Private Protocol


  1. Introduction
  2. Structure
  3. Format
  4. Layout



The so-called private protocol was described in detail by [Wolff 1975] and [Wolff 1978b], who underlines the dual nature of such documents: on the one hand, they seem to follow the formulation in use in documents written by notarial offices (objective formulation or homology, praxis and kyria clauses, often also stipulatio from III CE); on the other hand, they display features that belong to privately drafted contracts, especially the [date@end], which is a clear sign that they were not produced by a notarial office. Wolff uses the label “private protocol” to highlight the fact that such documents were indeed produced in a private environment. They are, however, consistently written by trained scribes.


Private protocols are attested for the most part in the Oxyrhynchite nome, but also occur in the Arsinoite nome, and sporadically in other nomes. Although the Oxyrhynchite and Arsinoite types display some common features, there are also differences. [Wolff 1975 : 351] argues that both types developed independently.

Oxyrhynchite nome

Oxyrhynchite private protocols are first attested in 19 BCE [20548], where the formulation mirrors that of documents produced by notarial offices only a few years earlier, e.g. [5255 44 BCE]; this does not exclude the possibility that private protocols existed at an earlier date, in the Ptolemaic period. They are found throughout the Roman period, up to the IV CE.


Documents drawn up as private protocols in the Oxyrhynchite nome do not appear to relate to sales or loans; they are used mostly for contracts of lease [22558 108 CE; 20633 II CE; 80724 II CE; 20636 II CE; 21362 III CE]. It is only in the III CE that lease agreements in the form of a hypomnema (e.g. [proposal to contract], [undertaking]) start to compete with the private protocol in this nome.


There are also contracts of apprenticeship [16535 66 CE; 20425 II CE; 16900 III CE], as well as other small transactions between individuals, e.g. exchange of liturgies [18507 III CE; 16560 III CE], payment for the superintendence of transport [21939 325 CE], hire of a secretary [21360 III CE] or entertainers [16593 III CE].

Arsinoite nome

Private protocols in the Arsinoite nome are never used for contracts of lease: they pertain to loans [14118 III CE; 15023 238 CE] and other agreements relating to legal obligations, such as sales of animals [13078 III CE]. The time span is later than in the Oxyrhynchite nome, from the late III to the IV CE.



The Oxyrhynchite private protocol begins with an immediate objective statement. Contracts of lease are introduced by [ἐμίσθωσεν] [22222 II CE], the parties are named and the property described. In other cases the objective statement is a mutual homology, [ὁμολογοῦσιν ἀλλήλοις] [16540 III CE]. There is a [date@end] after the main text, and this may be followed by a subscription [15404 219 CE].


Private protocols from the Arsinoite nome also start with an immediate objective statement, but the wording is not the same: they are introduced by verbs such as [ὁμολογεῖ] [15023; 13078] or [προσεφώνησεν] [14118]; unlike the Oxyrhynchite documents, there is no mutual homology.



Private protocols from the Oxyrhynchite nome are often distinctively prepared on elongated and narrow sheets (ranging H. 25 to 39cm, W. 6.5 to 12.5cm), with horizontal fibres [21745 II CE; 15404; 22222]. A shorter format, with a reduced contrast between height and width, also occurs, but less frequently [80724].


Although the elongated proportions that prevail in the Oxyrhynchite nome also occur in the Arsinoite [13078], more often sheets in that nome were cut from rolls with a height of c. 21 cm, the standard pagina dimension in this area [14118; 15023].



The layout appears to be similar in all nomes. The text is written by the scribe as a single block, in one column, often with few distinguishing features [18507; 19308 200 CE, Oxyrhynchus]. Some documents carry an enlarged first letter [16900; 14118], and in some cases also an exaggerated (ἔτους) symbol [14118; 21745]. There may be a line drawn between the date and the subscription [14118; 21745], and there is evidence of some use of ekthesis [16540 l.1] and eistheis [14118 l.19]. The left-hand margins usually range between 1-1.5 cm, the top margins range 1-2 cm; there may be a large lower margin, e.g. [21745].


[Wolff 1975 : 353] concludes that the choice of using a private protocol is not dictated by legal criteria: “which form was to be chosen was merely a question of individual taste or of local tradition or fashion.” This is well illustrated by the case of the Sakaon Archive [TM Arch 206], spanning the late III and early IV CE. This archive contains several cases of the use of the private protocol (III CE [13113; 13078; 13074 all III CE; 13114; 13079 all IV CE], alongside other types of contracts for similar transactions: compare the loan agreement drawn up as a private protocol [13082 328 CE] with that drawn up as a [cheirographon] [13081 307 CE], both bearing a label χ(ει)ρ(όγραφον) on the back.


How to Cite

Ferretti, L., Fogarty, S., Nury, E., Schubert, P. Description of Greek Documentary Papyri: Private Protocol. grammateus project. DOI: 10.26037/yareta:ejxvvgq2dnec5pl5sejttw6wai