Lajos Berkes

University of Heidelberg, Germany
The Notary Paulos and the Last Greek Legal Documents from Islamic Egypt

When the Arabs arrived in Egypt, Greek had been the dominant language in the public sphere for almost a millennium. After the conquest it continued to be employed as an administrative language well into the 8th, perhaps even until the early 9th century. For private documents, however, Coptic gradually became the language of choice – likely continuing a trend that began in the Byzantine period. The last dateable Greek legal document from Egypt is a compromissum (an agreement by both parties to abide by a judgement) written by the Heracleopolite notary Paulos in 719. This text, as well as a few others by the same notary constitute a small dossier which sheds light of the usage of Greek and the scribes behind it some 70 years after the Islamic conquest. Paulos‘ dossier may even illustrate those changing times, given that his signature may in fact contain Arabic characters. This paper will analyze and contextualize Paulos’s dossier, as well as its importance for language status in early Islamic Egypt.


Jennifer Cromwell

University of Copenhagen, Denmark
A Village Scribe on the Eve of Change

The Theban village Djeme has provided a wealth of material dated almost entirely after the Arab conquest. This corpus of Coptic documents sheds light on everyday life, as well as the changes being introduced across Egypt, especially in terms of how the new rulers tightened the reins on tax administration. While the scribe Aristophanes son of Johannes is the best attested scribe from Djeme, his career started at a time when changes had already been wrought, in the mid-720s. His use of language and palaeography reflect wider trends found elsewhere in the country, which produced the scribal environment within which he emerged. He was not, however, the first scribe in the village.

In 698, the scribe Psate son of Pisrael wrote P.CLT 1, involving the monastery of St. Paul at Dra Abu el-Naga, and over the next two decades he wrote legal documents for residents of Djeme. During this time, for over a decade between ca. 713–725, he also wrote tax receipts—the largest number written by a single man in the village, surpassing the figure produced by Aristophanes at the end of the 720s. Psate was the first scribe to write tax receipts in the village. He wrote receipts in Coptic and Greek, and used formulae that were not employed by later scribes, notably Aristophanes and his contemporary Cyriacus son of Petros.

While Aristophanes’ scribal practices can be linked to those found elsewhere in the country, Psate used different formulae and wrote in a different style. Examination of the documents that he produced, and the individual history of this man working at the turn of the eighth century, allows questions to be asked of the effect of new changes on villages in the country to those that can be asked of Aristophanes’ dossier, and how these changes were introduced using established scribes. Rather than impose external administrators upon the village, change was facilitated by continuity of personnel, reducing the level of disruption and paving the way for the decades to come.


Lucian Reinfandt

Austrian National Library (Vienna), Austria
Petosiris the Scribe

CPR XVI 4 is an Arabic letter on papyrus (Heracleopolis, early 8th c. CE) sent by a Muslim official to his colleague in office, a certain Petosiris. The astonishing fact that the latter could not only read and write in Arabic but was treated as an equal partner while still nominally a Copt renews questions about an interrelatedness of social and linguistic milieus in Egypt after the Arab conquest. Petosiris brings to mind similar cases of multilingual competence, where scribes had Arabic names but could understand Greek (SB VI 9576) or even write in Coptic (CPR II 228 et al.). Those early cultural border crossers were essential in a period of imperial transition but reveal our little knowledge about the handling of affairs on a ground level. In my paper I will highlight the socio-economic background of Petosiris and classify him into a typology of administrators in early Islamic Egypt. The ways of how he and his like were integrated or exchanged by the new rulers explain possible motives for loyalty and are indicative for the character and ‘quality’ of Muslim domination.


Loreleï Vanderheyden

École pratique des hautes études (Paris), France
The Figure of Apollos, Father of Dioscorus, in the Light of Coptic Letters from Aphrodito (6th c. CE)

Coptic letters from the bilingual archives of Aphrodito, which have suffered from long neglect, reveal new information on the figure of Apollos, father of Dioscorus. The first half of the sixth century saw this individual occupying, sometimes concurrently, the functions of first-of- the-village (prôtocômêtês), of administrator (dioikêtês) of a large landowner, and of founder of his own monastery. Four Coptic letters held in Cairo give us the opportunity to supplement the information provided by the Greek documents about his offices. Moreover, Apollos’ Coptic letters provide additional information concerning the bilingualism of the village elite, replacing it in the family archives and offer us a rare example of paleographic case study with specific traits for each language (Greek-Coptic bigraphism).