Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Village Institutions in Egypt in the Roman to Early Arab Periods$

Micaela Langellotti and D. W. Rathbone

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266779

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266779.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM BRITISH ACADEMY SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.britishacademy.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright British Academy, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in BASO for personal use. Subscriber: null; date: 23 June 2021

Fiscal Institution or Local Community?

Fiscal Institution or Local Community?

The Village Koinon in Late Antiquity (Fourth to Eighth Centuries)*

Chapter:
(p.155) 10 Fiscal Institution or Local Community?
Source:
Village Institutions in Egypt in the Roman to Early Arab Periods
Author(s):

Lajos Berkes

Publisher:
British Academy
DOI:10.5871/bacad/9780197266779.003.0010

Abstract and Keywords

The abundant papyrological evidence surviving from late antique Egypt (4–8th c.) includes thousands of documents in Greek and Coptic on village life. These sources shed light on aspects of rural realities barely known from other areas of the ancient Mediterranean. Village administration and government are especially well documented. Late antique villages in Egypt were organised in a fiscal community (koinon) which was collectively liable for the payments of the taxes incumbent on the village and the cultivation of their land. This institution was governed by a body of officials consisting of members of the village elite. This chapter discusses the relationship of the fiscal village community, administration and elite in Byzantine and early Islamic Egypt.

Keywords:   Egypt, Villages, Late Antiquity, Papyri, Administration, Community, Elite, Byzantine, Early Islamic

10.1 Introduction

UNLIKE TODAY, THE VAST MAJORITY of the population of the ancient world lived in the countryside, and not in the much better documented cities. Villages have nevertheless been a neglected topic of study for a long time. In the twentieth century, however, interest in the life of ‘the common man’ rose gradually and considerably. In the ancient world, written records on villages and village life are especially rare, since historiographical writings and inscriptions generally do not offer much information on the countryside.1 Egypt constitutes a remarkable exception in this respect, since the dry climate has allowed the survival of the written documentation of villages in certain areas. Besides the Palestinian village of Nessana (see below) such witnesses of village life have only been preserved in significant numbers from the Nile valley. In this paper, I am going to explore what these papyri contribute to our understanding of village community and administration in late antique Egypt (c. AD 300–800).2 In particular, I am going to focus on the institution of the fiscal village community, the koinon (pl. koina). Understanding koina requires a closer look at village administration and its elite. I will argue that this administrative institution functioned as a framework for the village elite to express their common interests.

(p.156) Village administration in late antique Egypt has been mostly neglected in modern research. This is not surprising, since the evidence is scattered and the terminology is obscure. This latter problem was pointed out by three pioneers of papyrology, Grenfell, Hunt, and Bell, in 1924:

There is a great difficulty in distinguishing the nature and functions of the various village officials mentioned in Byzantine documents, a difficulty perhaps increased by a tendency to use some of them in both a narrower and a wider sense. The whole subject requires a detailed investigation …3

The Austrian legal historian Artur Steinwenter was the first to address the question in depth in his 1920 book on legal documents from the Upper Egyptian village, Jeme.4 His study is still often cited, but outdated. The main problem with his approach was that he did not consider regional and diachronic changes in the use of the terminology. Apart from the village of Aphrodito (see below), only a few scholars have discussed related issues, in short articles and commentaries to papyrus editions, since Steinwenter.5 A useful summary of the current state of research was provided by Georg Schmelz in 2002,6 and the terminology of village administration is discussed in depth in my recent book.7

Villages (kômai) belonged to the administrative territory of the cities (poleis). Smaller settlements such as hamlets (epoikia) usually paid their taxes through their landowners (e.g. aristocrats or church institutions) or neighbouring villages. Villages also delivered their taxes sometimes through the agents of landowners, as can be seen on the Oxyrhynchite estates of the Apions. Nevertheless, this does not imply that these villages were owned by great landowners, since in Byzantine Egypt local aristocrats were often responsible for the delivery of certain tax shares in the territory of their city, which was likely a burden (munus) assigned by the state to the local elite.8

Villages delivered their taxes through intermediary agents to the administrators of the cities who forwarded the payments to the provincial treasury. One or two village headmen (rarely more) were in charge of the administration, usually for a couple of years and it is likely that they had to be formally installed. The terminology of village officials was regional and underwent several changes during our period (see below). From the early fourth century, villages were organised in a community (Gr. koinon or koinotês)9 whose members were collectively liable (p.157) for the payment of their tax quota and the cultivation of their land. There is an important debate on the role of the village community in late antiquity. Roger Bagnall has pointed out the main problem: ‘Are they artificially imposed bodies with an essentially fiscal purpose, as they certainly are in some cases, or genuine manifestations of local community and initiative?’10

10.2 Sources and Models

It should be stressed that our sources are not representative even for Egypt. Nevertheless, as I will argue, they still point to certain patterns. Apart from some scattered texts, there are only six regions that produced documents on village administration on a relatively large scale, and these documents are not evenly distributed over our period. If we take the Byzantine provinces as a starting point, there are sources only from Arcadia and Thebais. The Fayyum is well documented in the fourth century, especially the village of Karanis. Only a handful of relevant documents survived from this region for the fifth century, but more data emerge again in the sixth to eighth centuries. Nearby, we can also consult some evidence from the Heracleopolite nome from the fourth to seventh centuries. Further south, Oxyrhynchus provides us with abundant material continuously until the Arab conquest, after which we only find a couple of texts from the city. In Upper Egypt, in the province of Thebaid, there are again three regions from which rich source material has been found. The hinterland of Hermopolis is well known and further down the Nile, Aphrodito has provided us with two very important archives: the archive of Dioscorus from the sixth century and the one of Basilius from the early eighth century. Dioscorus and other members of his family were themselves village headmen, and Basilius was the chief administrator (pagarch) in charge of Aphrodito. Finally, the village of Jeme gives perhaps the deepest insight into village life in late antiquity through its overwhelmingly Coptic ostraca and to a lesser extent papyri from the sixth to the eighth centuries.11

From this material two large groups of texts, ‘archives’ as papyrologists call them, have played a crucial role in the discussion about the society of late antique Egypt. The sixth-century archive of Dioscorus, a notary and poet from the village elite of Aphrodito, has usually been contrasted with papers of the Oxyrhynchite holdings of the great landowning family, the Apions (fifth to seventh century). While Aphrodito is often presented as the last bastion of free peasants in sixth-century Egypt, the Apions used to appear as dominant feudalistic landowners. The interpretation of these two archives has become a crucial issue in understanding (p.158) not only late antique Egypt, but also the social and economic history of the later Roman empire.12

Sixth-century Aphrodito has usually been treated as the late antique village par excellence.13 One needs to be cautious with Aphrodito though, especially since its administrative structures are peculiar.14 We find, for example, a typical city official, the riparius, which is not attested in any other village.15 Aphrodito is special because of its city-like size. Though city-like villages are known both in Egypt and in other parts of the Roman empire,16 Aphrodito certainly does not offer a good example of the administrative structure of an average Egyptian village – however we want to define it. That is why it is very important not to extrapolate from Aphrodito to the Egyptian countryside.17

Besides Aphrodito, Oxyrhynchus is the other region that has attracted much attention in scholarship. The reason for that is that the archive of the Apions, who belonged to the highest echelons of imperial aristocracy, has survived from the city. The interpretation of their ‘glorious house’ as a semi-public institution has given impetus to modern research to use the Apions for understanding broader questions of late antique economic, social, and administrative history. One has to be careful with this rich material though, since in this archive we mostly see village administration and life from the perspective of a great landowning family.

Both of these archives without any doubt play an important role in understanding Egypt and more generally the Eastern empire in our period. Nevertheless, one should not be blinded by their prominence: there are other regions of Egypt to be considered as well.18 Comparison of the scanty and scattered data from different regions can identify evidence which is complementary.

10.3 The Structure of the Village Community

The documents which mention the koinon are usually administrative texts. The village community appears in the context of taxation or land cultivation, since its main raison d’être lay in these areas. The abstract institution of the koinon acts in these documents through intermediaries, often village officials. There is a plethora (p.159) of terms for village officials attested in papyri. The list of the most important Greek terms19 is long: kômarchês, meizôn,20 prôtokômêtês, dioikêtês, hiereus and stratêgos for village headmen, and grammateus kômês and gnôstêr for village scribes. Coptic texts refer to village headmen21 as lashane (pl. lashniu) or ape (pl. apeue), members of the village elite as nnoc nrōme, and the village scribe as sah ntimē.

From the middle of the third century, Egyptian villages were headed by two kômarchai who replaced the village scribes, the kômogrammateis. In the early fourth century – roughly contemporaneously with the introduction of the koinon – new terms appear for village headmen: meizôn and prôtokômêtês. Furthermore, village scribes are introduced again under the new name grammateus kômês and are attested well into the Arabic period. It seems that prôtokômêtês was a term that may have been introduced empire-wide, since it is the only term for village officials attested in the fifth to seventh centuries all over the Eastern provinces. It replaced kômarchês which is not found later than the fourth century outside Egypt. Since the term meizôn has only been attested in Egypt so far, it could have been a local usage. The exact meaning and the relationship of meizôn, prôtokômêtês and kômarchês are unclear in the fourth century.

From the fifth and especially sixth century on, our understanding of the structure of village administration becomes much clearer. The evidence is mostly scanty, but there are three regions that clearly show the basic structure of local government. These are the village of Jeme, the region of Oxyrhynchus and the Hermopolite nome. The clearest picture emerges from seventh- to eighth-century Jeme.22 The village community was composed of the village notables, the ‘great men’, the nnoc nrōme. The leading officials were the headmen, the lashniu. There were generally two lashniu in office and they were appointed annually. Their work was supported by a body of subordinate headmen, the apeue, who seem to have been mostly in charge of taxation. The best parallel for this structure comes from the prescript of an Oxyrhynchite contract dated to 550.23 The community of the village notables (koinon tôn prôtokômêtôn) of Tacona was represented by the headman (meizôn) and several kômarchai. It appears that Tacona was led by the meizôn; his work was supported by the kômarchai, and together they constituted the community (koinon) (p.160) as village notables, prôtokômêtai. The parallel to the lashaneapeuennoc nrōme structure in Jeme is apparent. However, in the contemporary Hermopolite nome we find prôtokômêtai as the leading village headmen and kômarchai as their subordinates, but no specific term for the notables.24

This basic structure is usually supplemented by the village scribe, the grammateus kômês (in the Hermopolite nome, gnôstêr) and the boêthos kômês, the ‘village assistant’. The village scribes were in charge of record-keeping and other aspects of taxation. The ‘village assistant’ was an intermediary who was assigned to the village by a higher administrative official, such as the praepositus pagi or the pagarch. Accordingly, they were not members of the village community. It is also not surprising that boêthoi were often agents of great landowners who were in charge of both collecting taxes and managing estate business.

10.4 Regionality and Linguistic Variety

The basic village structure established above appears in a varied terminology in the papyrological documentation. In the late fourth century, after a long period of terminological experiments, prôtokômêtês replaced kômarchês as a term for village headman. This may have been connected with Egypt’s organisation into a dioecesis around 380–1.25 However, as the examples discussed above show, in the Oxyrhynchite nome meizôn was used in the sense of ‘village headman’ and prôtokômêtês simply denoted village notables in a general sense. Kômarchai appear in the fifth to sixth century as subordinate headmen in the Hermopolite and Oxyrhynchite nomes. The Hermopolite nome displays two other terminological peculiarities: the headmen of hamlets (epoikia) were the hiereis and village scribes were usually called gnôstêres and not grammateis kômês as elsewhere. Some time between the period of the Sassanid occupation of Egypt (AD 619–29) and the Arabic conquest (AD 641) the term meizôn was introduced for prôtokômêtês in the Arsinoite and Heracleopolite nomes. The same terminological change can be observed in the late seventh or early eighth century in Aphrodito and Jeme, perhaps in connection with the unification of the provinces of Thebais and Arcadia. In the seventh century, perhaps only in the Arab period, dioikêtai supervised the headmen as agents of the pagarchs in villages. Finally, around 726 the term stratêgos was introduced in Jeme for the Coptic apeue, subordinate headmen.

As for the Coptic titles, they appear only in the late sixth and early seventh century. Until that time Coptic texts employ Greek terminology. The appearance of Coptic titles could be explained by the increasing usage of the language for (p.161) official business such as legal agreements in this period.26 In the south, i.e. Jeme, Aphrodito, Oasis Magna and perhaps the region of Lycopolis, lashane was the common title for the headman. In the same region ape seems to have been a title for the subordinate headman. Conversely, in the Hermopolite nome ape was used for the headman, but the title lashane never appears. There are a handful of attestations for both titles in the Fayyum, but they are not clear enough to determine their meaning.

The terminology of village administration was very complex, but certainly not random. The Greek titles were used according to central regulations. Their regional variety should not surprise us, as this phenomenon is very well attested in many other areas as well, such as time-reckoning (e.g. the Oxyrhynchite era) or notarial practices. Since Coptic never became an official administrative language in Egypt, it can be assumed that its terminology developed according to local customs, perhaps dialects.

10.5 The Village Community

The origin of the village koinon is clearly fiscal and can be connected with administrative reforms in the late third or early fourth century.27 There are models for the collectively liable village community in the Roman and even Ptolemaic period. For instance, state farmers (dêmosioi geôrgoi) were collectively liable for the cultivation of their lands and were administered by their ‘elders’, the presbuteroi.28 Collective tax liability thus already existed when the koinon was introduced: the novelty was that this liability was institutionalised in the village.

The introduction of institutionalised tax liability in villages is in line with the general tendencies of tetrarchic tax policy. One of the main characteristics of this policy was the intention to structure the population into collectively liable tax groups. Especially good parallels for the fiscal village community are professional associations, whose members were also collectively liable for their tax payments. These state-organised associations were in this period referred to by the term koinon or koinotês.29 Some koina are associated with monasteries, but the exact meaning of the term in this context remains unclear.30 Hamlets (epoikia) on the

(p.162) Apionic estates were organised by the same principle of collective liability as the villages.

Furthermore, a particularly interesting document from the early fifth century mentions the koinon of the village of Alabastrine and the cistern of a sunodos geôrgôn.31 Since the term sunodos is unusual in this period and apparently denotes a different institution than the koinon, the editors of the text tried to explain it as follows:

To make sense of the distinction between ϲ‎ύ‎νοδοϲ‎ and κοιν‎ό‎ν‎, one might think along the following lines. Some land is owned collectively by all male adult inhabitants of the village. Everybody, including those not professionally engaged in agriculture, is entitled to share its benefits (and burdens). A λ‎ά‎κκοϲ‎, however, is only of use to those who are professionally engaged in agriculture and artificial irrigation […] In Alabastrine, located between the alabaster quarries and the Nile, a not unimportant segment of the population may not have been engaged in agriculture at all […] If this is accepted, then the main raison d’être for the ϲ‎ύ‎νοδοϲ‎ which owns the λ‎ά‎κκοϲ‎ is professional or, in other words, economic.32

Based on this observation, they also challenge the solely fiscal role of the koinon. There is, however, no clear evidence to argue for the economic role of the sunodos. As has been said before, associations in late antiquity were organised primarily according to the fiscal interests of the state and not for economic considerations. In my view, the best parallel for this sunodos geôrgôn is the Apionic koina geôrgôn which functioned on the basis of the collective tax liability of the farmers.

Papyri referring to the koinon usually concern taxation or village land. Land can be leased, sold or donated in its name.33 Many documents attest the fiscal role of the koinon, such as tax receipts or requests for tax remittance.34 The principle of collective liability explains why the village community asks for help in finding fugitives: their tax share had to be supplemented by the remaining inhabitants.35 The koinon of Aphrodito agrees to pay the salary of shepherds and field guards for watching the fields of the village.36 Especially interesting is a Theban ostracon from the early Islamic period in which a village official and the koinon guarantee payments, perhaps as subsistence, to a woman.37

These documents are precious sources for many aspects of village life and society, but do not allow us to see the members of the village community. A way (p.163) to approach the local society behind the fiscal institution is to look at its leadership. There are a few papyri in which the members of the koinon are specified in some way. A document from Aphrodito dated to 514 is addressed to the koinotês of the prôtokômêtai, the suntelestai and the landowners of the villages.38 Prôtokômêtai denote the village headmen in sixth-century Aphrodito, but the exact meaning of suntelestês (a category of taxpayers) is debated.39 An Oxyrhynchite document discussed earlier (section 10.3) mentions the ‘koinon of the prôtokômêtai of the village of Takona’.40 Prôtokômêtai denote here the village notables who are represented by several subordinate headmen, kômarchai, and the superior headman, the meizôn. It is also noteworthy that several papyri attest to priests acting on behalf of a village.41 This suggests that the koinon was not only fiscally defined, but was also more generally the community of the village elite. This is the same principle that has been already observed by Liebeschuetz for the cities of early Byzantium which were generally governed by an informally defined local elite:

The cities had come to be controlled by groups of notables, made up of decurions, honorati, and clerics, whose membership was quite informal, and not defined by anybody other than themselves. In many cases it will have been obvious what made a man a ‘leading citizen’; tenure of an imperial office, imperial rank whether earned by office holding or merely honorary, and of course wealth.42

So how does this evidence contribute to current discussions about village communities in late antiquity? Roger Bagnall painted a dark picture in line with the earlier research of Danielle Bonneau:43

Only by verbal sleight of hand, then, can fourth-century villages be considered political communities. What the residents of a village had in common was answerability for a variety of demands from the state … They satisfied these requirements as best they could, by cooperating with each other to the extent necessary […] the villages of the early fourth century give the impression of rudderless and captainless vessels.44

Recent research has, however, emphasised the existence of a strong village elite. Jairus Banaji45 argued for a strong village oligarchy; Constantine Zuckerman46 criticised Bonneau’s model based on Aphrodito; and Chris Wickham even claimed: ‘these densely inhabited Egyptian villages seem to me to furnish the (p.164) best-documented example of active village communities in the late Roman and post-Roman world’.47

To sum up, I believe that there is no necessary contradiction between the fiscal origin of the koinon and its role as a means of representing the interests of the local elite. The koinon was an institution created for fiscal purposes which later naturally became a means for expressing the common interests of the village elite in other areas as well. This picture clearly emerges from documents of the sixth to eighth centuries. It is not entirely clear whether this was already the case in the fourth and fifth centuries, but there is some evidence to suggest that. In a fourth-century letter the koinon of the village of Nesoi writes on an unclear matter to a certain Paulos. They promise that they are ready to do whatever Paulos demands; they are even determined to kill ‘them’ – we do not know who is meant here.48 It is also remarkable in this context that a third-century letter refers to the ‘pride of the village’ which also suggests a conscious local community.49

10.6 The Village Elite

The dominance of the local elite was very strong in late antique villages. The elite had a significant influence in their communities, especially since they were in charge of apportioning taxation among the villagers. A petition from 314, for instance, refers to comarchs who apportion the tax burdens as they see fit.50 However, their power was not without limits. Poorer villagers could turn to patrons (later including holy men) if they felt unjustly treated. This is very well illustrated by a Coptic letter from the Theban region, in which the ‘humble’ Victor pressures the lashniu, the village headmen, with moral arguments to distribute the tax burdens more justly. The epithet ‘humble’ clearly indicates that he was a priest or a monk. The ostracon reads:

It is not right ye should burden the 2 men with the camel; justice rather requires ye should distribute (the cost of) the camel over the whole of the peasants’ quarter, so that ye permit not any wrong (to happen) to one beyond another of all their fellow-peasants (but) make them equal with another, according to the justice of God. Oh, I beseech you most honorable lovers-of-Christ, repel not my request, but do God’s justice and make them equal one with another …51

(p.165) As this example shows, the everyday practice of village administration was much more complex than tax-collectors simply cashiering the money. It can rather be undertstood as a process of negotiation in which local patrons played an important role. Villages society in this respect fit very well into the general patterns of late antique society where patronage was of crucial importance.

10.7 The Impact of the Arab Conquest

After the Islamic conquest, however, the gradually increasing fiscal control of the Arabs had a slow, but deep, impact on village society. What mattered for the koinon the most was that agents from outside – increasingly Muslims – interfered more and more in village affairs. The local elite gradually lost its important role in distributing the tax shares in their community. Muslim landowners also appeared, challenging long-established local power networks. This resulted in a series of revolts in the eighth century led by the discontented local elite. Gradually individual tax liability was introduced at village level, which made the principle of the collectively liable village koinon clearly obsolete.52 As with many other aspects of the late Roman and Byzantine world – to which the first dynasty of Islam, the Umayyads (660–750) arguably belonged – village government was reorganised on different principles under the Abbasids, who followed the Umayyads.53

10.8 Egypt in Context

It has been long debated among ancient historians whether and to what extent the results obtained from the Egyptian papyrological evidence can be generalised for other parts of the ancient Mediterranean. The assessment of this question varies greatly. In my opinion, there is no general answer: the possibility of generalisation should be tested in each case. For instance, there are certainly peculiar aspects to Egypt, such as the pivotal role of the Nile flood in agriculture and other areas of life. I do believe, however, that there is significant potential in comparing Egypt to other areas, though certainly mutatis mutandis. This applies very well to the administrative structures of villages which show many similarities across regions in the pre-modern world.

(p.166) As I argue in more detail elsewhere,54 there are three source groups that can be compared from the Byzantine and early Islamic Near East:

  1. 1. Papyri from the village of Nessana from the sixth to the late seventh century.55

  2. 2. Syrian inscriptions from the fourth to sixth centuries.56

  3. 3. The life of Theodor of Syceon (Asia Minor) from the seventh century.57

What is perhaps most worth noting is that the village koinon appears in all these regions.58 Furthermore, we find titles in each region both for village headmen and generally members of the village elite, although the terminology is again very diverse. In general, these sources suggest that the pattern found in Egypt was characteristic for the whole late antique Near East. Recent research has emphasised the existence of a strong village community in the eastern Mediterranean in late antiquity (see section 10.5). These strong village communities were organised all over the Eastern empire in koina and seem to have functioned according to similar principles. So, for villages, we may say that late antiquity was the ‘age of the koinon’ in the eastern Mediterranean.

References

Bibliography references:

Bagnall, R.S. (1993) Egypt in Late Antiquity (Princeton, Princeton University Press).

Bagnall, R.S. (2005) ‘Village and city: geographies of power in Byzantine Egypt’, in J. Lefort, C. Morrisson & J.-P. Sodini (eds), Les villages dans l’Empire byzantin (IVe–XVe siècle), Réalités Byzantines 11 (Paris, Lethielleux), 553–65.

Banaji, J. (2001) Agrarian Change in Late Antiquity. Gold, Labour and Aristocratic Dominance (Oxford, Oxford University Press).

Berkes, L. (2017) Dorfverwaltung und Dorfgemeinschaft in Ägypten von Diokletian zu den Abassiden, Philippika 104 (Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz).

Bonneau, D. (1983) ‘Communauté rurale en Égypte byzantine?’, in Les communautés rurales, II, Antiquité, Recueils de la Société Jean Bodin pour l’histoire comparative des institutions 41 (Paris, Dessain et Tolra), 505–23.

Dagron, G. (1979) ‘Entre village et cité: la bourgade rurale des IVe–VIIe siècles en Orient’, Koinonia 3: 29–52 (repr. La romanité en Orient, VII, London, 1984).

Festugière, A.-J. (ed.) (1970) Vie de Théodore de Sykeon, I–II, Subsidia Hagiographica 48 (Bruxelles, Société des Bollandistes).

(p.167) Gagos, T. & van Minnen, P. (1992) ‘Documenting the rural economy of Byzantine Egypt. Three papyri from Alabastrine’, Journal of Roman Archaeology 5: 188–202.

Gascou, J. (1985) Les grands domaines, la cité et l’état en Égypte byzantine. Recherches d’histoire agraire, fiscal et administrative, Travaux et Mémoires 9 (Paris, de Boccard). =

Gascou, J. (2008) Fiscalité et société en Égypte byzantine (Paris, Association des Amis du Centre d’Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance), 125–213.

Gascou, J. (1996) ‘Recension de Roger S. Bagnall, Egypt in Late Antiquity’, Topoi 6: 333– 49. =

Gascou, J. (2008) Fiscalité et société en Égypte byzantine, Bilans de Recherche 4 (Paris, Association des Amis du Centre d’Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance), 401–15.

Grainger, J.D. (1995) ‘“Village government” in Roman Syria and Arabia’, Levant 27: 179–95.

Jördens, A. (1999) ‘Die Agrarverhältnisse im spätantiken Ägypten’, Laverna 10: 114–52.

Liebeschuetz, J.H.W.G. (2001) Decline and Fall of the Roman City (Oxford, Oxford University Press).

MacAdam, H.I. (1983) ‘Epigraphy and village life in southern Syria during the Roman and early Byzantine periods’, Berytus 31: 103–15.

Marthot, I. (2012) ‘Homonyms causing confusion in toponymy: examples from Aphrodito and the Antaiopolite nome’, in P. Schubert (ed.), Actes du 26e Congrès International de Papyrologie. Genève, 16–21 août 2010, Recherches et Rencontres 30 (Genève, Droz), 487–90.

Mirković, M. (2008) ‘Les ktêtores, les syntelestai et l’impôt’, in J.-L. Fournet & C. Magdelaine (eds), Les archives d’Aphrodité cent ans après leur découverte. Histoire et culture dans l’Égypte byzantine. Actes du colloque de Strasbourg (8–10 décembre 2005), Collection Études d’archéologie et d’histoire ancienne (Paris, de Boccard), 191–202.

Palme, B. (1998) ‘Praesides und correctores der Augustamnica’, AntTard 6: 123–35.

Richter, T.S. (2014) ‘Greek and Coptic in the Byzantine era’, in J.G. Keenan, J.G. Manning & U. Yiftach-Firanko (eds), Law and Legal Practice in Egypt from Alexander to the Arab Conquest. A Selection of Papyrological Sources in Translation, with Introduction and Commentary (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), 134–44.

Ruffini, G.R. (2008) Social Networks in Byzantine Egypt (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

Schmelz, G. (2002) Kirchliche Amtsträger im spätantiken Ägypten nach den Aussagen der griechischen und koptischen Papyri und Ostraka, Archiv für Papyrusforschung Beiheft 13 (Leipzig, Saur).

Sijpesteijn, P.M. (2001) ‘Profit following responsibility. A leaf from the records of a third/ninth century tax-collecting agent with an appended checklist of editions of Arabic papyri’, Journal of Juristic Papyrology 31: 91–132.

Sijpesteijn, P.M. (2009) ‘Landholding patterns in early Islamic Egypt’, Journal of Agrarian Change 9: 120–33.

Sijpesteijn, P.M. (2013) Shaping a Muslim State. The World of a Mid-Eighth-Century Egyptian Official, Oxford Studies in Byzantium (Oxford, Oxford University Press).

Steinwenter, A. (1920) Studien zu den koptischen Rechtsurkunden aus Oberägypten, Studien zur Palaeographie und Papyruskunde 19 (Leipzig, Haessel; repr. Amsterdam, 1967).

Tost, S. (2012) ‘Die Unterscheidung zwischen öffentlicher und privatgeschäftlicher Sphäre am Beispiel des Amts der Riparii’, in P. Schubert (ed.), Actes du 26e Congrès International de Papyrologie. Genève, 16–21 août 2010, Recherches et Rencontres 30 (Genève, Droz), 773–80.

(p.168) Trombley, F.R. (2004) ‘Epigraphic data on village culture and social institutions: an interregional comparison (Syria, Phoenice Libanensis and Arabia)’, in W. Bowden, L. Lavan & C. Machado (eds), Recent Research on the Late Antique Countryside, Late Antique Archaeology 2 (Leiden and Boston, Brill), 73–101.

Wickham, C. (2006) Framing the Early Middle Ages. Europe and the Mediterranean 400– 800 (Oxford, Oxford University Press).

Wilfong, T.J. (2002) Women of Jeme. Lives in a Coptic Town in Late Antique Egypt, New Texts from Ancient Cultures (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press).

Zuckerman, C. (2004) Du village à l’empire. Autour du registre fiscal d’Aphroditô (525/526), Centre de Recherche d’Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance, Monographies 16 (Paris, Association des Amis du Centre d’Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance).

Notes:

(*) For a more detailed discussion of the topics explored in this paper see Berkes (2017). It was not possible to include here publications that have appeared since 2017.

(1) A notable exception is hagiographic writings.

(2) I use the term ‘late antiquity’ in a broad sense, from Diocletian until the Abbasids, i.e. c. AD 300–750. This definition is in line with current scholarly trends and fits the discussion of village administration particularly well as I will argue below.

(3) Notes on P. Oxy. XVI 1835.2.

(5) See e.g. J. Gascou in P.Sorb. II 69, pp. 66–70.

(8) On ‘fiscal shares’ in Byzantine Egypt see the classic discussion in Gascou (1985), 38–52.

(9) These two terms seem to be interchangeable in the papyrological documentation. In the following discussion I will simply refer to the koinon without constantly mentioning the variant koinotês.

(11) For the exceptional perspectives the source material of the villages offers see for instance the study by Wilfong (2002).

(12) For an overview of both archives see Ruffini (2008), 41–144.

(13) The eighth-century material from the village (see section 10.2) has not yet been studied in depth by historians.

(14) It is controversial whether Aphrodito was a city before or not; cf. Marthot (2012).

(15) See Tost (2012).

(16) On villages of this kind see Dagron (1979).

(17) Karanis has played in many respects a similar role for the fourth century. For example, Bagnall’s (1993), 133–8, discussion of village administration in late antiquity is based almost entirely on the fourth-century evidence from Karanis, as already pointed out by Gascou (1996), 340–1.

(18) This has been shown exemplarily in the case of late antique land leases in Jördens (1999).

(19) Police officials at the village level are not included, since they do not seem to have been organised in the framework of the village koinon, but rather on a more central, likely nome level. There are also some other minor officials or agents who do not appear in this list.

(20) Although it is sometimes claimed, there is no clear evidence for the word meizoteros in the meaning ‘village headman’. This seem to have referred exclusively to the office of the maior domus in the Byzantine period. This might have changed in the seventh century. For a thorough discussion see Berkes (2017), 53–7.

(21) Up to the late sixth century, Coptic texts use Greek terms for village officials.

(22) Cf. P.Mon.Epiph. 160.1; P.Mon.Epiph. 183 descr.; O.Medin.Habu 181.4–6; O.Brit.Mus.Copt. II 29.1–3; O.Crum. 121.2–4; and O.Crum. 342.14–16.

(23) P.Oxy. I 133.7–11.

(24) Cf. P.Stras.Copt. 13 (sixth to seventh century).

(26) For the appearance of Coptic in the legal sphere see Richter (2014), 136.

(27) The two earliest attestations of the institution are P.Oxy. XLIV 3205.77–8 (= SB XII 10891; Mendesian, 297–308) and P.Rain.Cent. 82.26–8 (Heracleopolite, 304–5).

(28) On state farmers see Kruse (Chapter 5) and Strassi (Chapter 4) in this volume.

(29) The parallelism of the village koinon and the koina of the associations can be observed even on the level of the formulation of certain documents; cf. P.Oxy. LIX 3985.2–3 (Oxyrhynchus, 473) and SB XX 14964.6–9 (Oxyrhynchus, 517).

(30) See e.g. P.Cair.Masp. II 67170.4–5 (562/563/564); O.Crum. ST 115.3–5 (Theban region, early eighth century). Cf. also P.Ross.Georg. III 43.1 (Aphrodito, sixth century).

(31) SB XX 15618.6–8 (Alabastrine, 412–13/427–8).

(33) Lease: P.Gen. 12 70 (Philadelphia, 372–3) and CPR IV 127 (Fayum, eighth century). Sale: P.Mon. Apollo 24 (Hermopolite, eighth century). Donation: P.KRU 108 (Theban region).

(34) CPR IV 8 (Hermopolite, seventh century); P.Ryl.Copt. 115 (Hermopolite, seventh to eighth century).

(35) P.Sakaon 44 (= P.Turner 44; Theadelphia [Arsinoite], 331–2).

(36) P.Cair.Masp. I 67001 (514).

(37) O.Vind.Copt. 49 (Theban region, seventh to eighth century).

(38) P.Cair.Masp. I 67001.3 (514).

(40) P.Oxy. I 133.7–8 (550).

(41) See WChr 8 (Kaminoi [Arsinoite], 639–40). Although koinon is not mentioned in the preserved part of the document, it is clear that the priests represent the whole village.

(44) Bagnall (1993), 137–8 (quote at 137).

(48) P.Nepheros 19 (Heracleopolite).

(49) P.Oxy. LXI 4118.3–6 (third century).

(50) P.Cair.Isid. 71.8 (Karanis, 314[?]).

(51) O.Crum. ad 60. The translation is taken from the edition.

(52) On these developments see Sijpesteijn (2009).

(55) See P.Ness., passim.

(56) See the summary of Grainger (1995).

(57) The standard edition is Festugière (1970).

(58) Nessana: P.Ness. 89.25 (late sixth to early seventh century); Syria: MacAdam (1983), 107, and Trombley (2004), 77–8; Asia Minor: v. Thdr. Syc. 143.