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date: 02 December 2020

Theophanes of Hermopolis, Journeylocked

  • Richard J. A. Talbert

Extract

Theophanes, an early 4th centuryce lawyer (scholasticus) at Hermopolis Magna in Egypt, is known to us from an “archive” of Greek papyri (Fig. 1). It was unearthed at an unknown location, purchased around 1896, and has been housed in the Rylands Library, Manchester, UK, since 1901. Along with letters and other documents, this “archive” preserves accounts (about 1,500 lines in all) compiled in the early 320s during a return journey that Theophanes made with an entourage from Hermopolis to Syrian Antioch; he stayed there for two and a half months, and was away for five months in all. Publication of these accounts was delayed until 1952, when they were presented by Colin Roberts with minimal commentary and no translation (PRyl. 616–651).1. Thereafter they attracted little attention until 2006,2. when John Matthews realized their remarkable potential. His English translation and analysis demonstrate the scope for reconstructing Theophanes’s progress by riverboat and highway in remarkable detail, including the meals consumed by him and his social peers on the one hand, and their servants on the other. The daily log of purchases offers insight not only into diet (typically “Mediterranean” in character) and drinkinghabits, but also into the identification of vegetables, fruits, and many other items, their availability in markets, and the prices charged there. From this data an attempt can be made to calculate the total daily caloric value of the food purchases. The prices in turn invite efforts to estimate the level of inflation since the promulgation of Diocletian’s Edict on Maximum Prices twenty years earlier.

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