Report of official proceedings (Roman)


  1. Structure
  2. Format
  3. Layout

Officials in Roman Egypt, the prefect or the nome strategoi among others, carried responsibility for running the province: they were in charge of military, administrative, judicial and religious matters. Individuals were summoned before the authorities [warrants], and opposing parties in trials were represented by their lawyers, who – in addition to their own speeches – could support their claims by quoting laws and imperial rescripts [18669 ca. 217 CE, Hermopolis]. During the hearings, an assistant recorded in writing, usually in direct speech, the content of the exchange that had taken place.


Reports of official proceedings in the Roman period were described by [Coles 1966] in a survey that remains reliable because only limited new evidence on the topic has appeared in the subsequent half century. The changes brought by the Romans to the administrative system of Ptolemaic Egypt had an impact that justifies providing here a separate coverage for the Roman period; for the Ptolemaic period, see [report of official proceedings (Ptolemaic)]. Minutes of assemblies and city meetings are similar to documents pertaining to judicial and administrative hearings and may, broadly speaking, be included among reports of official proceedings.


One key difference between reports from the Ptolemaic and Roman periods lies in the fact that, in the former, the proceedings are recorded in indirect speech, whereas in the latter the scribe uses direct speech. Whether the exact utterances made by the speakers are transcribed through shorthand writing remains unclear [Coles 1966 : 10-19]. The earliest reference to the use of shorthand in papyri dates only from 155 CE [20424, Oxyrhynchus], a contract of apprenticeship to a shorthand writer (σημειογράφος); in some instances the recorded wording testifies to an effort to preserve an exact rendition of the speeches [19486 192 CE, Hermopolis; 30449 late III CE, Oxyrhynchus (?)]; see [Coles 1966 : 22-23]. In other cases, the assistant may have retained only the most significant sentences.


Eventually, the transcript is entered in the journal (ὑπομνηματισμοί) of the official who has presided over the hearings. A copy of the ὑπομνηματισμοί is sent to a central archive in Alexandria, the ἐν Πατρ̣ικοῖς βιβλιοθήκη, for safe-keeping [22445 136 CE, Mendes]. A public posting is also made: [Wilcken 1912 : 60] comments on the wording ὑπ(ηρέτης) προθεὶς δημοσίᾳ κατεχώρισα ‘I, the assistant, having posted in public, have recorded’ added at the bottom of each column in a strategos’ journal [23481 ca. 232 CE, Elephantine].


These journals can be used to provide abstracts of previous hearings which may be inserted in future petitions. For instance, a petitioner may insert, in the text of his request, the report of a previous hearing that took place before an official [14029 173 CE, Karanis, l.12-21].


Most of the available evidence comes from such abstracts. These may have been drawn up by state scribes, checked by a supervisor, and authenticated accordingly. In other instances the copy may have been made by a “scribe who made a profession of copying official documents for the public in Egypt” [Williams 1974 : 91], with reference to [21959 150 CE, Oxyrhynchus]. An abstract could also be produced from the publicly posted copy of the proceedings, but there is no firm evidence for this.


In [10742 124 CE, Arsinoite nome], near the end of the abstract (l.110), the strategos explicitly states: Ἀπολ<λ>ώνιος ἀνέγνων τὸν προκείμενον ὑπομνηματισμὸν ἐν σελίσι τρὶσι ἡμίσει ‘I, Apollonios, have read the above record in three and a half columns’. Thus, both [10742] and its duplicate [47332 124 CE, Arsinoite nome] are “private copies from the official original and this phrase (here in the same hand as the body of the document) will be a copy of the presiding official’s certification of the authenticity of the official record, appended to it originally in his own hand” [Coles 1966 : 17]. Since the text of the two is identical, these copies must preserve the original wording as it appeared in the strategos’ journal.


A report of official proceedings should not be mistaken for a [report of imperial decision] which records in writing, in the form of a subscription (ὑπογραφή), the oral decision (ἀπόκριμα) of the emperor, and can resemble the form of reports of official proceedings, e.g. [13449 later than 138 CE, Tebtunis].



Abstracts made from reports of official proceedings may be copied together with other documents pertaining to a judicial case: e.g. the text of the abstract is followed by that of a letter in [21671 ca. 107 CE, Hermopolis; 8918 197 CE, Arsinoite nome].


They can also be embedded within the text of other documents [10732 l.131-146, 114-115 CE, Arsinoite nome; 9263 l.25-36, ca. 161 CE, Arsinoite nome]. It is sometimes specified that only the relevant part was copied (τὸ ἀνῆκον μέρος [9263 l.26]; τὸ διαφέρον μέρος [21590 l.11, ca. 299 CE, Oxyrhynchus]). A petition may also include an account of the hearing in indirect speech [8932 ca. 171 CE, Arsinoite nome].


Abstracts are usually divided into four main sections: introductory formulae, narrative, decision, and concluding section.


The introductory formulae include the following elements (not all appear in every abstract):

  • [date@start] [21045 94 CE; 8929 ca. 108 CE, Soknopaiou Nesos].
  • [ἀντίγραφον] mention of a copy [18024 ca. 63-64 CE; 21045; 17844 117-127 CE, Hermopolis].
  • [title] + [name and position of the presiding official], e.g. ἐξ ὑπομνηματισμῶν Τι[βερίο]υ Κλαυδ[ίο]υ Πασίωνος στρατη(γοῦ) ‘from the records of Tiberius Claudius Pasion, strategos’ [20699 49 CE, Oxyrhynchus], or ἐξ ἀναφορίου Φλαυίου Τιτιανοῦ τοῦ κρατίστου ἡγεμ[όνος] ‘from a petition (submitted to) Flavius Titianus, prefect, vir egregius’ [12345 127 CE, Tebtunis]. The title can be more elaborate, e.g. ἐκ τόμου [ὑπο]μνηματισμῶν [Β]λαι\σ/ίου Μα[ρ]ιανοῦ \ἐπάρχου/ σπείρης πρώ[τ]ης Φλαουίας Κιλίκων [ἱ]ππικῆς ἐξ ἀναπομπῆς Ἁτερίου [Νέπω]τ̣ος τοῦ κρατίστο[υ ἡγ]ε[μ]όνος ‘from the roll of records of Blaesius Marianus, prefect of the First Flavian Cohort of Cilician cavalrymen, by delegation of the Prefect Haterius Nepos, vir egregius’ [15020 124 CE, Ptolemais Euergetis (?)].
  • [place], e.g. [20699] ἐπὶ τοῦ βήματος ‘at the tribunal’; [18024] ἐπὶ τῆι ὁδῷ τῆς παρεμβολῆς πρὸς τῶι Εἰσίωι ‘on the street of the barracks, near the sanctuary of Isis’.
  • [μεθ’ ἕτερα] [13827 161 CE, Arsinoite nome] or [μετ’ ἄλλα] ‘following other business’ [17842 160 CE, Koptos] [Coles 1966 : 48], indicates the omission of irrleveant information.
  • [name and position of the parties] involved in the case, sometimes introduced with a participle in the genitive absolute [21671]. Until the mid-second century, the position of speakers is mentioned only when they appear first; if they are mentioned again, only their name is given [23571 85 CE]. In [14543 162 CE, Theadelphia], however, where the report of proceedings is embedded in a petition, the speaker’s role is repeated on each utterance.


The narrative consists of a transcript of the verbal exchange, usually in direct speech. Use of direct speech in reports of official proceedings is first attested in 49 CE [20699]. [Coles 1966 : 40-41] identifies four ways of introducing the speakers, but the distinction is not quite as clear cut as he suggests. Some general features can nonetheless be identified.

  • In the first century CE, the speaker is named but there is no introductory verb, e.g. [20699 l.4-5]: Ἀριστοκλῆς ῥήτωρ ὑπὲρ Πεσούριος ‘the advocate Aristokles, on behalf of Pesouris’.
  • Near the end of the first century (as already in Ptolemaic proceedings), the opening speech is introduced by a participial construction in the genitive absolute, e.g. [21671 l.1-5]: ἀναγνωσθέντος περὶ δαπάνης εἰς τὸ ἐκ καινῆς κατασκευαζόμενον βαλανεῖον καὶ τὴν πλατεῖαν τάλαντα δέκα ἕξ, κα[ὶ] προσειπόντος Ἡρακλείδου στρατηγοῦ καὶ ἄλλα μετοξὺ δεδα[π]ανῆσθαι, Οὐίβιος Μάξιμος· (...) ‘A report was read concerning expenditure on the baths which were being refitted and on the street, amounting to sixteen talents, and Herakleides, strategos, stated that further expenses had been incurred meanwhile. Vibius Maximus: (...)’, (transl. Grenfell & Hunt). In this case, there is no verb introducing the direct speech; but there is one, in the III CE, in [18669 l.11-13]: κληθέν[τ]ω̣ν Σαβείνου καὶ Μαξίμου Διονυσίου καὶ ὑπακο[υ]σάντων, μεθʼ ἕτερα· Ἀκ̣ύλας εἶπεν ‘After Sabinos and Maximos son of Dionysios were summoned and had answered, after other points, Aquilas said: (...)’.
  • In the 130s, the use of the introductory verb [εἶπεν] becomes increasingly frequent [8950 135 CE, Arsinoite nome]. Soon after, this verb also appears abbreviated as εἶ(πεν) [9419 l.8 ca. 139 CE, Arsinoite nome]. The abbreviated form becomes increasingly frequent till the mid-third century. In the same document (l.16), one also finds an early occurrence of the introductory verb of reply [ἀπεκρίνατο] (never used for officials) [Coles 1966 : 44].


The insertion of introductory verbs in Latin (Iuncinus d(ixit)), in a Greek abstract, possibly emphasizes the important position of the official [17525 212-213 CE].


In cases where a decision (κρίσις) is expected, it is normally recorded in direct speech. The reports of official proceedings are “a record of an official’s activities and not a judicial record per se ” [Coles 1966 : 49]; but this does not refrain petitioners from quoting the reports as evidence to support their claims, as in an appeal made by priests who requested exemption from liturgy [14146 171 CE, Bacchias], or in an affair concerning the circumcision of a priest’s son [9124 185 CE, Arsinoite nome].


The decision can be introduced briefly, e.g. [20699 l.29]: ὁ στρατηγός· (...) ‘the strategos: (...)’; [23571] l.59: Σεπτίμιος Οὐέγετος τῶι Φιβίωνι· (...) ‘Septimius Vegetus to Phibion: (...)’. The decision itself may be quite brief too, e.g. [21045 l.16-17]: Μέττιος Ῥοῦφος· ὑπομνηματισθήτω{ι} ‘Mettius Rufus: let (this) be recorded’.


A more elaborate wording gradually develops, as in [20406 l.5-6, 113-117 CE (?), Alexandria or Oxyrhynchus] : Λοῦπος [βουλευσάμενο]ς μετὰ τῶν φίλων ἀπεφήνατο οὕτως· (...) ‘Lupus consulted his colleagues and gave the following sentence: (...)’. See also [15020 l.30-32]: Βλαίσιος Μαριανὸς [ἔ]π̣α̣[ρχο]ς σπείρης πρώ[τ]η̣[ς] Φλαυίας Κιλίκων ἱππικῆς· αὐτ[ὸ] τοῦ[το ὁ Ἀ]φροδείσιος ἀποδείξει ἐν ἡμέραις ἑξήκοντα ‘Blaesius Marianus, prefect of the First Flavian Cohort of Cilician cavalrymen: “Aphrodisios will prove this within thirty days”’. This is followed (l.33-40) by a long addition in indirect speech ending with: Βλαίσιος Μαριανὸς ἐκέλευ[σε τήνδε τ]ὴν προ[φ]ορὰν ὑπομνηματισθῆναι ‘Blaesius Marianus ordered that this case be recorded’.


In some cases, the decision is quoted verbatim (κατὰ λέξιν ‘word for word’), e.g. [21727 l.4-6, ca. 146 CE, Oxyrhynchus]: Κελεάρις ὁ [ἱε]ρεὺς καὶ ὑπομνηματογράφος σκ[εψ]ά̣μ̣[ενο]ς̣ μετὰ τῶν παρόντων ὑπηγόρευσεν ἀπόφασιν ἣ καὶ ἀνε[γνώσ]θη κατ[ὰ] λέξιν οὕτως ἔχουσα· (...) ‘Cerealis, priest and recorder, examined (the matter) with those attending (the hearing) and dictated his decision, which was read verbatim as follows: (...)’. See also [28187 ii. l.2-5, ca. 160 CE, Arsinoite nome].


In the concluding section, it is sometimes stated that the assistant leaves the hearing: ἐξῆλθεν [name <nom>] ὑπηρετής , e.g. [10732 l.146; 21727 l.24-25; 9263 l.36] [Coles 1966 : 52]. This suggests the formal ending of the session.


After the report has been added to the journal, the new entry is checked by the presiding official, who confirms the content by adding [ἀνέγνων] ‘I have read over’ [Coles 1966 : 52-53]. This practice goes back to [reports of official proceedings (Ptolemaic)], where the passive [ἀνέγνωσται] ‘it has been read over’ appears at the end of several documents.


In abstracts, the final [ἀνέγνων] is written either by the same hand that made the copy [8929; 20196 ca. 135 CE], or by a different hand [13450 161-169 CE, Tebtunis]. In the first instance, this may correspond to the control mark found in the journal, or else the document is a copy of an abstract; in the latter, the content of the abstract itself was directly checked by a supervisor.



Abstracts from reports of official proceedings were often quite long texts and were copied on horizontal rolls, similar to [reports of official proceedings (Ptolemaic)]. The height of the roll can range from 21cm [10742 124 CE, Arsinoite nome] to 27.5cm [21045] or 31cm [20699].


They can consist of one column [20977 ca. 63 CE; 21045; 8929], two [20699; 8950] or more [20506 ca. 186 CE, Oxyrhynchus] (an impressive 9 columns). The length of the roll (209.5cm in the latter case) is determined by the width of each individual column, and by the number of columns. In [10732] 6 columns bring the roll to a length of nearly 115cm.


The text usually runs in the direction of fibres (exceptions: [8950; 12168]). In one case, the ink was removed from older papyrus sheets that were then pasted together to form a τόμος συγκολλήσιμος, with a mixture of horizontal and vertical fibres; some abstracts were finally copied on both sides of the newly formed roll [22212 and 22213 208 CE, Oxyrhynchite nome].



Columns can be numbered [20190 ii 9, ca. 138 CE].


The title may be separated from the main text by an ekthesis in the first line [13049 280-281 CE, Ptolemais Euergetis] or an eisthesis in the second [12168 194 CE, Karanis]. The rest of the abstract is often copied in one long sequence of lines. Entries may, however, be separated by horizontal lines [17495 ca. 135 CE; 18517 ca. 170 CE]. In a document where an abstract is quoted, this is marked by an eisthesis [21590 l.13-28]. The changes of speakers may be marked by an ekthesis highlighting the name of each speaker [23571], see the image available in [Norsa 1939 : Tav. 12A].


The writing may consist of a fast cursive [21511 ca. 138 CE, Prosopite nome; 9245 141 CE, Arsinoite nome; 9059 ca. 153 CE, Arsinoite nome], an informal uncial [10742] or a calligraphic script [21045; 15020; 17495; 13450], but it is invariably the work of a skilled scribe.


A chancery hand appears in some abstracts [17208 212-213 CE, Oxyrhynchus; 16931 ca. 286, Oxyrhynchus (?)]. [16518 ca. 218 CE, Oxyrhynchus] consists of two copies, the first – and better preserved – with the text written in a fine chancery hand, the second “in the same hand (but smaller and less formal)” [P.Oxy. XLI : no. 2955, introduction : 32]. A chancery hand also appears in an abstract from a report of a trial before emperor Hadrian [13449].


Some abstracts are authenticated through the use of red ink, either throughout the whole text [9085 184 CE, Arsinoite nome], or for some additions [15020] or corrections [26951 ca. 142-144 CE, Alexandria; [Schubert 2005]. A writer also left some marks, in black ink, in the margin of [15996 235 CE, Oxyrhynchus], presumably as he checked the accuracy of his copy.


How to Cite

Ferretti, L., Fogarty, S., Nury, E., Schubert, P. Description of Greek Documentary Papyri: Report of Official Proceedings (Roman). grammateus project. DOI: 10.26037/yareta:qd6ph7vsrfdtxnbuc46cl4qrg4