Sunday, March 07, 2010

War Time Letters
Map of Egypt

The sands of Egypt have preserved many documents of everyday life and therefore provide a fascinating glimpse of everyday matters and private life. Several of these documents are the remnants of the archives of the family of a man named Apollonios who lived in the region of Hermoupolis in middle Egypt. At the time that the archive was accumulated he was serving as Strategos, (Chief Officer for law enforcement) for the district of Apollinpolis-Heptakomias. A position which he seems to have been appointed c. 113/14 C.E. He was caught in a truly unpleasant situation a few years, (115-117 C.E.) later when Egypt was engulfed by rebellion and war.1

The war is in fact very poorly known from our sources. It is generally characterized as the second Jewish revolt. From the accounts the Jewish communities of Cyprus, Egypt and Libya rose in revolt. The revolt was one of great ferocity and it appears to have been quelled with considerable savagery. Its causes and course are very obscure and given the extreme terseness of the sources likely to remain so.2 Some other time I may go through what we know and do not know about the rebellion.

Regarding our family. It appears that Apollonios’ family was of Greek descent, although several members had Egyptian names and further that they spoke Greek as their daily language. The family seems to have been upper class with a fair degree of wealth and estates in various parts of Egypt. Aside from Apollonios the other surviving letters are one from his wife and sister Aline and Apollonios’ mother Eudaimonis. Brother sister marriages seem to have been fairly common at this time among the Greeks in Egypt apparently has a way to consolidating wealth. Although it does tend to creep out people today. It is not clear whether or not Aline is Apollonios full sister or half sister, although full sister seems most likely given the letter from Eudaimonis to Aline.3

Apollonios comes across as bit of a wet blanket from his correspondence. Aline comes across as a worrywart. Eudaimonis comes across, however, like the bitchy relative you definitely want on your side.

Aline writes as follows to her husband / brother:
Aline to Apollonios her brother greetings. I am terribly anxious about you because of what they say about what is happening, and because of your sudden departure. I take no pleasure in food or drink, but stay awake continually night and day with one worry, your safety. Only my father’s care revives me and as I hope to see you safe, I would have lain without food on News Year’s day, had my father not come and forced me to eat. I beg you to keep yourself safe and not go into danger without a guard. Do the same as the Strategos here, who puts the burden on his officers…my father…for the name… of my brother was put forward…May God [preserve] him. If then, my brother, (you have leisure from) your business…write to me…to you…he is coming up safety…4
The letter was apparently written sometime in September of 115 or 116 C.E. The New Year’s day referred to here is the first day of the month of Thoth.5 It is certainly interesting to find out that c. 1900 years ago some people worried over there loved ones and were rendered sleepless by worry over them.

Eudaimonis writes in a different spirit instead of mooning and worrying she sends some good wishes to her son:
…with the good will of the gods, above all, Hermes the invincible, may they not roast you. For the rest, may all be well with you and all your men, Heraidous, your daughter, who is free from harm, greets you.6
Rather than bother her son with complaining about how worried she is; she assures him his daughter is well and safe and wishes him well and inquires about how he and his men are doing. A rather different tone from the rather self absorbed Aline. The comment about roasting refers to alleged atrocities being committed by the rebels. The letter is apparently dated from after Aline’s letter and can be dated to either 116 C.E. or 117 C.E.7

We know from another surviving letter in the archive, although it is not a letter addressed to Apollonios or other family members, and appears to be a letter written to his household presumably in the course of carrying out their duties, that the rebels won several battles in the Hermoupolis area and things must have gotten very difficult for the family.8
The one hope and expectation that was the push of the massed villagers from our district against the impious Jews; but now the opposite has happened. For on the 20th(?) our forces fought and were beaten and many of them were killed … now, however, we have received the news from men coming from … that another legion of Rutilius arrived at Memphis on the 22nd and is expected.9
Apollonios leading some troops, local militia, from his province took part in a battle near Memphis that resulted in a Roman victory. The letter goes as follows:
Aphrodisios to his dearest Herakleios, greeting. I have learnt from men who arrived today from Ibion that they travelled with a slave of our lord Apollonios; the slave was coming from Memphis to bring the good news of his victory and success. I have therefore sent you specially. that I may know with certainty and make a festival and pay the due offerings to the gods. You will therefore do well, dear friend, to inform me with speed. Two boys have been brought from the Oasis to my master, of whom one is four years old, the other three … the price … to you that you may be … I pray for your health, dear friend.10
The letter seems to be addressed from a steward of one of Apollonios’ properties to another, and aside from reporting the victory and Apollonios’ involvement records the purchase of some young slaves. The letter probably dates from early 117 C.E.11

Eudaimonis letter to Aline reveals again that Eudaimonis is a strong matriarch and more than a bit bitchy:
Eudaimonis to her daughter Aline, greeting. I pray above all that you may be delivered of a child in good time and that I shall receive news of a son. You sailed up on the 29th, and on the next day I began to weave. I at last got the material from the dyer on the 10th of Epeiph. I am working with your slave-girls as far as I can. I cannot find girls to work with me, for they are all working for their own mistresses. Our people have been marching all over the city, asking for more pay (or: offering higher wages). Your sister Souerous has been delivered of a child. Teeus wrote to me, expressing her gratitude to you, so I know, lady, that my instructions are being carried out. For she has left all her own people and gone to join you. The little girl sends her greetings, and is persevering with her lessons Be sure that I shall pay no attention to God until I get my son back safe. Why do you send me 20 drachmai, when I have no leisure? already have a vision of being naked when winter starts. (2nd hand) Farewell Epeiph 22. (1st hand) The wife of Eudemos has stuck by me and I am grateful to her.12
This letter seems to date from July of 117 C.E. The revolt is almost over and Eudaimonis is anxiously waiting for the return of her son Apollonios. The comment about paying no attention to the God refers to the old practice that the Gods are expected to do certain things in exchange for human worship, should they fail to do so they will be ignored until they fulfill their side of the bargain. Eudaimonis complains about the situation on the estate including an apparent lack of clothing and the fact slave labourers are hard to find. Which may indicate the area and more particularly Apollonios estates were hard hit by the war. The war itself seems to be over in the region of the estate, (Apollinopolis, Hermoupolis). Eudaimonis hopes that Aline, who is pregnant gives birth to a son safely. The little girl mentioned may be Apollonios’ and Aline’s daughter. Eusdaimonis seems to hope that Aline will give birth soon and is slightly exasperated by the delay in Aline giving birth which is why she mentions that Aline’s sister Souerous has given birth. Further Eusdaimonis is exasperated with Aline sending her money, as if she is not busy with making clothes and other duties and so has no time to lounge around. The comment about the wife of Eudemos sticking by her seems to be an indirect reproach of Aline.13

We finally hear from Apollonios himself in this letter in which he asks for 60 days leave:

To Rammius Martialis, the mighty prefect, from Apollonios Strategos of Apollinopolis-Heptakomias, greeting.

I attach a copy, prefect, of the application for leave which I previously submitted, in order that, by your favour you may grant me sixty days to put my affairs in order, at the time, especially, when … is pressing. I pray for your health, prefect. The (first) ear of the Emperor Caesar Trainus Hadrianus Augustus, Choiak 2. [The application follows]

To Rammius Martialis, the prefect, from pollonios, Strategos of Apollinopolis-Heptakomias, greeting.

…prefect … once … (Col. II) … make use of … For not only are my affairs completely uncared for because of my long absence, but also, because of the attack of the impious Jews, practically everything I posses in the villages of the Hermoupolite nome [province] and in the metropolis needs my attention. If you accede to my request and I am enabled to put my affairs in order as far as possible. I will be able to approach the duties of my office with a more tranquil mind.14
Aside from the usual flattery of a higher up. (Sucking up to the boss never goes out of style), the letter reveals that that Apollonios’ business interests have been badly affected by the war and that he feels those interests require his attention for a period of 2 months. Of course Apollonios adds the detail that if this request is granted he will be able to perform his official duties better because he will be less distracted. The techniques of psychological manipulation never go out of style. The letter can be fairly securely dated to the last half of 117 C.E, shortly after the accession of the Emperor Hardian who succeeded the Emperor Trajan in 117 C.E. 15

A few other letters round out this archive; in one the writers complain about Apollonios attitude in complaining about their failure to fulfill a contract:

We had no time, because of the bringing-in of the public corn, to protest to you and complain about your attacking us as if we were men of no account.
Now the affair must be governed by your conscience and your view of the matter(?) …consider too that not much … and that there was a state of riot.16
The authors are annoyed that Apollonios did not take into account the fact that things were in a state of disorder and the violence impeded their ability to fulfill the contract. They hope that upon reflection Apollonios will change his attitude. The letter probably dates from late 117 C.E.17

An architect named Herodes who was working for Apollonios gives some indication of the damage possibly done to Apollonios home by the revolt:

You know well of the urgently needed woodwork for the shrines and the guest-house, and because of this it was only on the second of the intercalary days that we set up the doors of the bedchamber in the hall as laid down in the agreement.18
Later in the letter Herodes requests time off to visit his brother in Alexandria who is mourning the death of his daughter to help his brother carry out his public duties during this difficult period.

I therefore request you, master, to allow me to go to my brother Hierakion in his boat during these idle days, for at another time I will not be able to go by foot through the country because of its devastation and the lack of …19
To sweeten his request for time off Herodes gives a statement of progress made and indicates that he is not immediately needed and can therefore take sometime off. Further he indicates that travel by water is preferably due to the devastation and the still chaotic nature of the much of the countryside due to the war. The letter seems to date from late 117 C.E.20

About subsequent developments we know nothing. Whether or not Apollonios was successful in re-establishing his family wealth, or if Aline successfully gave birth etc. All we have is a few tantalizing glimpses, almost a series of snapshots of a small group of people in time trying to cop under very difficult circumstances.

These letters give a rare glimpse into the private lives of an ancient family in the midst of a war and its aftermath. It certainly indicates that humans even thousands of years ago were very much like they are today despite the amount of time and cultural change in the meantime.

Funerary Portrait from the Fayum area of Egypt
Roman Period 1st Century C.E.
1. Tcherikover, Victor A., Corpus Papyromun Judaicarum, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MASS., 1960, pp. 226-227. These letters can also be found in Ben Zeev, Miriam Pucci, Diaspora Judaism in Turmoil, 116/117 CE, Peeters, Leuven Netherlands, 2005, in Part I, Ancient Sources, s. 2 Papyri, pp. 14-76.

2. The chief ancient accounts of the revolt, all very brief, are, written c. 326 C.E., Eusebius, The History of the Church, Penguin Books, London, 1965, Book 4, s. 2. See also Early Church Fathers, Church History of Eusebius, Here, in the Tetrullian website. Orosius, written c. 410 C.E., Seven Books of History Against the Pagans, in The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 50, The Catholic University of America Press, Inc., Washington DC, 1964, Book 7, s. 12. For a Latin version of this text see Paulus Orosius: Historiarum Adversum Paganos, Here, in the Attalus website. Dio, Cassius, written c. 220 C.E., Roman History, Loeb Classical Library, William Heinemann, London, 1925, vol. 8, Book 68, s. 32, see Cassius Dio: Roman History, Here, in the LacusCurtius website. Dio's account unfortunately only survives in summary form. A few interesting tidbits about the revolt are found in The Babylonian Talmud, Sider Nashim, vol. III, Sotah, 49a-49b, Soncino Press, London, 1936, see also The Babylonian Talmud, Here and the The Talmud of the Land of Israel, vol. 17, Sukkah, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1988, pp. 116-119. For modern accounts of the revolt see Tcherikover, above, pp. 79-93, 225-227, Schurer, Emil, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, Vol 1, T & T Clark Ltd., Edinburgh, 1973, pp. 529-534, Applebaum, Shim’on, Jews and Greeks in Ancient Cyrene, E.J. Brill, Leiden The Netherlands, 1979, pp. 251-256, 269-305, Pucci, Marina, La Rivolta ebraica al Tempo di Traiano, Giardini Editori E. Stampatori, Pisa, 1981, [This is a good over all account of what little we know.] See also Ben Zeev in Footnote 1, [This account provides a detailed listing of virtually all the extant, inscriptional, literary, papyrical sources complete with originals and translations. The rest of the book is a analysis of certain themes and controversies, like the timing of the revolts, the duration, causes etc., rather than a overview of the course of the revolt.]  Alon, Gedaliah, The Jews in Their Land in the Talmudic Age, vol. II, Magnes Press Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1984, pp. 386-427, Smallwood, Mary E., The Jews under Roman Rule: From Pompey to Diocletion, E.J. Brill, Leiden the Netherlands, 1976, pp. 389-427.

3. See Footnote 1, Tcherikover.

4. IBID, pp. 234-235.

5. IBID, pp. 233-234.

6. IBID, p. 236.

7. IBID, pp. 235-236.

8. IBID, pp. 237-238.

9. IBID, p. 238.

10. IBID, p. 240.

11. IBID, pp. 239-240.

12. IBID, p. 245.

13. IBID, pp. 244-246.

14. IBID, p. 248.

15. IBID, pp. 247-249.

16. IBID, p. 251.

17. IBID, p. 251.

18. IBID, p. 254.

19. IBID, p. 254.

20. IBID, pp. 253-254.

Pierre Cloutier

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