to text]
  4. That there was some discontinuity between Ptolemaic and Roman periods is important to bear in mind, hence the use of "Ptolemaic and Roman Periods" here instead of "Hellenistic" or "Graeco-Roman," cf. Lewis, 1970a. [Return to text]
  5. Pestman refers to the example of one archive regarding the property of one Tatehathyris "Anyone wishing to understand the situation with regard to Tatehathyris and her plot of land, has therefore to consider the five land leases as a group and within the context of the family archive, because the individual documents are downright misleading: the three leases made by the husband about "his" land invalidate statistics about the extent of women's ownership of land just as the two land leases made by Tatehathyris herself give the wrong impression of the use actually made by Egyptian women of their legal rights" (Pestman, 1990: 52). [Return to text]
  6. Bakhias: Pernigotti and Capasso, 1994. [Return to text]
    • Dakhleh: Hope,1985; Hope, Kaper, Bowen, and Patten. 1989; Mills, 1990a, b and c.
    • Karanis: Husselman, 1979.
    • Karnak: Redford, Orel, Redford and Schubert, 1991.
    • Medinet Habu: Holscher, 1932, 1933, 1934 and 1954; Kaplony-Heckel, 1992a; Lichtheim, 1957. Medinet Madi: Bresciani, 1968.
    • Saqqara: Jeffreys and Smith, 1988 and Smith, 1974 (as well as the numerous other preliminary reports on the EES excavations at Saqqara).
  7. Angerman, 1989; Offen, Roach Pierson and Rendall, 1991; Rabinowitz and Richlin, 1993. [Return to text]


ALEXANDRA A. O'BRIEN ©1996-2000.
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations