(in the form of a ὑπόμνημα)


  1. Structure
  2. Format
  3. Layout
  4. Request for registration

Petitions are defined as “a written plea addressed to a public official to rectify, by due process of law, the addressor’s situation” [White 1972 : 2, n.2]. More specifically, the petitioner is one who has suffered some type of criminal or civic offence, such as assault, murder of a relative, vandalism, theft, desertion, fraud, land / inheritance / dowry disputes [Whitehorne 2004 : 155]. Petitioners also ask for redress or correction of an unsatisfactory administrative procedure.


For reasons that appear below, this description concerns petitions in the form of a ὑπόμνημα from the III BCE – III CE. Petitions in the form of an [enteuxis] are treated separately; the same applies to a [prosangelma]. For an in-depth analysis of petitions in all their forms in the Ptolemaic period, see [Baetens 2020]; for the Roman period consult [Mascellari 2021].


In the Ptolemaic period there were two types of document available to the scribe for the drawing up of a petition: either an ἔντευξις or a ὑπόμνημα. The ἔντευξις was used for petitions submitted both to the king or to another authority; but by the end of III BCE it was reserved solely for petitions to the king. From II BCE a petition addressed to an official was drawn up as a ὑπόμνημα.


III BCE documents that are used to formally report a crime (προσάγγελμα) have a distinctive typology, but from the II BCE the προσάγγελμα gradually takes on the characteristics of a petition in the form of a ὑπόμνημα and they become indistinguishable [Baetens 2020 : 197-218; Ferretti Fort]; [prosangelma]; see also below, Request for registration. Where the ὑπόμνημα was the document favoured for petitioning a high-level official (e.g. a strategos) and the προσάγγελμα for officials at village level, from II BCE either could be used to address lower officials [Ferretti Fort]. Documents referred to in the literature as “later” prosangelmata are typologically the same as petitioning ὑπομνήματα, and so they are included as such in this description, following [Baetens 2020 : 217-218; Ferretti Fort].


Roman period petitions were always in the form of a ὑπόμνημα and were made to the basilikos grammateus, prefect, strategos, epistrategos, and local officials, as well as to military officials such as a centurion, decurion, or beneficarius, see [Whitehorne 2004; Mascellari 2021 : 217-307].



Early Ptolemaic petitions explicitly state that they are ὑπόμνημα and open with the address:


[ὑπόμνημα][to name <dat>][from παρά name <gen>] [1113; 1120; both III BCE Philadelphia].


Later in the Ptolemaic period the label is dropped and the opening becomes [to name <dat>][from παρά name <gen>][316254 184 BCE, Tanis], continuing in this form into the Roman period [19506 62-66 CE, Hermopolis]. Longer versions of the heading include the patronymic, sometimes occupation, and location of the petitioner [12913 29 CE, Euhemeria].


This is followed by the background to the petition where the offence is outlined in some detail, e.g. a complaint about damage to a grave [697550 l. 4-11, 13 CE, Arsinoite nome], or the theft of a bequest [11642 l.4-23, 40-41 CE, Arsinoite nome].


A request for redress is introduced by the verb ἀξιῶ ‘I ask’ [4907 l.13, 52-51 BCE, Herakleopolite nome; 12920 l. 19, 34 CE, Euhemeria; 8983 l.35, 114 CE, Arsinoite nome]. Early Ptolemaic petitions make the request with the verb δέομαι ‘I ask’ [1113]. The tone may vary slightly in petitions from the Zenon archive which typically have καλῶς ποιήσεις ‘please’ (lit. ‘you will do well’) [1874 l. 7-8, III BCE, Philadelphia] or εἰ δοκεῖ σοι ‘if it seems (good) to you’ [1598 l.22, III BCE, Philadelphia], more like a polite request rather than a claim for redress. This polite request appears also in letters well into the Roman period.


A closing salutation may follow. In the Ptolemaic period this might be εὐτύχει [4907], but ἔρρωσο can also occur [5364 236 BCE, Tebtunis]. The latter case reflects the fact that, in the III BCE, the dividing line between ὑπόμνημα and letter is not precisely established. In the Roman period, it is usually εὐτύχει [15169 48 CE, Arsinoite nome] and from II CE διευτύχει [11980 144-147 CE, Arsinoite nome]. Often the closing salutation is omitted altogether [11738 150-152 CE; 13830 173 CE, both Arsinoite nome].


A [date] may be added [10545 3 CE, Theadelphia; 8983; 9092 203 CE, Arsinoite nome]; and a subscription may follow – this may include a physical description of the petitioner [12913; 8983 114 CE, Arsinoite nome]. A note by an official [3676 117 BCE, Tebtunis; 11980; 23540 210 CE, Hermopolis], or even a [warrant] [8810 199 BCE, Arsinoite nome; 697550], may be appended as an apostil.



In the most common format, petitions are drawn up in pagina format with horizontal fibres [4907; 15169], or vertical fibres [13830]. Some early petitions were prepared in transversa charta format, the writing against vertical fibres [5364 236 BCE, Tebtunis]; two examples from II CE and III CE are horizontally oriented with horizontal fibres [11738, presumably a copy since it bears no closing salutation; 11214 207 CE, Soknopaiou Nesos, 2 columns]. Some also have a squarish format with horizontal fibres [19621 117-120 CE, Hermopolis; 13464 167-168 CE, Tebtunis]. Some can be long and narrow, conforming to the demotic format [10545 (H.34 x W.9.4cm); 12929 38 CE, Euhemeria, (H.35.6 x W.8.5cm)], see [Sarri 2018 : 95-97]; others are very wide e.g. [11214 (H.21.5 x W.56.5cm)].



Some examples display the introduction and main text continuously, with a space found only between the end of the text and the closing salutation [3408 163 BCE, Memphis; 3094 108 BCE, Hermopolis]; the latter is often detached from the end of the previous sentence and written near the right hand margin [3676 117 BCE, Tebtunis], or similarly placed on the line below [4927 48-46 BCE, Herakleopolite nome]. There can be a further space between this and the bottom margin for a subscription e.g. [44603 223-222 BCE, Elephantine (with demotic subscription); 44723 c.153 BCE, Herakleopolis; 3094]. This layout continues into the Roman period [12551 71 CE, Karanis; 11721 185 CE, Soknopaiou Nesos].


Some petitions place the first part of the heading [to name <dat>] in ekthesis to the body of the text e.g. [3393 163 BCE, Memphis; 44717 154 BCE, Herakleopolite nome; 284 115-110 BCE]. A I CE cluster from Euhemeria shows a distinct preference for this type of layout [12915 30 CE; 12920 34 CE; 12921 34 CE]. Later examples include [9064 149 CE, Ptolemais Euergetis; 12261 197 CE, Karanis].


There are also examples of the παρά clause in ekthesis [13798 137 CE, Theadelphia; 10110 184 CE, Soknopaiou Nesos], and of the first part of the introduction in eisthesis [10392 296 CE, Karanis].


Some scribes drew a short paragraphos under the main text, separating it from the closing salutation and any subsequent subscriptions [12925 34 CE, Euhemeria; 27815 II CE, Tebtunis; 21741 295 CE, Oxyrhynchus]. Some petitions are laid out in more than one column [3598 116 BCE, Thebes; 11214].

Request for registration


Rather than make a request or plea for a legal resolution, the plaintiff may simply request that the complaint be registered; this may have been the procedure in the absence of an obvious culprit, so that if the person responsible was found they might be charged. This points to a process whereby such complaints and petitions were entered into a register [Kelly 2016], [Baetens 2020 : 125].


In the Ptolemaic period such a document may be explicitly designated a προσάγγελμα in the text although drawn up as a petitioning ὑπόμνημα, for example [44717 l. 34-35, 154 BCE, Herakleopolite nome] ἀξιῶ καταχωρίσαι μου τὸ προσάγγελμα ‘I ask that my report be registered’, or may simply include the verb προσαγγέλλω [3680 l.22-26, 114 BCE, Kerkeosiris] διὸ προσαγγέλλω σοι ... | ἵνʼ ὑπάρχηι μοι ἐν χρηματισμῶι ‘therefore I make this that it may be placed on record for me’. These documents may be seen as part of the evolution of prosangelmata as they took on more and more of the characteristics of a petition in the form of a ὑπόμνημα [Baetens 2020 : 197-218; Ferretti Fort] and [prosangelma].


In the Roman period petitions which request registration, after outlining the offence, make a statement that the submission has been made: ἐπιδίδωμι τάδε τὰ βιβλίδια ‘I submit this document’ [9289 192 CE, Karanis] or ἐπιδίδωμι αὐτὸ τοῦτο φανερόν σοι ‘I bring this to your attention’ [13492 216 CE, Tebtunis]. A II CE document sums up its purpose: ἐπιδίδωμει καὶ ἀξιῶ | ἐν καταχωρισμῷ αὐτοῦ γενομένου | μῖναί μοι πρὸς αὐτοὺς τὸν λόγον... ‘I am making a complaint and I ask that it be registered, in order to retain the right to prosecute them’ [11254 164 CE, Arsinoite nome]. See [Mascellari 2021 : 18-20].


Petitioners may also request that a copy be forwarded to other officials [5553 170 BCE, Philadelphia] ὑποτάξαι μου τὸ ὑπόμνημα ‘to forward (lit. append) my document’ [Baetens 2020 : 125; Ferretti Fort].


How to Cite

Ferretti, L., Fogarty, S., Nury, E., Schubert, P. Description of Greek Documentary Papyri: Petition. grammateus project. DOI: 10.26037/yareta:bnckokdhonh2bj4jidqeg6cvki