Retracing Theban Witness Networks in Demotic Contracts

Silke Vanbeselaere (Leuven)

Digital Classicist London & Institute of Classical Studies seminar 2014

Friday July 11th at 16:30, in Room G37, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

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This paper focuses on the presence of witnesses in Demotic contracts during the Ptolemaic reign in Egypt. It will investigate the interpersonal links between the three main actor groups of these contracts: the scribes, the two contracting parties and the witnesses. The first actors, i.e. the scribes, have been studied before and we saw them connected through family ties, revealing the profession of a contract scribe as a hereditary office associated with the Egyptian temples. In the second century BC two operational notaries were attested in Thebes: the notary of Amunrasonther and that of the prophets of Djeme. But what about the period before that? Can we retrace these notaries through network analysis or are we confronted with an organisation entirely different from the one in the following century?

The contracting parties have always received a lot of attention from papyrologists as well, as they were often the protagonists of important archives. However, the third group of actors, the witnesses, have more or less been neglected so far. I will try to provide an answer to the crucial question of how these witnesses were chosen. Were they connected to the notarial and scribal offices, or can they be linked to one or both parties as family and/or acquaintances perhaps? Or were they chosen randomly, passers-by simply picked from the streets when needed?

The online platform Trismegistos, which includes almost half a million attestations of individuals in Greek and Egyptian texts between 800 BC and AD 800, serves as a starting point for this research. Thanks to the interlock structure of the text and reference databases, a two-mode people-in-texts network can easily be extracted and converted into one-mode people-to-people networks of the contracting parties, the scribes and the witnesses.

Firstly, before we can start interpreting these networks, we need to make sure that we have correctly identified the various actors appearing in our network. The visualisation of the data has proven to be a very useful new step in this process. Where before we were looking at the actors' fathers and the characteristics of the relevant texts, we now take the position of an actor in the – albeit preliminary – network into account as an extra factor to obtain a faster and more advanced identification.

Secondly, subjecting these networks to social network analysis will contribute to our understanding of the relationships and interactions between witnesses, scribes and contracting parties as well as the functioning of the ancient notaries, not only in Thebes but in the whole of Ptolemaic Egypt.


The seminar will be followed by wine and refreshments.