Letter of Recommendation

ἐπιστολὴ συστατική


  1. Structure
  2. Format
  3. Layout

The descriptions “Letter of Recommendation” and “Letter of Introduction” are interchangeable in the literature on the subject. This type of letter is written to recommend or formally introduce one person to another; it can be used to recommend someone in either a private or official capacity, e.g. [1933 254 BCE, Arsinoite nome] recommending a friend, or, e.g. [3656 113 BCE, Tebtunis] introducing a substitute for a village meeting. Usually the bearer of the letter himself is recommended to the recipient [45063 135-136 CE, Karanis; 28903 II-III CE, Oxyrhynchus]. Some letters ask the recipient to introduce the bearer to another person, e.g. [705 257 BCE, Alexandria].


The chronological range stretches from III BCE into the IV CE after which time this variation was appropriated by the church: letters of recommendation with added Christian phraseology were carried by clergy when travelling as proof of their good standing – see [Teeter 1997] on Christian letters of recommendation and similarly phrased letters of peace. For an in-depth investigation of the letter of recommendation see [Kim 1972]; his list [Kim 1972 : 146-149] should be supplemented by [Cotton 1981 : 53-54] and [Vergados 2011 : 52].



The opening formula is as for [private letters], see [Kim 1972 : 10-21]; superlatives are also found but γλυκυτάτος in this context is unattested.


Kim breaks down the main section of the letter of recommendation into the following categories:

  • [Identification] formula [Kim 1972 : 37-53] – the person being recommended is named and further identified, e.g. [1429 257 BCE, Philadelphia] Χαρμῖνος ὁ τὴν ἐπιστολήν σοι ἀποδιδούς ἐστιν Ἡρακ[λείδου] υἱὸς τοῦ ἐκ τῆς ἱερᾶς πρωιρέως ‘Charminos who gives you this letter is the son of Herakleides bow-man of the holy ship’; [47208 19 CE, Philadelphia] Εἰσίδωρος...ἐστίν μου ἐκ τῆς οἰκίας ‘Isidoros...is from my household’.
  • [Background] [Kim 1972 : 53-60] – an explanatory statement detailing why the bearer is being commended to the recipient, e.g. [1429] ἀφέσταλται δὲ ὑπό τε τοῦ πατρός ‘he has been sent by his father’; [838 255 BCE, Alexandria] βούλε]ται οὖν κα[ὶ αὐ]τὸς ὁ νεανίσκος ἐκεῖ πράττε[ι]ν τ[ι] ‘the young man would like to find some work there’.
  • [Request] formula [Kim 1972 : 65-77] – there are three possible clauses:
    1. καλῶς (ἂν) οὖν ποιήσεις + participle: [1933 254 BCE, Arsinoite nome] καλῶς ἂν οὖν ποιήσαις ἐπιμέλειαν ποιούμενος αὐτοῦ ‘be kind enough then to take care of him’.
    2. χαριεῖ μοι + participle: [1429 257 BCE, Philadelphia] χαριεῖ δή μοι σπουδάσας τε ὅπως ὅ τι τάχος λάβηι ‘you will do me a favour then if you help him get it as soon as possible’.
    3. ἐρωτῶ σε ἔχειν αὐτόν + a form of συνίστημι: [20447 16 CE, Oxyrhynchus] ἐρωτῶ σε οὖν ἔχειν αὐτὸν συνεσταμένον ‘I ask you to have him introduced (to you)’. This periphrastic construction with συνίστημι is found only in letters of recommendation.


This request is often followed by the purpose of the request introduced by ὅπως or ἵνα [2293 260 BCE, Alexandria] ὅπως πλέωσι ‘so that he may sail’, [705 257 BCE, Philadelphia] ἵνα ἐντύχηι ‘so that he might meet...’, [32145] ἵνα μήτις αὐτοῖς ἐπήρειαν ποιήσι ‘so that they may not be mistreated’.


The closing formula remains the same as for [private letters]; [19590] written to a strategos carries an extended closing greeting in the hand of the author [ἐ]ρρῶσθαί σε εὔχομαι, ἄδελφε τειμι[ώτ]ατε. Sometimes a [date@end] is added e.g. [2293; 1933; 23378].



The format of letters of recommendation is the same as for any [private letter]. A mid-II CE example is rather narrow [132731] (H. 18.1 x W. 6.7cm). Although they rarely survive, it is likely these letters carried a seal e.g. [1912 243-242 BCE, Herakleopolite nome].



Examples of the common features include:

  • [702, 705 transversa charta; 706 257 BCE, Alexandria, pagina format] examples written as a single block of text with the closing formula separated from the main body, some with a date added [3656; 1933];
  • [5566 51 CE; 23378] are examples with a large top and bottom margin;
  • [1758 245 BCE Arsinoite nome; 3656] are letters with evenly spaced lines, but in [45063] the scribe ran out of space.


A more careful layout can be seen in letters from the archive of the strategos Apollonios: [19590] in pagina format, has an enlarged first letter, with the first and third lines in ekthesis to the the rest of the text, along with some scribal flourishes – note the enlarged final iota of Ἀπολλωνίωι at the end of line 1. Another from the same archive [19591] (horizontally oriented with horizontal fibres) is written by a different scribe but also carefully laid out. Occasionally the recommendation may be accompanied by another document: after the date in [2142 250-249 BCE, Philadelphia] there follows an invitation to come to Philadelphia. The recommendation in [2067 248-247 BCE, Philadelphia] is the precursor to a petition to the king [enteuxis] written by the same scribe on the same sheet.


How to Cite

Ferretti, L., Fogarty, S., Nury, E., Schubert, P. Description of Greek Documentary Papyri: Letter of Recommendation. grammateus project. DOI: 10.26037/yareta:gudbsboujnasxfsve2r6gglwpa