Roger Bagnall

New York University, USA
Family Archives in Pre-Transition Egypt

The papyrological documentation for Roman Egypt is rich in family archives. (I use a rather inclusive definition of both “family” and “archive” in this context.) A fair number of such archives are still found in the fourth century, but they are strikingly absent from the Oxyrhynchos papyri. Even compared to the general decline in our documentation, family archives are poorly represented in later centuries, with only the great magnates like the Apiones and Anastasia in Oxyrhynchos. This paper explores the possible reasons for this change in our documentation and what, if anything, it tells us about social change in the pre-transition period.


Judith Evans Grubbs

Emory University (Atlanta), USA
Slave and Free in Egypt at the End of Antiquity

This paper looks at the evidence for slaves and slave – free relations in Byzantine Egypt (5th–7th centuries). It is clear from the papyri of this period that slaves were still very much part of late antique Egyptian society. These were, as in earlier Egypt, domestic slaves, not agricultural workers, and mainly women or children and teens. Contracts of sale show that slaves were acquired either from individual private owners, such as the “homeborn” mother and daughter who were sold in Antinoopolis in the mid-sixth century (P.Cair. Masp. I.67120, 567–568) or came into Egypt from outside the empire through slavetraders, like the Nubian girl Atalous sold to the “very well-born” Isidora from Hermopolis Magna in (probably) the early seventh century (SB XVIII.13173; cf. also SB XXIV.15969, a “black-skinned” boy bought by two soldiers in Hermopolis Magna about a century earlier). Also notable is the continued practice of debt pledging, despite imperial laws forbidding it, as in the case of a girl named Procla who spent years of her early life in debt bondage as her sister tried to pay off the debt (P.Coll. Youtie II.92, 569 CE). This shows that the line between slave and free status was (as also in earlier Roman antiquity) less clear-cut than either the law or the individuals involved would have liked. This led to cases of mistaken status, where free people might be claimed as slaves; in an interesting document surviving in two copies (P.Cair. Masp. I.67089 and P.Cair. Masp. III.67294), a man declares that he knows for certain that a woman named Martha, whose grandparents had worked as free servants for his father, is herself of free status and not a slave.

Thus it is clear that slaves were still a part of late antique life in Egypt, and indeed early Arabic papyri indicate the continuation of a slave trade after the Arab conquest. In the final part of my paper I will look at examples of these later, post-conquest slave sale documents in Egypt and compare them to the earlier Greek examples.


Arietta Papaconstantinou

University of Reading, United Kingdom
Women of Substance: Case Studies from Different Walks of Life

Several women are known to us from the papyri of the period just before and just after the Arab conquest, whose social status is above average because of a form of economic advantage they have over their peers. This paper will concentrate on and compare a number of case studies from different contexts, to explore the effect (or lack of it) on their economic practice of the macro-historical changes happening in the background. It will pay particular attention to the mobilisation of trust and support networks by women, investigating the means by which they are managed.


David Powers

Cornell University (Ithaca), USA
The Abolition of Adoption in Islam

Adoption, the act of establishing a man or woman as parent to one who is not his or her natural child, was commonly practiced in Antiquity and Late Antiquity, both in the greater Near East and in Arabia. Prior to the rise of Islam, the Arabs are said to have adopted captives, runaways, slaves and the children of concubines, conferring upon an adoptee the same legal status as a biological son or daughter: An adoptee took the patronymic of his adoptive parent and rights of mutual inheritance and mutual support were established between adoptor and adoptee. My presentation will focus on one adoptee who unwittingly served as a catalyst of major historical change: Zayd b. Haritha al-Kalbi (born ca. 580 CE) was enslaved as a youth and subsequently purchased, manumitted, and adopted by Muhammad as his son. Between 605 and 627, Zayd ibn Muhammad – as he was known – was the Prophet’s only adult son and only male heir. However, the existence of a man named Zayd b. Muhammad threatened the integrity of the emerging theological claim that Muhammad was the Last Prophet. This is because, as the Qur’an suggests, prophecy passes from father to son, e.g., from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob. Thus, in order for Muhamad to be the Last Prophet, he must be sonless. Islamic sources report that in 627 Muhammad repudiated Zayd as his son (“I am not your father”) and the Qur’an radically modified the institution of adoption by making it a sin to call a person the son of anyone other than his or her biological father and by limiting inheritance to blood relatives, strictly speaking. Henceforth, adoption was forbidden (ḥarām) for Muslims. Over time, Muslim jurists developed new legal mechanisms to regulate the care of orphans, foundlings, and children of unknown parentage. These new mechanisms accompanied the spread of Islam and had important consequences for family dynamics in the Near East following the Arab conquests.


Nicoletta de Troia

University of Rome (Tor Vergata), Italy
Living on the Edge of the Empire at the End of Late-Roman Period. The Kharga Oasis Sites as a Case Study.

Nested in the depressions which breaks the sequence of barren Western Egyptian Desert plateaux, the Western Oases are known to have been continuously occupied for at least three millennia, before the early Old Kingdom until the Late-Roman Period, when they reached their apex of agricultural productivity and population increase. The whole oases area in fact, was involved in the Diocletian’s project of strengthening and reorganization of Empire’s frontiers. A complex system of traffic routes (roads, caravan routes, desert tracks) crossed the sand dunes linking the oases with one another and with the Nile Valley. Numerous Late-Roman sites punctuated the oases; forts and fortresses surrounded by settlements and cultivated areas were strategically spread out all over the oases’ depressions; several kilometres of underground aqueducts (qanats) and a lot of wells were created to support the newly-built settlements.

Something changed during the fifth century: even though the major desert routes remained in use after Roman Era, archaeological surveys in the Western Desert have highlighted a consistent contraction of the Late-Roman sites, gradually abandoned between the fifth and the sixth century, often without any subsequent reuse, as the accounts and the descriptions of Medieval Arab geographers seem to confirm. Considering the width of the Western Desert, this paper will focus on the Kharga Oasis Late-Roman sites, the military-looking ones similar in shape and size and located in a key geographical position in relation to the others oases, the Valley and the whole Provincia Aegypti (Qasr el-Gib, Qasr el-Sumayra, el-Deir, Mohammed Tuleib, Qasr el-Lebakha, Umm el-Dabadib and Dush), and also the others significant ones pre-existent but still in use during the Late-Roman Period (e.g. Ain el-Tarakwa, Ain el-Dabashya, Ain Amur, and Ain Waqfa).

The main purpose of research is the reconstruction of the life of the villages communities settled in the Kharga Oasis before the contraction in settlement and population at the end of Late-Roman Period, through the analysis of archaeological data and their comparison with the written sources, both literary and documentary. As result, the case of study investigated in the paper should shed some light both on the role the Western Desert have played in the control of the western frontier of Roman Empire and on the main possible causes of abandonment the oases themselves.