Census Declaration


  1. Structure
  2. Format
  3. Layout

In the Roman period, a census declaration was completed periodically by all Egyptian households and contained age, sex, status, and property-holding information for every member of the household. The work of reference for census declarations is [Bagnall and Frier 1994] with a comprehensive catalogue of all surviving documents, and an exploration of the demographic information therein; in its early chapters that volume summarizes the previous work of [Hombert and Préaux 1952].


There are about 300 census returns from 3 BCE [749316 Theadelphia] [Claytor and Bagnall 2015 : 637-653] to 259 CE [14958 Ptolemais Euergetis], and from 33/34 CE there appears to be a 14 year cycle of submissions. The declarant was usually the male head of the household, but women and children were included, along with their property; there are also examples of declarations made by women alone [9136 203 CE, Karanis]. All house property had to be declared, whether it was a complete property or a portion [12174 II CE, Karanis]; the declaration was compulsory with a heavy fine for non-compliance [Bagnall and Frier 1994 : 14]. Most of the extant declarations are from the Arsinoite and Oxyrhynchite nomes, and there are more urban than rural returns, both facts a result of the “hazard of discovery” [Bagnall and Frier 1994 : 6].



The declaration is highly standardised and formulaic – this was essential to the successful reproduction of the model by any scribe in every small village throughout Egypt [Schubert 2016 : 189]. The structure broadly consists of five elements: opening, declaration, list of individuals, formal statement and subscription:

  • The opening, [to official <dat>] [from παρά + name <gen.>] is followed by the declarant’s patronymic, matronymic, and place of residence. Sometimes the names of the paternal and maternal grandfather are included. The status of the declarant is usually not stated at this point and is reserved for inclusion in the list of persons in the main body of the declaration [Bagnall and Frier 1994 : 21]. Women declarants usually have a guardian (κύριος) [8922 l.4-5]. Addressees can be the strategos (στρατηγός), the royal scribe (βασιλικὸς γραμματεύς), the village scribe (κωμογραμματεύς), the registration officers (λαογράφοι) of a village, the head of quarter (ἀμφοδάρχης), head of nome (νομάρχης), or (village) elders (πρεσβύτεροι). There is an example of six copies of the same declaration addressed to a number of different officials (one of the copies is [9132 II CE, Soknopaiou Nesos], [Bagnall and Frier 1994 : 19, 240-241]). There are also examples of different officials addressed in a single declaration [11983 II CE, Bakchias; 13481 II CE, Ptolemais Euergetis], but often the address is to one official only [14730 II CE, Theadelphia]
  • The declaration usually begins with a statement of the ownership of property [ὑπάρχει μοι...] ‘there belongs to me...’ followed by a description of the property, and a statement that the people and property are being declared for the purposes of the house-by-house registration of a stated year: [11983 l.13-17] καὶ ἀπογρά(φομαι) ἐμαυτὸν καὶ τοὺς ἐμοὺς [ε]ἰς τὴν τοῦ διελ(ηλυθότος) ζ (ἔτους) [Αὐτο]κράτορος Καίσ[αρος] Νέρο[υα] Τ(ραιανοῦ) Σ(εβαστοῦ) Γερ(μανικοῦ) Δακ(ικοῦ) κατʼ οἰ(κίαν) [ἀπογρ]α(φήν), ‘I register myself and those of my household for the house-by-house census of the past seventh year of the Emperor Caesar Nerva Trajan Augustus Germanicus Dacicus’.
  • There follows a list of all individuals in the household, including women and children, along with their ages, beginning with the declarant and introduced by [εἰμὶ δέ], ‘and I am...’. There appears to be a difference in the amount of detail provided in the declarations from the villages and from the metropoleis; the latter tend to give more information on physical descriptions, status, profession, and relationship to the declarant [13481] while those from the villages give essential details only. A distinguishing feature of the list of persons in the Oxyrhynchite declarations is that they tend to list all males first and then all women [118647 147 CE, Oxyrhynchite nome] [Bagnall and Frier 1994 : 24].
  • A formal statement is made, [διὸ ἐπιδίδωμι], ‘therefore I make (the declaration)’ [12174 l.24], and this may be followed by an oath verifying the contents of the return [καὶ ὀμνύω], ‘and I swear...’ [22450 l.22, 133 CE, Oxyrhynchus].
  • There may be a [date@end] after the main text [9132], or before [10195] or after [12875] the subscription.
  • The subscription consists of some or all of the following:
    • signature of the declarant or someone writing on their behalf;
    • signature of official(s) stating that the declaration has been filed or received: καταχωρίζω ‘I submit’ [11983 l.28] κατακεχ(ωρίκαμεν), [13481 l.30, 31, 32] κατεχω(ρίσθη); ἔσχον / συνέσχον ‘I have received’ [12174 l.25, 27, 28, 29]; or simply σεση(μείωμαι) ‘I have signed’ [9135 l.22, 23, II CE, Karanis];
    • date of submission.



The format of the census returns follows the standard model found in other declaration types such as the declaration of pagan sacrifice [libellus] and the notification of death; that is, the orientation of the document is in a pagina format, the scribe writing along the horizontal fibres [13997 I CE, Philadelphia]. This format remained relatively consistent throughout the centuries, and in all areas with extant examples. Of the examples in our database there are two with a squarish orientation [9098 II CE, Arsinoite nome; 17397 188 CE, Antinoopolis], the latter with vertical fibres.



Some of the census declarations display the first part of the address to the official as if it were a separate heading, with the second part, the παρά clause, continuing after a space [11982 I CE, Bakchias; 11983; 10195 II CE, Tebtunis; 14730]. Others indent from the second line to the παρά clause, with no space between [9098, 9136]. Further examples present the first line of the address and the παρά clause in ekthesis to the rest of the text [12174; 12875 II CE, Soknopaiou Nesos], while some others simply present one block of text [19335 II CE, Herakleopolite nome]. Some scribes have indented [εἰμὶ δέ], signalling the beginning of the list of declarants, as if it were a heading e.g. [9135 l.12; 19335 l. 11, II CE, Herakleopolite nome].


Spaces in many of the examples suggest these were left by the scribe to facilitate the addition of further information or signatories, e.g. [12174] between the signatures and date, [9132] between main text and date, [13997] in the middle of main text and again between text and date. Line end fillers are sometimes used [12554 III CE, Karanis], and there is an example of a line being drawn between the text and the signatures [11983].


How to Cite

Ferretti, L., Fogarty, S., Nury, E., Schubert, P. Description of Greek Documentary Papyri: Census Declaration. grammateus project. DOI: 10.26037/yareta:dgaky2kvejeblnnsm577koaljy