Syngraphe (συγγραφή)


  1. Structure
  2. Format
  3. Layout

The syngraphe, issued by an official notary, was the most widely used format for documenting private legal transactions in Egypt and is found in one form or another from the Ptolemaic period to the reign of Diocletian [Wolff 1978a : 83]. It is found in its simplest form from the II BCE (see below), but earlier syngraphai took the form of a six-witness [double document], a privately drawn up document which was entrusted to a mutually selected συγγραφοφύλαξ (keeper of the syngraphe). The emergence of the grapheion in the II BCE facilitated the registration of privately produced contracts; gradually the six-witness double document and simple syngraphe were superseded by a registered syngraphe, a document signed by the agoranomos, nomographos, or other official, and formally registered in the grapheion. These are often referred to in literature on the subject as agoranomic deeds, see e.g. [Pestman 1985 : 9-44].


Although the six-witness double document could also be registered in the grapheion if chosen, this public registration eventually negated the need for witnesses and a συγγραφοφύλαξ [Yiftach-Firanko 2008b : 214-215]. During the the II-I BCE contracting parties had the option of any one of these types. Proximity to a metropolis where the contractors could reach the grapheion may have been a factor [Wolff 1978a : 85; Yiftach-Firanko 2008b : 214], but by the end of the Ptolemaic period the registered syngraphe was established as the document of choice for most contracts as it was less complex and more secure [Wolff 1978a : 84].


This description brings together under one umbrella documents which much of the current literature distinguishes as different types based upon their content. However, from the scribe’s perspective they are a single type drawn up with the same structure, format, and layout, with minor variations. The range of content is wide, covering, for example, contracts of sale, marriage, and divorce, loans and lease agreements, receipts for rent and the repayment of loans, testaments and manumissions.



A simple syngraphe is a contract written without mention of an official or formal registration in the grapheion. It opens with the [date], either the long form regnal date [2888 172 BCE, Philadelphia] or the shorter version [3109 104 BCE, Hermopolis], followed by the [place] of writing.


The main text begins directly with the verb describing the action in an objective statement [ἐδάνεισεν name <nom.>][to name <dat.>], ‘ N has loaned to N ’, [3109], or [ἐμίσθωσεν name <nom.>][to name <dat.>], ‘ N has leased to N ’, [13134 71 CE, Theadelphia].


After this there is often a statement that the document is valid: [13134 l.38] ἡ συγγραφὴ κυρία ἔστω. A brief description of the contracting parties may be added [5396 182 BCE, Arsinoite nome; 2888].


By adding a note of registration to the same structure, a notary can formally record the syngraphe. After the [date] and [place], the name of the registering official follows; a registration docket may be placed after the main text, [name <nom.> κεχρημάτικα], ‘ N has registered’ [66 105 BCE, Pathyris], or [ἀναγέγραπται διά name <gen.>], ‘registered through N ’, [15162 35 CE, Arsinoite nome].


This structure is found mainly in loan contracts [254 131 BCE, Pathyris; 18137 59 CE, Oxyrhynchus] and in lease agreements [14110 26 CE, Arsinoite nome; 15162]. A loan contract in this form may be explicitly referred to as a daneion (δάνειον) [254 l.13; 68 l.9-10, 105 BCE Krokodilon], i.e. the legal act taking place between the contractors, but the syngraphe document is the formal written record of this action - note for example [2888 l.19-20], where the text refers to τὸ προγεγρα(μμένον) δά(νειον), ‘the aforementioned loan’, and later in the validity clause to the document as ἡ συγγραφή (l.30-31). A long loan document with an added [bank diagraphe] sums it up: ἡ συν[γρα]φὴ τοῦ δανείου κυρία, ‘the syngraphe of the loan is valid’ [19654 l.10, 99 CE, Hermopolis]. Similarly a lease agreement can be explicitly designated a misthosis (μίσθωσις) [15162 l.42; 14610 l.26, 26 CE, Tebtunis], but the physical document is referred to as a syngraphe [13134 l.38]. A subscription by one or both parties signals their agreement to the contents of the contract in a subjective statement, e.g. [12142 l. 28-46, 52 CE, Arsinoite nome].

Homologia (objective)

A variation of the opening objective statement, after the [date] and [place] of writing, presents the verb in the infinitive, introduced by ὁμολογεῖ:


[ὁμολογεῖ name <nom.>][name <dat.>][πεπρακέναι]N agrees with N that he has sold…’ [9864 51/53 BCE, Arsinoite nome] or [ὁμολογεῖ name <nom.>][πεπρακέναι][name <dat.>]N agrees that he has sold to N…’ [59 136 BCE, Pathyris; 8921 152 CE, Arsinoite nome].


There can be a full description of the contracting parties, and these contracts and receipts may or may not have a registration docket. A subscription by the parties can be added at the end, e.g. [10934 99 CE, Euhemeria] with both registration docket and subscription.


This type of syngraphe may often be referred to as a homologia [243 ii.l. 13, 101 BCE, Pathyris] ἡ δὲ ὁμολογία ἥδε κυρία ἔστω, or as a syngraphe [20218 l.28, 59 CE, Oxyrhynchus] κυρία ἡ συγγραφή, or both in the same document [23022 l.31, 26 CE, Oxyrhynchus]. In the literature it is known as an objective homologia to be distinguished from other varieties of homologiai, see [below], and also consult [homologia (Epistolary Exchange)] and [homologia (Transmission of Information)]


This construction is by far the most widely used for a diverse array of contracts and receipts. Contracts for the sale of a house [11630 68 CE, Karanis], livestock [9128 144 CE, Arsinoite nome, sale of a camel], and land [12097 35-36 CE, Tebtunis] all use the (ὁμολογεῖ + πεπρακέναι) construction. Contracts for the cession of catoecic land might use (ὁμολογεῖ + παρακεχωρηκέναι) [15330 139 CE, Oxyhynchus], or (ὁμολογεῖ + ἐξεστάσθαι) [12265 134 CE, Karanis], depending on the context. Contracts for the appointment of a representative have (ὁμολογεῖ + συνεστακέναι) [10745 132 CE, Tebtunis] the appointment of a representative for the sale of a slave, and [11685 145 CE, Arsinoite nome] the appointment of a deputy.


The construction (ὁμολογεῖ + ἔχειν / ἀπέχειν) is the basis of very many contracts and receipts, e.g. a loan of money [11687 145 CE, Herakleia], the repayment of a loan [10094 132 CE, Soknopaiou Nesos], receipt of a dowry [15012 190 CE, Arsinoite nome], or rent [11993 121 CE, 11994 122 CE, 11997 126 CE, Bacchias]. A loan of money drawn up privately by Aurelius Hieron, the very proficient scribe of the Alexandrian Aurelius Posidonios, aims to mimic the construction of a document produced by a public notary with (ὁμολογεῖ + ἔχειν) but doesn’t quite get it right [14412 224 CE, Theadelphia].


Some land lease agreements use the construction (ὁμολογεῖ + μεμισθωκέναι) [9218 86 CE, Soknopaiou Nesos; 9572 162-163 CE, Herakleia].


Divisions of property may have either (ὁμολογεῖ + διῃρῆσθαι) [85 113 BCE, Pathyris] or (ὁμολογεῖ + μεμερικέναι) [12132 46 CE, Tebtunis]. Such contracts begin the objective statement with a “mutual homology” i.e. [ὁμολογοῦσιν ἀλλήλοις name <nom.>] [καὶ] [name <nom.>][διῃρῆσθαι]N and N together agree that they have divided…’ [12137 48 CE; 11989 72 CE, both Arsinoite nome]. Mutual homologiai are also found in contracts drawn up as private protocols [private protocol ], and a similar concept is also found in cheirographa [cheirographon ].


Some [sitologos receipts] are also written in the form of syngraphai, with a (ὁμολογεῖ + μεμετρῆσθαι) construction [3124 114 BCE, Hermopolite nome; 43263 151 or 140 BCE, Arsinoite nome; 22229 75 CE, Oxyrhynchus].

Homologia (subjective)

After the [date] and [place] of writing, another variation of the opening statement presents the verb in the infinitive, introduced by ὁμολογῶ - i.e. the document is drawn up subjectively:


[name <nom.> ὁμολογῶ][ἔχειν][from παρά name <gen.>] ‘I N agree that I have received from N ’ [11260 5 BCE, Theadelphia].


Most examples concern loans of money or grain e.g. [10932 9 CE, Pelusion]; there is also an example of a cession of land (ὁμολογῶ + ἐπικεχωρηκέναι) [12559 I CE, Theadelphia]. The name of a registering official may also be included [11260; 21036 59 CE, Heliopolite nome].


Attention must be drawn to the difference in construction between this variation of syngraphe and the [homologia (Epistolary Exchange)]: although both have the [ὁμολογῶ + infinitive] construction the syngraphe involves an official registration, while the subjective homologia is a privately drawn up document, similar in form to a [cheirographon], and therefore does not involve a public notary.


Some late II CE-early III CE loan documents from the Herakleopolite nome have the same subjective construction [ὁμολογῶ + infinitive] and mention six witnesses [17289 192 CE; 18688 193 CE; 20105 226/7 CE]. This Roman period six-witness document, a δάνειον ἑξαμάρτυρον, bears little resemblance to the Ptolemaic six-witness [double document]. On theories surrounding the origin of this variation, see [Wolff 1978a : 72-73 esp. n.85].



Syngraphai can be presented in pagina format with the writing along horizontal fibres [69 103 BCE, Pathyris; 9218 86 CE; 10740 122 CE, both Arsinoite nome] or against vertical fibres [90 113 BCE, Pathyris; 213 111 BCE, Thebaid; 9127 155 CE, Arsinoite nome]; and transversa charta format with vertical fibres [2798 222 BCE, Arsinoite nome]. There are also squarish examples with horizontal fibres [12160 37 CE; 9376 125 CE, both Arsinoite nome], and vertical fibres e.g. [10414 267 CE, Karanis].


Some pagina format sheets are very long in height [20218 59 CE, Oxyrhynchus (H.37.4 x W.12.5cm); 20541 94 CE, Oxyrhynchos (H.38.7 x W.15.8cm)] and some quite narrow, e.g. [73 102 BCE, Pathyris (H.34.1 x W.9.5cm)] typical of the demotic format (see [Sarri 2018 : 95-97]). A cluster of donkey sales from Kerkesoucha are consistently long and narrow [12044 103 CE (H.23.7 x W.7.9cm); 11749 143 CE (H.21 x W.7cm); 15085 145 CE (H.20 x W.6.4cm); 11692 148 CE (H.21 x W.5.5cm); 14613 155 CE (H.18 x W.7.2cm)]


Occasionally an official stamp has survived [11680 124 CE; 9128 144 CE, both Arsinoite nome].



Syngraphai are presented usually as a single block of text [215 117 BCE; 61 127 BCE, both Pathyris] often with an enlarged initial letter [12270 78 CE, Arsinoite nome; 9127]. Some documents from the Arsinoite nome show a noticeable similarity in layout and a clear change of hands between that of the professional scribe and the less skilled contractors’ subscriptions, highlighted by a discernible change of pen: [9218 86 CE, Soknopaiou Nesos; 13544 98 CE, Tebtunis; 10934 99 CE, Euhemeria; 10740 122 CE, Tebtunis; 8921 152 CE, Dionysias].


Some documents have more than one column [1488 116 BCE, Philadelphia (5 cols.); 12137 48 CE, Arsinoite nome (2 wide cols.)]. Others have very wide columns, e.g. [15330 139 CE, Oxyrhynchus (H.22.5 x W.92.5cm)] a cession of catoecic land written in a single column 49cm wide (a second column is an attestation of sale of the same land 15331); and [12132 (H.28.5 x W.80.4cm)] a division of property written in a single column along almost the complete width of the sheet.


There can be a space between the opening (date, place, and agoranomos) and the main text [68; 124 106 BCE, Pathyris], and between the main text and subscriptions [61; 11997] sometimes with a paragraphos mark [69; 20218]. Some contracts take up only a small part of the sheet leaving a large space at the end [90; 20218; 20753 83 CE, Oxyrhynchus]. Occasionally there are fillers at line ends [9040 50 CE, Arsinoite nome (filler in red ink); 21339 61 CE, Oxyrhynchus]. Some loan agreements have been crossed out and cancelled [13683 64 CE; 10740].


How to Cite

Ferretti, L., Fogarty, S., Nury, E., Schubert, P. Description of Greek Documentary Papyri: Syngraphe. grammateus project. DOI: 10.26037/yareta:zi3xod6ye5hivogrzg4dmxglqa