A term of Greek origin, encountered from the sixth century on in many Greek and Coptic documents connected with the economic activity of monasteries or, more rarely, churches and philanthropic institutions. It is to be found predominantly in introductory formulas that describe the addressee or the institution issuing the document, for example, “the dikaion of the holy monastery of the holy Apa Apollo through me, Apa Abraham, the priest and prior” (Kahle, 1954, p. 109).
It is not easy to determine the sense of the term dikaion. Scholars interpreted it at first as denoting the council of a monastery. However, they abandoned this interpretation, considering that the term was also used in connection with churches and philanthropic institutions that had no councils. Therefore, attempts were made to interpret it as a term denoting a legal person. The interpretation offered by A. Steinwenter appears to be the most precise and convincing. According to him, the key is to be found in a comparison of the Greek and Latin versions of the so-called Edict of Milan of the year 313. The expression “oikia kai choria ha tou dikaiou tou ton Christianon etygkhanon onta” (Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia ecclesiastica 9, 10, 11) corresponds to the Latin “loca ad ius corporis eorum id est ecclesiarum pertinentia” (Lactantius, De mortibus persecutorum 48). To dikaion thus corresponds the ius corporis. Examples of an analogous usage are to be found in Justinian’s Novellae.
In all those cases dikaion means the right of a certain institution to possess a legal subjectivity and hence the right to all sorts of activity, particularly of an economic nature. It cannot be said how this subtle legal term, which emerged in Roman law, found itself in the terminology of notaries preparing documents in Egypt, just as explanations are difficult of its being used only in the domain of religious institutions. In the Edict of Milan, it was applied also to the fiscus, or the state treasury. Probably those who used it were not aware of its exact significance; for them it had become a sanctified formula. A list of texts in which dikaion occurs was provided by C. Schmidt and later on by P. Kahle.
The term dikaion was used inconsistently. Among the documents issued by or addressed to the same monastery in a single year some contain it, others do not, as, for example, the papyri published by J. MASPERO (1913, nos. 67170, 67171). This did not change the meaning of the documents. It is also impossible to capture a connection between the type of a given monastic community and the occurrence of the term. P. Kahle was of the opinion that one could determine its topographic range. He indicated that the term was used predominantly in the environs of Aphrodito, Balayzah, and to a smaller extent in al-Ashmunayn. His hypothesis, however, is not acceptable. New documents have increased the number of occurrences from the area of al-Ashmunayn. There is also evidence that the term was used in the region of Memphis. Moreover, one must keep in mind that the majority of known papyri comes from those very regions mentioned by Kahle.
- Kahle, P. Bala’izah. Coptic Texts from Deir el-Balaizah in Upper Egypt, vol. 1, pp. 31-32. London, 1954.
- Maspero, J. Papyrus grecs d’époque byzantine. Cairo, 1913.
- Schmidt, C. “Das Kloster des Apa Mena.” Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache 68 (1932):60.
- Steinwenter, A. “Die Rechtsstellung der Kirchen und Klöster nach den Papyri.” Zeitschrift der Savigny Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, Kanonistische Abteilung 50 (1930):31-34.
- . Das Recht der koptischen Urkunden, p. 18. Munich, 1955. Till, W. C., ed. Corpus Papyrorum Raineri 4, no. 34. Vienna, 1958. Vitelli, G., ed. Publicazioni della Società Italiana per la ricerca dei papiri, Vol. 4, no. 284. Florence, 1917.