Petitions and Social History

Benjamin Kelly

in Petitions, Litigation, and Social Control in Roman Egypt

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780199599615
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731525 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in Ancient Documents

Petitions and Social History

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This chapter examines the methodological challenges that the social historian faces in using petitions from Roman Egypt to write social history. It argues that the use of scribes to produce the documents, and the existence of stock formulae in scribal culture, prevent us from hearing the ‘voices’ of individual petitioners in these documents. It also argues that certain elements of the narratives that these documents present are inherently unreliable, especially: details about offenders and their motivations; details about the circumstances of the wrong; and values assigned to property. On the other hand, details about the genders, civic statuses, occupations, land tenure and domiciles of petitioners are likely to be accurate, as are details about their previous engagements with the justice system. The chronological and geographical distribution of petitions is also discussed.

Keywords: petitions; evidence; scribes; formulae; accuracy

Chapter.  16125 words. 

Subjects: Classical History

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