1. Structure
  2. Format
  3. Layout

An edict (διάταγμα) of the Roman period is an instruction or order issued to the population by the emperor or prefect to establish a law. Edicts have a distinctive typology and are easily distinguished from a [royal ordinance] (πρόσταγμα), and from a [proclamation]. Many edicts have survived as quotations in support of petitions: for instance, the long petition of Dionysia to the prefect on her father’s mistreatment quotes extracts from the edicts of no fewer than three emperors [20506 ca. 186 CE, Oxyrhynchus]. Others have been found embedded in [circular letters] which forward the edict to other officials and order its publication [11490 151 CE, Arsinoite nome]. On letters with edicts, see [Katzoff 1982]. The following description concerns itself with the structure, format, and layout of complete, unembedded, edicts, while bearing in mind that these are all likely to be copies of an original.


Edicts cover many topics: the abuse perpetrated by soldiers [19292 133-137 CE; 23084 19 CE (lines 1-30, the first of two edicts copied on a single sheet of papyrus)] and the behaviour of members of local councils [21816 213-217 CE, Heliopolis]; fiscal issues [17375 297 CE, Karanis; 10801 134 CE, Theadelphia]; and even the straying of animals [16577 292 CE, Oxyrhynchus]. While edicts usually concern general issues sometimes more specific matters are dealt with: a dossier of correspondence regarding two fugitives includes an edict ordering their presentation within twenty days [10234 l. 41-51, 136 CE, Arsinoite nome]; and the president of a guild is censured for his financial transgressions [140169 62 CE, Oxyrhynchus].



An edict opens with an announcement in the third person from the emperor or prefect:


[name <nom.>] λέγει N says:’ [10801 l.1-2] Μάρκος Πετρώνιος Μαμερτῖνος ἔπαρχος Αἰγύπτου λ[έ]γει. An imperial edict usually carries the full titulature [21816 l.1-5]. One example has no opening and may in fact be a summary or an abstract of an edict [16545 111 CE, Oxyrhynchus].


There follows a direct statement in the first person – this can be a short statement [21816 l.6-10], or a longer pronouncement, e.g. [14897 154 CE, Arsinoite nome (2 columns)] where the prefect grants an amnesty to fugitives. It can sometimes include a direct order κελεύω / ἐκέλευσα ‘I order/ordered’ [10234 ; 10801 ; 9034 138-161 CE, Arsinoite nome] .


After the main text there can be a simple προτεθήτω ‘let it be posted’ or πρόθες ‘post’ [9034; 16577]. [Katzoff 1982 : 212] suggests that this order is different from a covering letter to lower officials to publicly post the edict, and believes it is directed to the prefect’s own clerical staff as an authorisation to release the document and as an endorsement of the text. However, it could equally be seen as a general order to set in motion all the steps required to ensure the document is available to everyone. There is at least one edict where προτεθήτω is written in a different hand to the main text [9034 l.11] - [Katzoff 1982 : 213] suggests this may be the hand of the prefect himself and is therefore the original document, but this is probably unlikely. On the public posting of official announcements, see [Jördens 2001; Schubert 2022a].


A [date@end] follows. Occasionally there may be some additional information added, such as the list of names at the end of [9034].



In most cases the edicts that have survived are copies of an original and as such there is no certainty regarding the format and layout. The versions available were prepared in pagina format with horizontal fibres [9034; 10801] and with vertical fibres [16420 176-7 CE, Oxyrhynchus; 140169]. They were also drafted transversa charta [16577], and in the same orientation with horizontal fibres [10234; 17375]. Some are squarish with horizontal fibres [14897; 19292; 21816]. One is written on a relatively narrow sheet of papyrus [140169 H.24 (at least) x W.7cm].



In many examples the scribe reserves a single line for the opening announcement and begins a new line for the main text [9034; 10234; 16577]. If the opening extends to more than one line these are indented [14897; 19292]. The opening can also be placed in ekthesis to the rest of the text [17375]. Although written in the transcriptions, there is generally no evidence of a punctus after λέγει on the papyrus. The main text is displayed in a single block with the date at the end usually on a new line. [16420] is a rather badly written copy wherein the scribe did not distinguish the opening lines from the rest of the text; the non-cursive characters here could suggest a model to be used for the board (leukoma) that would carry the public posting. Another papyrus carries two edicts both written as a single block with a line of separation between them [23084]. Some edicts take up a small piece of papyrus [21816], while others run to two columns [14897]. While the scribal standard is good in most examples, [19292] is a rare example written in a style heavily influenced by literary hands, compare [Roberts 1955 : 9a, 13b] and the hand in the epikrisis declaration [11216].


How to Cite

Ferretti, L., Fogarty, S., Nury, E., Schubert, P. Description of Greek Documentary Papyri: Edict. grammateus project. DOI: 10.26037/yareta:etpqcddyvvedhayc337t6rgfzu