Royal ordinance



  1. Structure
  2. Format
  3. Layout

A royal ordinance (πρόσταγμα) is a decree or command from the Ptolemaic period establishing a law or regulation, or setting a precedent.


The work of reference for royal ordinances is [Lenger 1980] - a collection of decrees, royal letters, fragments, and references to decrees in other documents - along with the supplementary [Lenger 1990]. It should be noted that the terms “decree” and “ordinance” are used interchangeably in the literature.


Royal ordinances distinctively have some form of προστάσσω ‘I decree/order’ as the main verb and concern general issues. They are to be distinguished from διαγράμματα, which are contemporaneous laws and regulations, but which are not ostensibly issued by the king and are anonymous; on these see [Lenger 1980 : xxi and n.2]. They are also to be distinguished from royal letters which do not tend have προστάσσω as the main verb and usually relate to individual requests or petitions [8669 157 BCE, Soknopaiou Nesos], see [Modrzejewski 1951 : 196-197].


Royal ordinances/decrees are usually delivered on the initiative of the king [Lenger 1980 : xxiii], and concern a wide range of issues, e.g. taxation [2300 229-228 BCE, Alexandria], registration of slaves [5705 col.ii, 262-260 BCE], or amnesty [5554 61-60 BCE, Herakleopolite nome]. A long roll found in the archive of Menches [TM Arch 140], village scribe of Kerkeosiris, is a copy of a number of decrees of Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II and his queens Cleopatra II and III, the first of which grants an amnesty after recent unrest, followed by others covering land administration, tax fraud, and official corruption [2938 118 BCE, Kerkeosiris], see [Bagnall and Derow 2004 : no.54].


Many of the extant decrees survive as copies embedded in other texts, e.g. [5311 l.22-55, 124 BCE, Tebtunis] included as part of the documentation for the sale of some land, or as an attachment to a letter [5540 100 BCE], or as an extract or allusion, e.g. [8125 l.9, 146 BCE, Herakleopolite nome]. Three decrees form part of a dossier in support of a lawsuit [5775].



The introduction can be presented as a simple statement:


βασιλέως προστάξαντος ‘by order of the king’ [5775_2 270-269 BCE, Gurob], or the king and queen [3643 114 BCE, Tebtunis; 4813 50-49 BCE, Herakleopolite nome].


Some decrees may follow this statement with the names of the person responsible for the transmission of the decree at local level, and his agent:


[name <nom.>] ἀναγγείλαντος [παρ̣ά from name <gen.>] ‘announced by N in the name of N’ [5775_2], or this information may be placed before the opening statement [5775_1], see [Lenger 1980 : 15]. As well as to the general public, the introduction can be addressed to a specific group, e.g. [2300] is aimed specifically at owners or administrators of property.


This is followed by the main text which can occasionally be quite short [3643], after which comes the [date].


After the initial opening, the copies of decrees produced by Menches introduces each new one with προστετάχασι δέ ‘and they have decreed’ [2938].


One decree is followed with a note by the topogrammateus Horos where he indicates that he has publicly displayed it [4813], see [Lenger 1980 : 73, 262]. On the public posting of official announcements, see [Jördens 2001] and [Schubert 2022a].



In most cases the decrees that have survived are copies of an original and as such there is no certainty regarding the format and layout. The surviving versions were recorded in pagina format written with the vertical fibres [2299; 2300] or against the horizontal fibres [4813], or on a squarish sheet [3643]. Some decrees can be found on a roll [5705; 2938].



The opening statement often appears on its own line [2299; 4813; 4527; 4132 II BCE, Arsinoite nome (two on the same sheet)], sometimes in ekthesis to the rest of the text [2299; 4813]. The main text is displayed as a single block; the date separated at the end [2299; 2300; 3643]. Sometimes there is a small line drawn between the main text and date [3643; 4813] and between two decrees [4132]. Decrees can be displayed in columns [5554; 5705] (two columns); the copies of decrees found in the Menches archive run to an impressive ten columns [2938].


How to Cite

Ferretti, L., Fogarty, S., Nury, E., Schubert, P. Description of Greek Documentary Papyri: Royal Ordinance. grammateus project. DOI: 10.26037/yareta:73ic5bjk2jdp3nyvk637nltouy