There were already archives in Egypt in the pre-Christian period, according to Helck (1975). In Christian times, too, there were official and semiofficial Greek archives: those of soldiers, priests, manual workers, and other private individuals. An attempt to reassemble such archives was announced by Heichelheim in 1932. In these archives documents were preserved, in contrast with the libraries, where literary manuscripts were gathered together (see PAPYRI, COPTIC LITERARY). However, it is often not possible to make a clear distinction between archives and libraries, since in many both documents and literary papyri were discovered together. Occasionally documents were written on the back of literary manuscripts, or documents withdrawn from archives were used as writing material for literary works (Clarysse, 1982).
Various names were employed for archives (Gross, col. 614). The archive of the Phoibammom monastery at DAYR AL-BAHRI is often described as biblioq»kh (bibliotheke), which, according to Liddell and Scott (1958), can mean “record office” or “registry” as well as “library.”
Archives have been recovered through systematic excavation or through chance discovery, especially through the work of the sabbakihn (manure diggers). In the latter case, archives that belong together were often divided into lots by the finders and/or the antiquities dealers and, like literary manuscripts, were acquired by different museums (see PAPYRUS COLLECTIONS). It has been, and still is, the task of the scholar to examine the documents to ascertain whether they belong to an archive, in order to reconstruct the original archive.
A single archive can contain documents in several languages. In the latest archives, Greek, Coptic, and Arabic documents were found (for instance, in Aphrodito). In archives from the fourth century on Greek and Coptic documents are united, while archives from the period prior to the fourth century consist only of Greek documents. In addition there were bilingual and sporadically even trilingual documents.
A few characteristic examples may be singled out from the multitude of archives known. The largest extant archive of the early Arab period is that of Basilios, pagarch of Aphrodito (see BASILIOS, ARCHIVE OF), found about 1901. Roughly contemporary is the archive of Papas, pagarch of Idfu. Five further archives of pagarchs and other officials of the seventh and eighth centuries are named by K. A. Worp (1984).
From Aphrodito comes the archive of the jurist and poet Dioscorus, who lived in the sixth century and composed literary works of his own in addition to Greek and Coptic documents.
For the Coptic documents of the sixth to eleventh centuries, Steinwenter holds (1921, pp. 15f.) that there were no public archives but only private, family, and monastery archives.
One private archive is that of the notary Shenute, who officiated in Hermopolis in the seventh century. It consists of fifty-six business letters, which have been published by Till (1958) but have not yet been examined as components of an archive.
Among the family archives is the one of the eighth century from Djeme described by Schiller. It contains fifteen papyrus documents and deals with family property over four generations (see the genealogical chart in Schiller, p. 374). Schiller believes that these documents, which came from the antiquities trade and are now in various museums, were found in the house of Comes in Djeme (Schiller, p. 370). These are documents relating to sales and settlements, and also wills.
A second family archive was purchased in 1964 by the Antiquities Museum in Leiden, and published by Green in 1983. It comprises eleven documents written, on parchment or paper, within a period of thirty-five years in the eleventh century. To these also belongs an Arabic text, so far unpublished. The documents deal with the property of a man named Rafael from Teshlot near Bawit, and with the division of his property among his family (survey in Green, p. 64).
The largest group is that of the extant monastery archives, the oldest of which comes from the fourth century. Its documents, written in Coptic and Greek, relate to a monk named Nepheros of the Melitian Phathor monastery. Further documents have now been added to these archival papyri (P. London 1913, 1920) bought more than half a century ago and published by Bell and Crum (1924, pp. 45ff.); they were bought by the universities of Trier and Heidelberg and were published in 1987 by B. Kramer and others.
In contrast, the documents of the Apollo monastery at Bawit and the Phoibammon monastery at Dayr al-Bahri come from the archives of orthodox Coptic monasteries.
On a lintel beam of the seventh or eighth century in the Apollo monastery (Krause, 1987) the names of three archivists (Athanasius, George, and Phoibammon) appear after the abbot and his deputy. This large number of archivists, which matches the size of the monastery, indicates a large archive. During the partial excavation of the monastery in 1901-1904 and 1913, papyri from this archive were found, but they have not been published. Even before the scientific excavation, the sabbakhin had discovered the ruins of the monastery, and evidently found papyri from the archive as well as monuments; through the antiquities trade these were dispersed among different museums, and only some of the papyri have been published.
Since there were at least five monasteries named for Apollo, we have to investigate in individual cases from which of these monastery archives the several papyri derive. The most important of the documents so far known are five sales documents bought by Budge in 1903 for the British Museum in London. They date from between 833 and 850, and deal with the purchase of parts of the monastery (Krause, 1985, pp. 126ff.).
The Phoibammon monastery built into the temple of Hatshepsut at Dayr al-Bahri must also have possessed a large archive. Since it was for a time, about 600, the seat of the bishop ABRAHAM of Hermonthis, who was at the same time abbot of this monastery, there would be the bishop’s archives as well as those of the monastery. These two archives were not brought to light through the systematic excavation of the monastery. Clandestine diggings in the last half of the nineteenth century unearthed the papyri, which were acquired by different museums. The excavation of the temple of Hatshepsut, carried out in 1894/1895, also yielded a quantity of Coptic ostraca (see: OSTRACON) published by Crum in 1902. The place of their discovery is not specified by E. Naville.
More than five hundred other ostraca were carelessly thrown on dumps and were found in 1927/1928 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in its inspection of the dumps, but are still unpublished. Other ostraca, likewise so far unpublished, came to light in the excavation of the temple of Mentuhotep in 1904-1911. Godlewski’s list of the two archives, so far as it is published, comprises 379 items. To these may be added seventy-four papyri and ostraca relating to the monastery. Including the unpublished pieces, more than 1,000 texts from the two archives have survived.
To the monastery archives belong the testaments of the abbots, in which they appoint their successors (Krause, 1969); the child donation documents, in which children were presented to the monastery (Steinwenter, 1921); deeds of gifts of plots of land, palms, goats and sheep, and various other items; and contracts for work. The bishop’s archive contained some 200 ostraca.
The extant remains of the archive of Bishop PISENTIUS OF COPTOS (569-632) are not so extensive. Individual writings have survived from the archives of other bishops, for instance, of Hermopolis or from the Fayyum. A reconstruction of these archives is yet to be done.
Texts from state and church archives also have been found in Nubia, above all in QASR IBRIM, but so far these are accessible only in preliminary reports (Plumley, 1975, 1978, 1982). The installation document of the bishop of Qasr Ibrim, of 16 November 1371, has been published (see ORDINATION, CLERICAL).
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