Undertaking to Contract


  1. Structure
  2. Format
  3. Layout

Contracts in the form of a hypomnema became the most common way to draw up a lease agreement between two private parties during the Roman period [Yiftach-Firanko 2007 : 1051]. These contracts could be formulated as a [proposal to contract], or as an undertaking to contract.


An undertaking to contract was drawn up as a formal statement of intent, rather than a request to enter into an agreement, see [proposal to contract] and [Wolff 1978b : 119] . This formulation appears to be confined to documents from the Oxyrhynchite nome which concern lease agreements [Wolff 1978b : 118 n. 57], although there are later examples from the Hermopolite nome [Jördens 1990 : 222]. Up until at least III CE the [private protocol] was more favoured in Oxyrhynchus for such contracts; the surviving examples range from II-IV CE.


The undertaking is structured around the verb ἐπιδέχομαι ‘I undertake’ and so refers to itself as an ἐπιδοχή [15410 l.36, 260 CE; 17493 l.38, 261 CE], see [Rea 1972 : 1, n.1]. Contracts involve the leasing of land [16881 151 CE], rights to fishing [27661 II CE] or tax farming [22473 c.199 CE], the lease of a workshop [15410 260 CE], or the irrigation of land [702461 227-228 CE]. A contract to lease premises belonging to the city of Oxyrhynchus is addressed to the prytanis, who in turn publishes the undertaking to encourage further tenders for the property [17493 261 CE].


However, a lease agreement drawn up as an undertaking to contract is often associated with viticulture and, rather than an agreement between tenant and landlord to simply lease the land, these documents more specifically concern the contracting of labour, a μίσθωσις τῶν ἔργων ‘lease of work’. Rather than pay rent, the labourer was paid a μισθός or wage - see especially [Jördens 1990 : 222-232] on the probable evolution of this type of contract from traditional land leases; and more recently [Kloppenborg 2006 : 584-586 (list)]; for Oxyrhynchite land leases in general, see [Rowlandson 1996 : for vineyard leases and labour 228-236].



The contract opens with the standard hypomnematic address:


[to name <dat>][from παρά name <gen>] and follows with the verb ἐπιδέχομαι + infinitive – for land lease agreements ἐπιδέχομαι μισθώσασθαι ‘I undertake to lease’ [22524 296 CE], similarly for the lease of a pottery workshop [15410]; or ἐπιδέχομαι γεωργῆσαι τὴν γῆν ‘I undertake to farm the land’ [16881]. Occasionally ἑκουσίως ἐπιδέχομαι ‘I freely undertake’ can be written [22468 257 CE]. Contracts for viticulture work can be quite specific in detailing tasks such as weeding, pruning, and irrigation, as well as in specifying when those tasks should be completed [17254 299 CE]; some contracts can be very long [21943 280 CE].


The [date] is placed at the end of the contract and this may be followed with a subscription by the lessor formally agreeing to the terms [21943, 17518 226 CE]. There can also be a consular date before the opening address [22524].



Most undertakings to contract are in pagina format with the writing along the fibres but detailed work contracts can tend towards a more squarish format, e.g. [17254 H. 25.5 x W. 23.9cm; 21943 H. 23.8 x W. 19.9cm]. Others can be quite tall [15410 H. 32 x W. 13.4cm] or tall and narrow [16881 H. 32.2 x W. 7.8cm]. This elongated format may be influenced by the lease agreement written as a [private protocol]. The contract for the leasing of the premises in Oxyrhynchus, with the accompanying notice from the prytanis, is equally long and narrow [17493 H. 33 x W. 6.9cm].



The agreement is written on the sheet most often as a uniform block of text with little or no use of ekthesis or eisthesis [21943; 16881]; one contract begins with an enlarged first letter, the παρά clause and date at the end in ekthesis to the rest of the text [22468]. Another has a vacat after the consular date before the opening address [22524]. There is often a line drawn between the final date and subscription [22524; 15410]; one document has a line drawn before and after the subscription [16881]. The scribe drawing up the contract to lease city premises [17493] left the top third of the sheet blank in order to facilitate the later addition by the prytanis. The top halves of two lease agreements from the estate of Claudia Isidora were written on separate sheets and pasted together, probably forming part of a larger τόμος συγκολλήσιμος [16922 232-233 CE].


How to Cite

Ferretti, L., Fogarty, S., Nury, E., Schubert, P. Description of Greek Documentary Papyri: Undertaking. grammateus project. DOI: 10.26037/yareta:alkinknty5evzgifqu2w4jgzwa