Archives Of Papas


Papas, son of Liberius, was pagarch of Apollonos Ano (Idfu) from 703 to 714. The dossier of the correspondence sent to him, consisting of more than 100 Greek and a smaller number of Coptic (but no Arabic) documents, was found in 1921-1922 in a jar west of the southwest pylon of the at Idfu, where evidently lived and had his office. While pagarch he was, as was frequently the case, owner of large estates.

As pagarch, was directly to the amir of the Thebaid, or of the united provinces of the Thebaid and Arcadia; this was in contrast with Basilius, pagarch of Aphrodito, who communicated directly with the governor of Egypt at al-Fustat without the intervention of intermediaries. The amir, often absent from his post on other duties or residing at al-Fustat, was represented by a topoteretes stationed at Antinoopolis; the latter, the chief intermediary with all the pagarchs of the Thebaid, was assisted by his notarios, Helladios, and others. Within the pagarchy had complete authority in dealing with the local officials. The papyri, many in poor condition and extremely difficult to interpret, were excellently edited by R. Rémondon (1953).

The correspondence in the dossier covers a wide range of subjects. Some of the documents are requisition demands in the name of the amir, who played the financial role previously enjoyed by the Byzantine dux (as he is sometimes called); others are demands for payments in kind or cash to be advanced by the pagarch to the central for the payment of salaries of persons serving with the fleet and elsewhere, or demands for direct contributions of raw materials. In one letter the amir instructs to set out for al-Fustat, as he had already been ordered twice to do, in order to submit the accounts of his pagarchy (cf. the instructions issued repeatedly by Qurrah ibn Sharik to Basilius of Aphrodito).

In another letter (no. 9; cf. 13) the notarios Helladios sends a issued to all pagarchs of the Thebaid by the amir Jordanes regarding caulkers (kalaphatai) and others, domiciled at Apollonopolis and elsewhere, who were regularly requisitioned for naval service and had deserted their posts at the dockyards at Babylon. In another, written by Papas, a demand for the provision of 2,500 knidia of wine comes at a time when, as points out to the topoteretes, economic conditions are difficult.

Among the most interesting pieces in the dossier are a letter from Helladios to concerning the exaction of taxes from the Blemmyes (see BEJA)—the last reference to these people in a Greek papyrus—and an instruction from the notarios that send the legal adversaries (antidikoi) of a certain Sabinus to the topoteretes while their womenfolk are kept in prison in Apollonopolis. This, while indicating that had failed (as not infrequently) to carry out orders issued to him, sheds considerable light on the policing powers of the various officials of the provincial hierarchy from the amir down.

Other communications, sent by another notarios, Elias, to Papas, deal with the lasting problem of the supervision of canals, in this case, those of the neighboring pagarchy of Latopolis, which could not cope with the labor requirements of the crew. Platon, the pagarch of Latopolis, collaborated with in such administrative matters, and also in the requisition and payment of labor for the fleet, another lasting problem of the early Arab period, which, in spite of continual efforts, the Umayyad authorities were unable to solve satisfactorily. Lack of trained manpower and reluctance to serve so far from home in unknown conditions led to the increase in fugitives, which also is reflected in this dossier, as in that of Basilius.

A less familiar aspect of life in the pagarchy, well represented in the dossier, is the role of the bishop as magistrate and justice. This is a survival of the wide financial and judicial powers that dignitary had received by virtue of the jurisdiction of Justinian, alongside the defensor civitatis (ekdikos), who presided over so many aspects of the life of the provincial city in the later sixth century, and who here exercises the same office in the Umayyad period. Other papyri show a notarios, Kollouthos, having difficulties in responding to the demands of his Muslim masters to provide prayer rugs as revenue in kind.

The dossier also includes a number of private documents, letters (among which is an invitation to a wedding), contracts, cadastral lists, tax registers (mostly fragmentary and of very uncertain interpretation), and lists of goods and natural products for registration and for private expenditure. Among the most elaborate is number 97, a daily list of all allocations, apparently of wine, for various persons during the month of Hatur. The beneficiaries include (apparently) sick Nubian slaves, a cleric from Syene, the pagarch himself, and the cloakroom attendant at the local baths. Probably some of the wine was sacramental. Another document is a similar list of allocations of cereals for five of Papas’ private estates.

Taken as a whole, the dossier of the pagarch is of less general historical significance than that of Basilius of Aphrodito, mainly because the level of official administration that it illustrates is lower. This is, however, in itself a matter of some interest as showing the varieties of administrative practice in Umayyad Egypt, as well as the survival, in certain respects more clearly established by this dossier than by that of Basilius, of the old Byzantine institutions, both governmental and social. The dossier also includes a number of documents of more than passing human and personal interest.

  • Butler, A. J. The Arab Conquest of Egypt, 2nd ed., ed. and enl. by P. M. Fraser. Oxford, 1977.
  • Rémondon, R. Papyrus grecs d’Apollonos Ano. Documents de Fouilles de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale du Caire 19. Cairo, 1953.