- The Petra Papyri, Volume 5 ed. by Antti Arjava, Jaakko Frosen, and Jorma Kaimio
In 537 ce, when Theodoros was about twenty-four, he married his cousin Stephanous in the Jordanian city of Petra. Some twelve to twenty-two years later, he became a deacon of the main church there. He had to wait till he was about sixty to become archdeacon. A dozen years later, he was dead and the church had burned down and collapsed. This collapse, however unfortunate, was a miracle for papyrologists: from the rubble archaeologists were able to recover fragments of ca. 140 rolls of carbonized papyrus pertaining to the business of Theodoros and of his relatives. Over the past quarter of a century, a large team of Finnish and American researchers have steadily published eighty-seven pieces, the remnant being too damaged to allow publication; the undertaking has now reached completion through the publication of Part 5, a volume remarkable not only for its size (24 x 32 cm, for a weight exceeding 3.6 kg!), but also for the care that was put into producing such a fine edition. Through a painstaking process of reconstruction, the editors have delivered thirty-eight new texts (50–87), together with the reedition of 48 and 49 from the previous volume. The process of carbonization preserved rolls that would otherwise have been utterly destroyed by the occasional rainfall. It has, however, made the papyri extremely brittle. Moreover, many [End Page 451] pieces survived only as small fragments that originally belonged to rolls measuring up to 4.5 m in length. In most cases, the documents were produced transversa charta, against the direction of fibres. Official letters display a different layout, with wide columns following the direction of fibres (60, 78 and 79).
This being the final volume of the series, the editors have provided a synthesis on the people of Petra covering the contents of all five volumes. Most men and women who appear in the Petra papyri are related to Theodoros in one way or another, although family ties are sometimes obscured by the fact that several individuals bear the same names. Most individuals in the archive belong to a category of well-to-do inhabitants who run the church, own land and slaves, pay taxes and bequeath their property to foundations attached to the church.
Another general chapter shows that Greek was in current use as the written language in sixth-century Petra, although Arabic and Aramaic were commonly spoken, thus influencing the written Greek: on the phonological side, for instance, some differences can be explained by the underlying vernacular. All writers do not display the same command of Greek: the more skilled they are, the more consistently they write, even when their spelling differs from the known standard. Egyptian papyri offer the main source of comparison for the Greek of Petra, but koine Greek as well as Latin are also taken into account. The syntax contains few features of later Greek, a conservative tendency that is best explained by the formulaic language used in documents of legal and official content. The section on Greek is supplemented by another on the Arabic of Petra, where the author relies on a treasure trove of Arabic toponyms transcribed into Greek characters. This allows for a precise description of some aspects of the local Arabic dialect in the pre-Islamic period.
The documents that appear at the beginning of the volume have more to offer than the subsequent ones. In 50 (528/29 ce?), the owners of two plots of land wish to make an exchange, for a reason that is lost in a missing part of the document (see also 12, in Volume 1, for a text of similar content). The concept of antidosis appears seldom in Egyptian papyri of the same period. 51 (528/543/558/573 ce), a contract of emphyteutic lease, is also exceptional: there are only four Egyptian parallel cases to this procedure...