- Private Letter
- Business Letter
- Official Letter
The Type Epistolary Exchange encompasses all documents which are part of a multidirectional communication and are composed in the style of a letter. The formulation of the content is always subjective: the authors speak in their own name.
A spectrum of Sub-types and Variations can be mapped where the scribe adapts the epistolary format to suit a number of purposes, as follows:
The structural elements are arranged so as to establish a model document for each sub-type and variation :
The [private letter] can be interpreted as a basic scribal model, easily adapted to facilitate the production of numerous sub-types of document with a variety of content.
A letter of [condolence] may have some expressions added to the opening address and contain typical phrases of consolation.
A letter of [recommendation] has distinct sections and is constructed around the verb συνίστημι ‘I introduce’.
The [business letter] is differentiated by its content. A [date] is not routinely included; however a distinguishing feature of the business letters in the Zenon archive (III BCE) is the inclusion of a [date@end], usually after the closing formula [755 257 BCE, Alexandria].
The scribe may also leave a large lower margin or space after the main text to facilitate the addition of other signatories as a method of authentication [19606 113-120 CE, Hermopolis Magna], see [Sarri 2018 : 146-192]
Other documents with business content are based on a different model, that of the ὑπόμνημα, (hypomnema) and are treated under the type Transmission of Information: sub-type [business note].
For an [order to pay] the scribe adapts the basic business letter model by omitting the closing salutation, but a [date@end] is always added. The formula remains fairly consistent throughout the Ptolemaic, Roman, and Byzantine periods.
For this variation, more examples in squarish format survive [114264 157 CE, Oxyrhynchite nome, with vertical fibres; 20124 237 CE, Oxyrhynchite nome, with horizontal fibres].
A space may be left after the main text for the insertion of a validation signature or greeting [20647 160 CE, Oxyrhynchus].
Some orders to pay from III CE are based on a different model, the ὑπόμνημα, and are to be found under the type Transmission of Information: sub-type [business note_]. There are some of these different models with the opening address of a business note, but where the scribe has also added the epistolary greeting [χαίρειν]. This must be categorised as a hybrid variation with both letter and business note characteristics, e.g. [16336 261/312 CE].
In the introductory formula of an [official letter] the scribe adds the official status of one or both of the parties [13452 23 CE; 8811 185 CE, both Arsinoite nome].
A reverse form of the standard opening address is also found emphasising a hierarchical relationship, e.g. [12603 214-215 CE, Oxyrhynchus, addressed to the prefect; 18168 280 CE, Memphis, from a strategos to an epistrategos]; both are very formally written in a chancery hand.
While the closing salutation is usually or [ἐρρῶσθαί σε εὔχομαι], letters from the higher levels of Roman administration close with [ἐρρῶσθαί σε βούλομαι], e.g. [17201 120-123 CE, Alexandria]. The closing salutation is usually followed by a [date@end].
There may be a number of hands involved in the production of an official letter, which can point to a process - blank spaces may be left by the scribe for the addition of other hands [17913 290 CE, Oxyrhynchus].
A [circular] letter is differentiated from a standard official letter in its purpose and structure. It is a letter sent to multiple recipients, usually containing some instructions, e.g. [20720 288 CE, Oxyrhynchus]. Circulars may also include some previous correspondence.
The opening formula is as for any official letter, but the shorter [to name <dat.>][χαίρειν] is also found, with the recipients addressed by title only [41725 223/181 BCE, Arsinoite nome].
Circulars from higher authorities to other officials usually close [ἐρρῶσθαι ὑμᾶς εὔχομαι] [21819 278 CE, Oxyrhynchus]. The more formal [ἐρρῶσθαι ὑμᾶς βούλομαι] is used when an edict or decree is being circulated [9286 l.7].
The scribe may use some visual devices to separate the embedded letter from the surrounding text, e.g. paragraphoi in [3663; 78769], the indentation of the date between letters in , or the use of spaces [5319; 11490].
A [warrant], or order to arrest, has the specific purpose of ordering a person be brought before an authority. In the Ptolemaic period a warrant could be drawn up by the scribe as an official letter [1939 254 BCE, Philadelphia], or added as an apostil to the original petition [12922 34 CE Euhemeria]. Some warrants presented as apostils appear in an adapted letter form at the end of the original petition, with the epistolary opening followed by a brief order to deliver the accused person, and the date; the closing farewell is omitted [5475 150/139 BCE, Tebtunis].
Other apostils are written as a short statement: [to name <dat.>], a brief order, no farewell, and ending with the [date] [8810 l.40-42, 199 BCE], often in another hand. In the Roman period this form of apostil evolved into documents with a different typology and are categorised under Transmission of Information: sub-type [warrant].
Throughout the Ptolemaic and Roman periods the standard letter format was adapted to facilitate the drafting of private contracts in the form of a [cheirographon]. They differ from the standard letter in that there is no closing salutation, but like the official letter there is invariably a [date@end] [20987 48 CE, Oxyrhynchus]. The text is displayed in a single block with few features to distinguish sections [9159 276-277 CE, Philadelphia].
For contracts with typologies other than that of a cheirographon, see Transmission of Information: sub-type [statement]: variations [proposal to contract] and [undertaking], and Objective Statement: sub-types: [syngraphe], [synchoresis], [private protocol].
The subjective [homologia] is the same sub-type of document as a cheirographon but the infinitive χαίρειν is dropped [20176 44 CE, Arsinoite nome; 10875 161 CE, Theadelphia].
Another opening is of a kind more associated with an [official letter_], with the addressee placed first [to name <dat.>][from name <nom.>] but again without χαίρειν [10556 131 CE, Theadelphia; 15915 257-258 CE, Aphroditopolite nome].
Other varieties of homologiai can be found under Transmission of Information: sub-type [statement]: variation [homologia]. Objectively styled homologiai may be found under Objective Statement: sub-type [syngraphe._].
For the [enteuxis], the scribe adapts the standard letter opening by placing the addressee first and distancing the petitioner by placing the greeting between both names: [to name <dat.>][χαίρειν] [from name <nom.>] [3302 222 BCE, Arsinoite nome]; this is the inverted formula sometimes found in [official letters], but the unusual position of [χαίρειν] is found only in enteuxeis.
The closing salutation is usually εὐτύχει [1796 245-244 BCE, Philadelphia] and there is generally no [date]. Documents from the Zenon archive may close with [ἔρρωσο] and may add a [date] [1739 257 BCE, Philadelphia].
From the II BCE onwards a non-royal petition was drawn up with a different typology and is categorised under Transmission of Information: sub-type [petition].
After the standard letter opening, a receipt is constructed around the phrase [ἔχω / ἔσχον παρὰ σοῦ] ‘I receive/ have received from you’; the [date] is invariably written after the main text, and there is rarely a closing salutation [12175 201/230 CE, Karanis; 30083 III CE, Oxyrhynchus].
The text is often laid out as a single block [30083; 12175] with few distinguishing features. The date can be separated from the main text [5244; 40820 195 CE].
For receipts with a different typology, see Objective Statement: sub-types: [receipt], [syngraphe_], and variation [double document_].
The surviving evidence for receipts for the payment of [rent] indicate that they were often written in the form of a letter and so constitute a variation with a specific purpose.
The layout is as for receipts in general [13700; 10931 204 CE, Theadelphia]. There are examples of rent receipts as double documents ; sometimes there is more than one receipt on the same sheet [21955 268-269 CE, Oxyrhynchus; 12832 255 CE, Tanis].
Tax on catoecic land (τέλος καταλοχισμῶν)
Receipts for the payment of taxes on the transmission of catoecic land [ τέλος καταλοχισμῶν ] constitute a variation by virtue of their specific purpose and uniform format.
The format and layout of the [business letter] of the Ptolemaic period has been carried into the Roman period for this specific type of receipt [11419 182-192 CE, Arsinoite nome; 11271 206 CE, Arsinoite nome; 15120 204 CE, Arsinoite nome].
These receipts are unusual for the Roman period in that they are oriented transversa charta, the writing against the fibres.
On these documents see [Schubert 2019].