Customshouse / Toll Receipts


  1. Structure
  2. Format
  3. Layout

A customshouse receipt – also called toll receipt – is a document that attests the payment of a tax levied on goods transiting through a toll, or checkpoint. This description covers toll receipts at the point of entry/exit and does not include customs-registers. For a detailed study of customs receipts and the system of customs duties in Greco-Roman Egypt the work of reference is [P.Customs]. For the Ptolemaic period consult [Préaux 1939] and [Fraser 1972] although Sijpesteijn adds some new evidence. [Wallace 1938 : 255-276] surveys all the customs regulations from the available evidence.


There is evidence of customs duties on goods being imported from Syria and Palestine at Pelusium, from the Aegean and further afield at Alexandria, and from Africa at ports along the Red Sea coast, as well as at Syene/Elephantine. Duties were also imposed on goods exported from these ports [P.Customs : 1-2].


Internal tolls were levied on goods transported along the Nile at the border between Upper and Lower Egypt at Memphis, and in the Delta region at Schedia and Juliopolis [P.Customs : 16-18]. The majority of the evidence at village level is from the Arsinoite nome. Three different duties are attested: the ἐρημοφυλακία, a tax paid for protection while travelling through the desert, and perhaps also for the upkeep of the roads [P.Customs : 21-22]; the λιμὴν Μέμφεως, paid to allow goods to be transported from one epistrategia to another (whether or not the route was via Memphis), but paid at the customshouse of the village where the journey started [P.Customs : 22-23]; and the ρ καὶ ν (literally: ‘100 and 50’, to be understood as 1/100 + 1/50), a 3% duty on the goods themselves, which may have been at either an ad valorem or fixed rate [P.Customs : 23-25]. Examples of toll receipts for transportation by water are rare and most receipts are for the transportation of goods over land by camels and donkeys [P.Customs : 27-39]. A broad range of goods were moved, the greater number of receipts being for wine, olive oil, wheat and barley, vegetables and seeds, and animals [P.Customs : 58-70].



Toll receipts are structured in the following way:

  • The receipts open with one of the following the main verbs:
  • [through διὰ (πύλης) place <gen.>] ‘through the gate of (place)’ - there was usually a custom station at each gate into the village;
  • The type of tax being paid:
    • ἐρημοφυλακία [12882 I CE, Soknopaiou Nesos; 14360 II CE, Karanis]
    • λιμὴν Μέμφεως [15039 II CE, Philadelphia; 15075]
    • ρ καὶ ν [15070, 11435 II CE, Soknopaiou Nesos];
  • The name of the person transporting the goods;
  • Whether the toll is for goods being exported (ἐξάγων) [15034 I CE, Soknopaiou Nesos; 14354 II CE, Soknopaiou Nesos] or imported (εἰσάγων) [11467; 14355 both II CE, Philadelphia];
  • The pack animals and the goods being transported are always stated e.g. a donkey carrying a measure of olive oil [14352 II CE, Soknopaiou Nesos], or a donkey carrying figs [10611 II CE, Philadelphia];
  • Finally, the [date@end] on which the toll was paid.
  • Occasionally the name of an official at the toll gate is attached, confirmed by a second hand with σεση(μείωμαι) ‘I have signed’ [10914, 14354].


A mid-I CE receipt carries a letter-type opening address, as the taxpayer addresses the official in charge of the toll-gate directly, Φανίας ὁ πρὸς τῇ πύλῃ… χαίριν [12882] and then continues with the usual content. The receipt for the toll paid for the transportation of alum (στυπτηρία) [9301 II CE, Arsinoite nome] also does not follow the usual structure as it is a refund through a bank of the toll amount paid by the transporter, because this was a commodity exempt from taxes [P.Customs : 83-84].



There is no standard format for toll receipts. Many of the receipts have either a pagina format [15075; 15072; 9709; 15127 all II CE, Soknopaiou Nesos] (horizontal fibres),, [13742 II CE, Tebtunis; 14360; 40932 III CE, Soknopaiou Nesos], (vertical fibres); or a squarish format [14354; 9708 II CE, Soknopaiou Nesos; 15039] (horizontal fibres), [11467] (vertical fibres). Some are transversa charta [13741 II CE, Tebtunis; 9396 III CE, Soknopaiou Nesos; 29092 and 29093 both II-III CE, Soknopaiou Nesos] or in this orientation with horizontal fibres [10914; 15034; 10099 II CE, Soknopaiou Nesos: 28535 II-III CE, Tebtunis]. At the end of the document there may be an official seal [14352; 14355; 14360], or an indication that the receipt carried no seal, i.e. χωρὶς χαρακ(τῆρος) [10627 II CE, Philadelphia; 10678 III CE, Dionysias] or χωρὶς σφρα(γῖδος) [31951 III CE, Philadelphia].



The most common layout is as a single block of text without any differentiation between the elements of information. There is often a line drawn underneath the last line of text presumably to prevent any additions [15072; 11520 II CE, Bakchias; 11435]; in one example the date divides the line drawn into two halves [11467]. Often the last letter on a line is elongated to fill any remaining space [29092; 27652 and 27653 both II CE, Arsinoite nome] and sometimes more elaborate line fillers can be found [31233 III CE, Philadelphia; 10674 III CE, Soknopaiou Nesos]. There can be a large space between the final line of text and the end of the papyrus [10611] – sometimes this space may have carried a seal [15075; 14354; 15072; 11435]. There is evidence that some receipts were prepared beforehand, as indicated by a change of hand where the details of the transporter and transportation are entered [26703 II-III CE, Bakchias; 27638 and 27629 both II CE, Arsinoite nome].


How to Cite

Ferretti, L., Fogarty, S., Nury, E., Schubert, P. Description of Greek Documentary Papyri: Toll or Custom Receipt. grammateus project. DOI: 10.26037/yareta:6rfsfkj32bfe5fmqdijxnbxkau