An [official letter] addressed to more than one recipient, and therefore circulated among those recipients, may be termed a circular letter. These letters can be addressed to officials in more than one nome, e.g. in [8919 197 CE, Arsinoite nome] the prefect addresses the strategoi of the Heptanomia and Arsinote nome regarding the collection of taxes; within a single nome, e.g. [41725 223/181 BCE, Arsinoite nome] a letter, possibly from a dioiketes, addressed to the strategos, police, and other administrative officials in the Arsinoite nome [Müller 1995]; or to different officials within a single village, e.g. [5320 159 BCE, Tebtunis] is addressed to a number of officials in the village of Tali regarding the distribution of state papyrus.


The structure, format, and layout of a circular letter is generally the same as for the [official letter]. The opening formula is the same [from name <nom.>][to name <dat.>][χαίρειν]; also found in [41725] is the shorter [to name <dat.>][χαίρειν] where the recipients are addressed by title only.


The author of a circular letter may state its purpose simply, within the body of the letter, e.g. [8919], or the circular may introduce previous correspondence which is itself enclosed. This does not mean the previous correspondence is to be found separately to the main letter, rather it is written out completely on the same sheet (or added sheets) – that is, embedded in the whole text. In [21819 278 CE, Oxyrhynchus] the strategos writes to the dekaprotoi of the Oxyrhynchite nome (ll.1-6), enclosing a letter addressed to the strategoi and dekaprotoi of the Heptanomia and Arsinoite nome from a higher official (ll.7-23) regarding the upkeep of the irrigation system – in this instance the circular letter itself introduces another circular letter.


A series of correspondence is preserved on a single roll: [3663 113 BCE, Arsinoite nome] is a long roll (H.30 x W.86 cm) the first three columns of which comprise an introductory letter from the basilikogrammateus Horos looking for better supervision of the crops, and introducing three further letters concerning the lack of crop protection, see [Bagnall and Derow 2004 : 176]; another letter in the fourth column, also from Horos, introduces three more embedded letters concerning a wayward official.


A circular letter can introduce and forward other letters, as in the examples above, or it can concern other types of communication, for example:

  • Circular with an official announcement: a circular letter from Apollonios is addressed to the epistates of Polemon and other officials regarding the price of myrrh [78769 111 BCE, Tebtunis] (ll.1-14), and orders the public posting of a the announcement (τὸ πρόγραμμα, l.8.), the text of which is attached (ll.15-19). Another circular from the same Apollonios similarly introduces another official announcement [5319 118 BCE, Tebtunis], providing a heading, πρόγραμμα· (l.6), before the text.
  • Circular with an [Edict] (διάταγμα): some circulars forward an edict from the king or prefect. A circular from the prefect Juncinus [21818 210-214 CE, Oxyrhynchus] is embedded in the report of a trial; he addresses all strategoi of the Heptanomia and Arsinoite nome, introducing his edict on the suppression of robbers, and requesting its public display. The closing is that of a high official [ἐρρῶσθαί σε βούλομαι] (ll.11-21). This is followed by the edict itself (ll.22-26) which typically begins [from name <nom.>][λεγεῖ]. The papyrus is fragmentary but the edict was likely written in eisthesis to the rest of the letter [21818, introduction : 12]. Another circular, from the prefect Mantennius Sabinus to the same strategoi, attaches a copy of an edict (ἀντίγραφον διατάγματος) he had previously sent to Alexandria [ 9286 193 CE, Arsinoite nome] (ll.1-10 letter, ll.10-25 copy of edict). A circular letter (ll.7-14) addressed to the strategoi of a list of nomes, forwards an edict from the prefect (ll.15-23), and is preceded by an order to display the edict (ll.1-6) [ 11490 151 CE, Arsinoite nome].
  • Circular letter concerning publication: circular letters from the prefect addressing officials (usually strategoi) of some or all nomes, can be accompanied by an instruction to publish. A circular letter from the prefect Tineius Demetrios [44420 (col.5) 189 CE, Arsinoite nome] concerning the avoidance of liturgies is addressed to the strategoi of the Heptanomia and Arsinoite nome, and orders the publication of the letter (ll.83-85); a statement written after the circular by the strategos of the Arsinoite nome confirms that he has indeed done this (ll.87-91). A circular letter from the prefect Sempronios Liberalis regarding tax collection is addressed to all strategoi [44546 (col.ii) 156 CE, Arsinoite nome]. Before the circular, the first lines of the papyrus (ll.1-5) consist of a statement by the strategos of the Arsinoite nome stating the publication of the attached text, ἵνα πάντες εἰδῶσι τὰ διατεταγμένα ‘so that all may see the orders’; this section opens simply with his [name <nom.>], followed by the order, and closes with [σεσημείωμαι] ‘I have signed’ and the date. The circular letter then follows with the opening [from name <nom.>][to name <dat.>][χαίρειν], the closing that of a high official [ἐρρῶσθαί σε βούλομαι]. On this circular letter (one of two on the same sheet) see [Jördens 2001]. On instructions to publish presented as a prescript or postscript to the main document see [Katzoff 1982].


How to Cite

Ferretti, L., Fogarty, S., Nury, E., Schubert, P. Description of Greek Documentary Papyri: Circular Letter. grammateus project. DOI: 10.26037/yareta:gpinjl7syzbwvcjthzabku3zju