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Menches Archive

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The “Menches Archive”

A considerable portion of the papyri from the Tebtunis crocodile mummies once formed part of the archive of the komogrammateus (village scribe) of the nearby village of Kerkeosiris. Most documents date from the years 115-112 BCE, when a certain person named Menches performed the duties of komogrammateus. Berkeley also holds documents from earlier and later years of Menches's unknown predecessor and his successor Petesouchos (P. Tebt. I 29, 77, 78). The Menches papers can be divided in two groups, administrative documents and correspondence.

Administrative Documents of Menches

The administrative documents form the core of the Menches papers. They consist of (often lengthy) reports, in which Menches details the state of affairs of every square meter of Kerkeosiris. He recorded the fiscal category to which each plot of land belonged, its holder, the crops sown upon it, and payments due to the state.

Menches focused upon the royal domain (Crown land), from which the Crown could expect the most revenues. Each year, Menches drew up several documents in which he presented the crops with which the Crown land had been sown in a given year. He also composed extensive reports in which he listed all landholders in this category (the Crown tenants) with the size of their plot and the amounts (rent and land taxes) due to the Crown. An example of a report in which Menches gave a summary account of the crops sown on Crown land is P. Tebt. I 153.

Correspondence of Menches

The other part of the Menches papers consists of correspondence. This correspondence includes official letters that were addressed to Menches by his superiors and peers in the Ptolemaic bureaucracy.

An interesting example is P. Tebt. I 10, dated to 20 August 119 BCE.  It is a letter sent by Asklepiades, probably the basilikos grammateus (royal scribe), Menches's superior in the nome capital, to Marres, the topogrammateus (district scribe). In it, Asklepiades informs Marres that Menches has been appointed to the post of komogrammateus (village scribe) of Kerkeosiris by the dioiketes, the highest official of Ptolemaic Egypt.

Another interesting feature of the Menches Papers is that they contain drafts of texts sent by Menches to colleagues. Unlike the finished versions dispersed to their recipients, these drafts remained in Menches's archive, and thus they give us a (rare) chance to examine Menches's expressions.  A fine specimen of such a text is P. Tebt. I 15, the first draft of which (18 August 114 BCE) informs Horos about events surrounding an attack upon another village official, the epistates Polemon.  For examples of other drafts of letters sent by Menches, see P. Tebt. I 9, 14, 38

Finally, the Menches Papers contain quite a few petitions addressed to Menches by villagers who were wronged in various ways and who petitioned Menches to obtain redress. These petitions provide a lively view on village life in Kerkeosiris at the end of the second century BCE.  The reasons for petitioning Menches ranged from violence to theft to being hindered in one's agricultural tasks.  For examples of other petitions, see P. Tebt. I 40, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, and 51v.