Classification of Greek Documentary Papyri


  1. Introduction
  2. Same content, different type
  3. Same type, different content
  4. Difficult Cases
  5. Hybrid Documents



The grammateus classification aims to encompass all aspects of the production of the document, from the perspective of the scribe, and to produce a broad categorisation. The premise of this approach is that most scribes worked from models, formal or informal, and built a document to suit a particular process.


The scribe must compose the document according to its purpose and intention by following some rules, either informal or established by training. While paying attention to the content, he arranges the structure, format, and layout of the document with the building blocks at his disposal.


In order to re-create how the scribe worked, the typologies of documents in the corpus were examined and grouped together according to the similarities of their construction. Each of these groups was then categorised according to their differences to establish a hierarchy of typical models.


This description presents a working classification of each Type, Sub-type, and Variation of documentary papyrus in the corpus.


Each Type encompasses documents where the scribe has utilised variable elements to construct the Sub-types in a broadly similar manner, but which also serve to differentiate them from any other Type.


All Variations of these Sub-types are so categorised because the inclusion of particular formulaic phrases, or other adjustments to the Sub-type, constitute a variant usually with a more specific, rather than general, purpose.


A more detailed description of individual Sub-types and their Variations can be accessed by using the highlighted links.


Keeping the purpose of the document firmly to the fore, from the perspective of the scribe, the following four main Types were formulated:

  1. Epistolary Exchange (EE) – documents which are styled as part of a communication encompassing all or some of the characteristics of a letter;
  2. Transmission of Information (TI) – documents which convey information without the expectation of a reply;
  3. Objective Statement (OS) – documents styled as objective statements of a procedure or an action;
  4. Recording of Information (RI) - documents which constitute administrative lists and reports.


In applying each of the four general types listed above, the author of the content will have adopted a different perspective.


These Types are arranged in order, from the more dynamic to the static:

  • Documents under Epistolary Exchange can concern interactions between two or more people. They are subjectively styled, i.e. the authors speak in their own voice;
  • Documents under Transmission of Information are usually one-way traffic, also subjectively styled, to or from an official or other person of higher status.
  • Documents under Objective Statement are usually built around an objectively styled statement, i.e. they are written in the third person;
  • Documents under Recording of Information are often repositories of previous procedures and actions, also objectively styled.

Same content, different type


A scribe can draw up documents with the same content in several different ways. This means that in this classification one may find documents with the same content under different Types.


This reflects the choices available to the scribe when preparing to construct his document. Examples:

  1. A [business letter] and [business note] have similar content, but the scribe does not build these documents in the same way: one is in the form of a letter, and the other, of a hypomnema.
  2. Similarly so for the [enteuxis] and the [petition]: both documents are requests for action on the part of an authority (most often they make a plea for redress for a wrong suffered), but again one is drawn up as a letter and the other as a hypomnema.
  3. The [warrant] is a document with a very specific purpose, ordering that a person be taken before an authority, and it has been found written both in letter form (found under Expistolary Exchange), and in the form of a hypomnema (found under Transmision of Information). Because the warrant in letter form is also an [official letter], it is placed as a variation of this sub-type.
  4. A receipt can be drawn up in the form of a letter [EE: receipt], or as an objective [OS: receipt] or subjective [OS: receipt – sitologos] statement.


If the scribe wants to draw up – for example – a lease agreement, there are a number of different options available to him depending on the circumstances. If the document is a private agreement it can be written as a

  • Proposal to contract (TI)
  • Undertaking (TI)
  • Private Protocol (OS).
If it is to be a publicly registered agreement it will be drawn up in the form of a
  • Synchoresis (OS)
  • Syngraphe (OS).


The lease agreement will always include the word misthosis (μίσθωσις) or the verb μισθώσασθαι.


The figure shows five types of document that a scribe may use to draw
                        up a contract for a lease agreement: Proposal to contract (TI), Undertaking
                        (TI), Private Protocol (OS), Synchoresis (OS), Syngraphe (OS).
Fig. 1: Options for drawing a lease agreement. Click to enlarge

Same type, different content


Some documents may traditionally be differentiated by their content in the literature but are found under one umbrella in this classification.


There is a broad range of content for documents written in the form of a [syngraphe]. A loan agreement drawn up in this way is often referred to in the literature as a daneion (δάνειον). However, this refers to the legal action taking place and not to the written document itself, which is drawn up by the scribe as a syngraphe. In fact, the document refers to itself as such in the validity clause of the contract: ἡ συν[γρα]φὴ τοῦ δανείου κυρία, “the syngraphe of the loan is valid” [19654 l.10, 99 CE, Hermopolis].


This is also the case with the lease agreement referred to in the literature as a misthosis (μίσθωσις): ἡ συνγραφὴ κυρία ἔστω [13134 l.38, 71 CE, Theadelphia].


Here there is a clear distinction made within the document between the legal action and the formal written record of that action, the document called a syngraphe.


Another type of syngraphe has the verb [ὁμολογεῖ + infinitive] and this construction is by far the most widely used for a diverse array of contracts and receipts. This type of syngraphe is often referred to in the literature as an [objective homologia]. These documents refer to themselves as either a syngraphe, a homologia, or sometimes both in the same document [23022 l.31, 26 CE, Oxyrhynchus].


Difficult Cases


Not all documents fit neatly into the model. In order to avoid opening up a new group for any such documents, it must be accepted that they may fulfil only some, rather than all, the criteria of a particular Type.


While there are receipts issued by the sitologos written as Objective Statements in the form of a syngraphe, e.g. [3124, 22229,43263], many more [sitologos receipts] are built around a subjective statement, μεμετρήμεθα... πυροῦ “we have had measured (to us) …wheat” [12198, 12333], but are constructed in the same way as all other receipts under the Type: Objective Statement: Sub-type: [receipt], except that they are subjectively styled.


Similarly under the Type: Objective Statement: Sub-type: [certificate], the variation: [calf sacrifice] is subjectively styled, at least for the certificate issued by the priest; the corresponding tax receipt is objectively styled.


In these cases, because these documents are a statement of a procedure or action, carry the date at the beginning, and have some form of official validation, they are best placed under objective statement, however incongruous this may appear.


Some form of ὁμολογῶ as the main verb constitutes the basis of many contracts and receipts, but they are not all constructed in the same way. Such a document may be referred to in the literature as a homologia, a basic agreement and a clear reference to its content. Many homologiai are drawn up by the scribe as objective statements presented in the form of a [syngraphe].


However, there are also subjectively styled homologiai constructed with different typologies although these are much fewer than objective homologiai:

  1. TI: Statement: [homologia]: these documents have the opening of a hypomnema and are structured with [ὁμολογῶ + infinitive]. There are only two examples of these before the late III CE, but from the IV CE there are more than 40 examples of this type of document, the majority of them concerning sureties where the infinitive is ἐγγυᾶσθαι.
  2. EE: Cheirographon: [homologia]: This document is drawn up in the same way as a cheirographon, but with a significant adaptation: the infinitive χαίρειν, one of the distinctive features of Epistolary Exchange, is dropped.
  3. OS: Syngraphe: As well as syngraphai that are objectively styled, there are also a few examples of these contracts drawn up subjectively : they have the same [ὁμολογῶ + infinitive] construction as the other subjective homologiai, but we have chosen to place this subjective document under Objective Statement: [syngraphe] because it corresponds to all the other criteria for this Type and Sub-type [11260; 10932]

Hybrid Documents


Some documents have the characteristics of more than one category, and so can be on the border between two Types.


The Synchoresis is a notarial contract produced by the office of the chrematistai which records a private transaction, and is constructed around an objective statement συνχωρεῖ (“X concedes”) + infinitive. This fits most of the criteria for inclusion under the Type: Objective Statement. However, the opening address is the same as for a hypomnema, as are all the documents under the Type: Transmission of Information. Therefore this can be said to be a hybrid of these two types, but this hybrid form is the typical model of a synchoresis.


Orders to pay follow the standard opening of a business letter [from name <nom.>] [to name <dat.>] [χαίρειν] and so are to be found under the Type: Epistolary Exchange, as a variation of the business letter. However, a few III CE orders to pay are more like business notes with an opening address in the form of a hypomnema, as are all the documents under the Type: Transmission of Information. But, unlike business notes, these Orders to Pay also add the epistolary χαίρειν to the opening address. Therefore, these too can be said to be hybrid documents – but as most Orders to Pay are not drawn up by the scribe in this way, the general category, Orders to Pay, remains under Epistolary Exchange.


The aim is to provide a repository of typical models. In these hybrid cases, we note that the Synchoresis, although a hybrid, is a typical model of the sub-type, but that the few documents which are hybrid Orders to Pay are atypical in their construction.


The Type Recording of Information, which includes Registers, Lists, Accounts, and Reports, are (long) objective statements , many of which also have a hypomnema opening address. In this case, it is the fact that they are a hybrid, often with distinctive formats - long rolls, with many columns - which makes them distinctive enough from the other Types to be in a Type of their own.

The figure shows where hybrid documents are placed in the spectrum
                            of the four types in our classification.
Fig. 2: Hybrid documents on the classification spectrum. Click to enlarge


The descriptions which follow aim only to explain the positioning of each sub-type and variation within the model. The red links provide a more detailed analysis of the characteristics of any document.

How to Cite

Ferretti, L., Fogarty, S., Nury, E., and Schubert, P. Grammateus Project: Classification of Greek Documentary Papyri. grammateus project. DOI: 10.26037/yareta:5mhltqzg2fdkrjat6miuud5bie