1. Structure
  2. Format
  3. Layout

An account (λόγος) can be distinguished from a simple list in that some reckoning or calculation is often apparent, i.e. an addition, subtraction, running total, or summary amount is indicated. Accounts may document the income and expenditure of grain [22471 242-302 CE, Oxyrhynchus], money [682 258-256 BCE, Diospolis], oil [5415 256 BCE, Aphroditopolis], animals [956 250 BCE, Arsinoite nome], wine [14476 268 CE, Theadelphia], or other items of value, at the level of the state [10213 165 CE, Theadelphia], or as a personal record [10228 160 CE, Theadelphia]. In the Greco-Roman period accounting practices in the modern sense did not exist, and while they may appear simplistic when compared to modern book-keeping, this belies a complex system of recording the information which may have formed the basis for taxation, the management of estates, households, temples, and other enterprises.


While there are many examples of random, single accounts [25696 I-II CE, Tebtunis, a grain account; 29233 II CE, an account of work and salaries], much of the information that can be gleaned about accounting practices in general comes from archives associated with large argricultural estates. These range in time from the Zenon archive [TM Arch 256] of III BCE , to the Heroninus archive [TM Arch 103] of III CE. These managers of the estates of Apollonios and Appianus respectively, were tasked with producing verifiable records of the business of the estate. The records in most cases appear to be draft or preliminary documents, not meant to be the final submissions, and provide only a snapshot of broader estate management procedures. These accounts are based upon primary records such as day-books (ἐφημερίδες) recording daily income and expenditure [1331 III BCE], often accounting for single subjects in a simple list (e.g. the disbursement of wine [10963 266 CE, Arsinoite nome]), [Grier 1932 : 229; Rathbone 1991 : 359-365]. The primary records formed the basis for a monthly account (λόγος μηνιαῖος) [976 248 BCE, Philadelphia; 11169 254-260 CE, Theadelphia], which in turn was evidently used to draw up an annual account, see [Rathbone 1991 : 338-339]. A summary account of barley from the Zenon archive covers a period of 3 years [937 251 BCE, Philadelphia], [Grier 1932 : 230].


It is generally agreed that the main purpose for producing these records was to guard against malpractice or incompetence, see [De Ste Croix 1956 : 32; Macve 1985 : 235; Rathbone 1991 : 371]. The extent to which these accounts were used to analyse the management of estates with a view to viability, future planning, or “economic rationalism” [Rathbone 1991], is, however, still debated. For an overview of the arguments, see [Chandezon 2011 : 112-114].


As well as accounts from an estate, such records survive from various areas of the administration. A preliminary account of corn (προδιαλογισμὸς σιτικός) [3725 113 BCE, Kerkeosiris], detailing the payment of rent on crown land, was the precursor to the final balancing (διαλογισμός) of the year [P.Tebt. I : no. 89 : introduction]. Day-books kept by sitologoi record daily tax payments in-kind [9463 149 CE, Theadelphia] which were then used to produce monthly summaries [9464 158-159 CE, Theadelphia]; this latter example with 17 columns, cross-references entries with other tax lists by way of sheet and column numbers (e.g. l.57), giving summary totals. An account of toll payments is presented to the strategos and details all payments made through the gate of Bakchias for a single month, giving a final total in the last column [13727 114 CE, Bakchias]. Various other administrators were also obliged to provide income and expenditure summaries, e.g. [17646 235 CE, Oxyrhynchus, πράκτωρ; 10214 158-159 CE, Theadelphia, κωμογραμματεύς]. A long roll addressed to a former gymnasiarch presents an account of the income and expenditure concerning the supply of water to Ptolemais Euergetis [11763 c.113 CE, Ptolemais Euergetis].


Day-books recording payments in and out were essential primary records for banking transactions [5442 II BCE; 140142 138 BCE, both Herakleopolite nome], see [Muhs 2018 : 95-97].


Egyptian temple records were first written in demotic Egyptian for internal processes and provided the primary records for more formal accounts to be translated into Greek, and forwarded to the state administration [9139 215-216 CE, Arsinoite nome], [Lippert 2010 : 430-432].


Military accounts generally provide details of supplies given to soldiers [20704 295 CE, Oxyrhynchus], or the expenses of individual soldiers [27162 II CE]. Accounts for small enterprises include those of a textile business [16223 c.130 CE, Oxyrhynchus], a beer-seller [13555 c.14CE, Tebtunis], and a brick-layer 13556 172 CE, Tebtunis]. Social clubs also produced accounts, e.g. a dining club [3754 112-111 BCE, Tebtunis], an association of priests [25911 I CE, Oxyrhynchus], and a club of unknown membership [5444 114 BCE, Tebtunis] (on this last example see [Last and Rollens 2014]).


An account of the private expenses of an official can be found in [11972 45-46 CE, Tebtunis]. A personal account recording income for Apollonia, wife of Dryton [503 135 BCE] is written on the other side of Dryton’s own account of taxes and rent [283 135 BCE]. Household expenses are also accounted for [5438 c.200 BCE, Tebtunis; 26966 II-III CE, Oxyrhynchus]. A guardian was obliged to account annually for all income and expenditure on behalf of his wards [17905 219 CE, Oxyrhynchus].


Alongside these accounts are many examples of random jottings, calculations, and aide- memoire, e.g. [1817 III BCE, Arsinoite nome; 3118 111 BCE, Hermopolis; 28247 II-III CE, Arsinoite nome], which no doubt provided some basic information for potential inclusion in the final accounts.



The structure of a formal account may consist of a praescript, a transitional phrase, the main text, and a closing section.

  • The praescript may have some of the following:
    • A hypomnema (ὑπόμνημα)-type opening address [to name <dat>][from παρά name <gen>] [1037 III BCE, Philadelphia; 17646; 130560 259 CE, Theadelphia].
    • A [description] of the contents, e.g. λόγος λημμάτων καὶ ἀναλωμάτων ‘an account of income and expenses’ [15721 156/179/211 CE, Oxyrynchus; 130560]. The customs account from Bakchias is more specific, λόγος τῶν περιγεγονότων ἀπὸ ἐπιτηρέσεως (-τηρήσεως) τῆς αὐτῆς πύλης ἀπὸ α ἕως λ τοῦ Θὼθ μηνὸς τοῦ ἐνεστῶτος ιη (ἔτους) ‘an account of the surplus from the superintendent of the same gates from the 1st to the 30th of Thoth of the present 18th year’ [13727].
    • The date to which the account pertains is often added [17646 l.9-13].
  • The transitional phrase [ἔστι δέ] introduces the main text [12348 163 CE, Tebtunis].
  • The main text may contain a list with corresponding numbers in coin, grain, or other units [30298 III CE, Ptolemais Euergetis; 130560], or the contents may be presented in a more narrative style, e.g. ἔχω παρά (name) ‘I have from N (an amount of goods)’, ἀφʼ ὧν ἔχει (name) ‘from which N has (taken/been given)’ [1069 III BCE, Philadelphia], or τούτων ἔχεις ‘from these you have…’ [1415, l.8, III BCE, Philadelphia]. The contents of the account may be much abbreviated [3496 172-152 BCE, Memphis; 3870 115 BCE, Kerkeosiris].
  • There may be a formal closing section with an oath verifying the accounts have been drawn up truthfully [13727].


Less formal accounts may have a shortened praescript, opening with [λόγος][from παρά name <gen>][to name <dat>][1019 III BCE, Philadelphia]; this is the same structure as the explicit [ὐπόμνημα][from παρά name <gen>][to name <dat>] opening also found in the Zenon archive, and used by scribes writing [business notes].


Other less formal openings for an account begin with the date of the account and [from παρά name <gen>] [3725], or simply [from παρά name <gen>] [17905].


Other accounts can be embedded within a letter, e.g. [1004 243 BCE, Arsinoite nome] with a formal letter opening [from name <nom.>][to name <dat.>][χαίρειν], the accounts following, and the standard closing [ἔρρωσο] with [date@end]; or with the letter opening and closing, and the accounts attached thereafter [1057 252-246 BCE].


Accounts with no praescript may open with a date followed by a brief description of the contents, e.g. the account of a carpenter [3767 100 BCE, Tebtunis], or an account of rent [5693 c.178 BCE, Krokodilopolis]; or inversely, a description followed by the date of the account, e.g. [26966 II-III CE, Oxyrhynchus] λόγος λημμάτων καὶ ἀναλωμάτων τῶν ἀπὸ Χ[οι]ὰ[χ] α ‘an account of income and expenses from Choiak 1’.


An account may also only carry a simple [heading] describing the contents, e.g. λογὸς ἐκθέσεως ‘account of arrears’ [21893 247-8/257-8 CE, Oxyrhynchus]; λόγος πυροῦ ‘an account of wheat’ [27216 II CE, Arsinoite nome]; Πολέμωνος λόγος ‘Polemon’s account’ [3496 172-152 BCE, Memphis]; λόγος ἀναλωμάτων οἴνου ‘an account of the expenditure of wine’ [14476 268 CE, Theadelphia].


Many accounts open simply with λόγος μηνός (month) [17072 128 CE, Hermopolis]. A long fishing account opens with ἀγαθῇ τύχῃ ‘for good fortune’ [26608 II CE, Oxyrhynchus].



An account is often produced on very long rolls, horizontally oriented [130560 (H. 21 x W. 63cm); 20191 (H. 23.5 x W. 77cm), both with horizontal fibres; 26608 (H. 22.4 x W. 92.5cm), with vertical fibres]. Conversely, they may also be drawn up on small slips of papyrus, e.g. [25696 (H. 6.4 x W. 7.6cm), with horizontal fibres]. Many are in pagina format [28362 II CE, Oxyrhynchus, (H. 31.2 x W. 18.4cm), with horizontal fibres; 30432 III CE, Oxyrhynchus, (H. 33.5 x W. 9cm), with vertical fibres].


Accounts are often found on re-used sheets: an account of wheat no doubt survived because the blank side was re-used to copy an extract from Menander [61599 I BCE- I CE]. Sometimes the re-use is more complicated: a five column account of grain [3913 114 BCE, Kerkeosiris] is written on the other side of a sheet carrying an account of lentils [3912 114 BCE, Kerkeosiris], a tax account [3914 115-114 BCE, Kerkeosiris], and the draft of an official letter. An account detailing payments of the annona shares the sheet with a draft letter written upside-down, and on the other side a copy of a petition [31358 III CE, Tebtunis].



In accounts with a hypomnema opening, the scribe may distinguish the opening with use of ekthesis and eisthesis [130560; 11763]. In the latter example, the main text continues in list form over many columns, setting out the income first as the heading for column 2 (Fr.1, l.16, λημμάτων·), and providing a total (l.62-63), before continuing with the expenses (Fr.2, l.64, ἐξ ὧν ἀνηλώθη), this heading indented to separate it from the preceding entries. Simpler narrative accounts may also make use of indentation, e.g. τούτων ἔχεις in an account of money [1415 l.8] signifies the beginning of the deductions that follow.


Columns can be clearly defined with entries and corresponding numerals evenly written [3757 94/61 BCE, Tebtunis]. The information may be ordered according to date [26608; 1331 III BCE] (both daily for one month), or place [17509 205-206 CE, Oxyrhynchus] (toparchies), or may simply have a column number [15481 117 CE; 114324 II-III CE, both Oxyrhynchus]. There can be clear spacing between the entries [9464], or lines drawn to separate them [30726 III CE, Oxyrhynchus]. On one papyrus, columns have been delineated with lines drawn around them [3485 158 BCE, Memphis], and the scribe of this same papyrus has also encircled or underlined certain information; similarly [3482 158 BCE, Memphis].


Very often the use of crosses [674 259 BCE, Alexandria], or oblique strokes [956] indicate that the account has been checked and verified.


Much of the surviving documentation is in the form of drafts; therefore corrections [2054 250-249 BCE, Philadelphia], additions [669 259 BCE, Palestine; 1069 III BCE, Philadelphia], deletions [30272 252 CE, Theadelphia], and marginal notes [674] are often found. An account may also be cancelled with cross-strokes [31047 III-IV CE, Hermopolite nome].


Scribes sometimes bracket information [669; 20171 164-165 CE; 31703 III CE, Memphis], but it is uncertain if this is by way of deletion, or to highlight it for other purposes, see [Gruber 2012 : 302-304].


An account may continue onto the other side of a roll [3757].


How to Cite

Ferretti, L., Fogarty, S., Nury, E., Schubert, P. Description of Greek Documentary Papyri: Account. grammateus project. DOI: 10.26037/yareta:tn62rqyccndnrmhfck6kx7ikbq