Report of official proceedings (Ptolemaic)


  1. Structure
  2. Format
  3. Layout

In Ptolemaic Egypt, reports of official proceedings may originate from either judicial courts or administrative instances. These reports are the result of an action brought by one party against another for, e.g., criminal acts or breaches of contract; or in an administrative setting, malpractice, and include the decision of the court or tribunal on the matter. A general survey is available in [Wolff 1962]. The judicial system is divided among several courts, with some degree of overlap between them (see below). Criminal offences committed by officials are handled by the local governors and their subordinates [Wolff 1962 : 118]. The general typology (structure, format and layout) of reports of proceedings from either judicial or administrative instances being quite similar, the following description covers both.


In the Roman period, reports from officials cover military, administrative, judicial and religious matters; see [report of official proceedings (Roman)], a type of document that differs markedly from Ptolemaic reports.


The three main judicial courts in Ptolemaic Egypt are:

  • The δικαστήριον (dikasterion, ‘justice court’) [Wolff 1962 : 37-48], an autonomous court (by permission of the king) open to non-Egyptians.
  • The λαοκρίται (laokritai, ‘those in charge of deciding for the people’) [Wolff 1962 : 48-53], open to Egyptians.
  • The χρηματισταί (chrematistai ‘those in charge of handling transactions’) [Wolff 1962 : 64-89], who deal with judicial matters by delegation of the king.


Consensus is lacking about the precise distribution of tasks between these three courts. [Wolff 1962 : 83] opposes the laokritai to the dikasterion, the former being in charge of cases brought by the Egyptians, and the latter, of those brought by the Greeks and other non-Egyptians. With the gradual blurring of the distinction between ethnic groups, the dikasterion disappears from the available evidence in the late III BCE. According to this view, the court of chrematistai, acting by delegation of the king, was open to all and thus gradually overlapped with that of the laokritai to the point of causing the latter’s near disappearance in the late II BCE.


A royal ordinance of 118 BCE states that the jurisdiction of the court of chrematistai or laokritai is determined by the written language used in the contract passed by the opposing parties [2938 l.207-220, ca. 118 BCE, Kerkeosiris (?)]. In Wolff’s view, this is to be considered alongside amnesty decrees found in the same document: both measures – jurisdiction according to use of language, and amnesty – seem to point in the same direction: the king was apparently trying to restore institutional order in the kingdom, in the case of distinction of language by introducing an artificial limit between the jurisdiction of the courts of laokritai and chrematistai. He was thus protecting the laokritai from encroachment on the part of the chrematistai. Already close to disappearing in the late II BCE, the laokritai courts are effectively shut down in the I BCE. This indicates that the attempt to revive them was unsuccessful.


According to [Pestman 1985], however, [2938 l.207-220] illustrates primarily the gradual shift in the criteria used for identifying ethnic groups. This was important because different legal systems coexisted in the country: the Egyptian population had retained its laws and customs inherited from the Pharaonic period (κατὰ τοὺς τῆς χώρας νόμους ‘according to the laws of the country’) [2938 l.219-220], and the immigrants brought another legal system to Egypt.


Whereas it was relatively easy to distinguish an Egyptian from a Greek in the III BCE, such was no longer the case in the II BCE. Therefore, the criterion for directing an individual towards either the laokritai or the chrematistai was that of language use: contracts written in demotic Egyptian were placed under the authority of the laokritai, and those written in Greek were entrusted to the chrematistai; and in a transitory period, lawsuits of Egyptians against Egyptians about contracts written in Greek remained under the jurisdiction of the laokritai.


Whatever the outcome of this juristic debate, the chrematistai are better documented than the other Ptolemaic courts due to the preservation of several reports containing their judicial sentences. The chrematistai appear in the mid-III BCE [1939 254 BCE, Arsinoite; 847 254 BCE, Krokodilopolis; 849 254 BCE; 1796 245-244 BCE, Philadelphia] and at first do not constitute a permanent court of justice: they are appointed by the king according to current needs [Wolff 1962 : 71]. In the second century, a fixed court is established in every nome, with three judges each. Individuals may submit petitions, such as those found in the so-called Archive of the Undertakers (taricheutai) of Tanis [TM Arch 551], directly to the chrematistai; there is no address to the king, even nominal. This court was discontinued when Egypt became a Roman province.


The jurisdiction of the chrematistai is wide, their office corresponding to a delegation of power from the king himself in matters relating to justice. This is reflected in their full title: χρηματισταὶ τῶν τὰς βασιλικάς, [judge # 1], [judge # 2], [judge # 3], οἱ τὰ βασιλικὰ καὶ προσοδικὰ καὶ ἰδιωτικὰ κρίναντες ‘those in charge of handling (the affairs pertaining) to the royal (possessions?), [judge # 1], [judge # 2], [judge # 3], those deciding on matters relating to the king, revenue and private persons’ [3510 147 or 136 or 83 BCE, Memphis; 5240 154 or 143 BCE, Krokodilopolis; [Wolff 1962 : 65]].


Sentences given by the chrematistai are recorded by an εἰσαγωγεύς (eisagogeus ‘the person in charge of introducing the case’). When enforcing the decision of the chrematistai, the eisagogeus may send a letter to another official, adding a copy of the report after the order [3510; 5580 146-145 or 135-134 BCE, Krokodilopolis]. Also, a copy of a judicial sentence (ἀπὸ καταδίκης χρηματισμός [4906 l.2-3, ca. 51 BCE, Herakleopolite nome]) may be produced in support of a new case, for instance embedded within the text of a petition [4905 ca. 51 BCE, Herakleopolite nome; 44623 ca. 134 BCE, Herakleopolis]. This explains why, in most instances, available reports of official proceedings – judicial and administrative – consist of copies, and not of the original records, which are lost. Enough evidence is preserved, however, to sketch an outline of their typology.


Because the typology (structure, format, and layout) of judicial and administrative reports is very similar, an individual may resort to both authorities in order to settle the same case: e.g. [3563 117 BCE, Thebes], a report of a hearing before officials, which incidentally also preserves a mention of a petition submitted to the chrematistai (col. 2, l.4-7).



The preserved copies seem to have retained the original structure of the reports:

  • [date@start] [place] [4906 l.15; 3562 l.1, 119 BCE, Thebes].
  • Names and titles of those in charge of the case (appointed judges or officials from the administration) [3510 l.4-6; 156 fr. B, 134 BCE, Thebes].
  • [καταστάντος][name] ‘N having stood (before the court)’ [43085 mid-II BCE, Herakleopolite nome; 3563 l.9]. This is the standard formula, but circumstances may call for an expansion, e.g. πλειόνων γενομένων καταστάσεων Βερενίκης πρὸς Σωσίβιον καὶ τοῦ Σωσιβίου πρὸς τὴν Βερενίκην ‘Since there were several appearances of Berenike against Sosibios, and of Sosibios against Berenike ...’ [4906 l.18-19]. In the case of an informal copy [43085], the text may start directly with καταστάντος, without the preceding introductory data. This report was used as supporting evidence for a petition [43084 170-156 BCE (?), Herakleopolite nome]; see the introduction to [P.Gen. III : no. 126-127] for an overview.
  • The case is then laid out, in indirect speech, in marked contrast with [reports of official proceedings (Roman)], where the exchange is normally quoted verbatim. Participial clauses in the genitive absolute abound, combined with relative clauses [43085], in accordance with the current legal language of the time.
  • The judge or official presiding over the hearing delivers the decision [3510 l.23: σ[υ]νεκρίναμ[ε]ν ‘we have given our sentence’; 156 l.76-86; 3562 l.66-69; 3596 l.15-19 119 BCE, Thebes]. The sentence can be quite lengthy, e.g. [5580 l.30-53].
  • The eisagogeus may be named at the end, with his signature in his own separate hand [3510]. This implies that, although he is the nominal author of the report, the actual copying is done by a subordinate scribe. He checks the entire document and adds ἀνέγνωσται ‘it has been read over’ [3510; 5284 67 BCE (?), Oxyrhynchus (?)]. This control mark is found again in [reports of official proceedings (Roman)], in the active ἀνέγνων ‘I have read over’.



Reports of official proceedings being often quite long, they are copied on horizontal rolls displaying several columns of writing. This practice is maintained in [reports of official proceedings (Roman)]. The reports are copies, produced by trained scribes, and they are all written in one hand, with the exception of the control mark added by the eisagogeus (see above).


[3562] consists of a fully preserved roll (H. 20.5 x W. 73cm), made of four sheets pasted together (three kolleseis). The text is distributed among three columns; the writing follows the direction of fibres. The same general features are to be found in [3563] (H. 31-35 x W. 192cm), made of 14 sheets for 10 columns (each ca. 17-20cm wide) written in the direction of fibres.


This pattern is confirmed by [5580], consisting of two fragments. The roll in its original dimensions, taking into account a part of the text that is missing, must have had a height of ca. 30cm, and a width of ca. 60cm. The text is distributed among three columns, the two first ca. 19cm wide, the third ca. 12.5cm; the writing follows the direction of fibres.



In [5580], several sections are separated by a paragraphos: 1) letter requesting that the sentence be enforced; 2) opening section of the report; 3) description of the case itself; 4) control mark added by the eisagogeus. Section (2) is also highlighted by an eisthesis of the whole paragraph, and sub-parts of (3) are marked by the ekthesis of the initial line of the paragraph (col. 2, l.26, 30, 37). The date of the initial request (col. 1, l.5), as well as eisagogeus’ control mark (col. 3, l.54), are offset to the right.


How to Cite

Ferretti, L., Fogarty, S., Nury, E., Schubert, P. Description of Greek Documentary Papyri: Report of Official Proceedings (Ptolemaic). grammateus project. DOI: 10.26037/yareta:32euyqzp3vbc5iafvnzypygr4i