Deed of Surety

BGU I 255 (P. 7027)


„I vouch for him!“ – is a statement that is linked not only today, but also in ancient times, with a complex legal procedure. This is a contractually secured interaction of debtor, creditor and guarantor in every imaginable situation.

This papyrus, written in elaborate Byzantine italic italics, was probably found in the Fayum, a large oasis south of Cairo. Although the find spot cannot be determined clearly, the place of issue of the document is clearly documented with Memphis in the second line. In 1892 it came to the Berlin papyrus collection from the collection of Daninos. The piece is written only on one side on the front, the recto, with 9 lines. The back, the verso, is blank. The left side is heavily damaged, so that the beginning of the lines has large gaps in the text. On the right side a complete tradition is guaranteed.

This incomplete document is a deed of surety in the form of a letter. The date of issue occupies two lines and is not uncommon in its detail for that time. It can be dated to the 15th May 599 AD and falls into the reign of the East Roman emperor Maurikios, whose reign was marked by wars on the Balkans. The place of issue is the city of Memphis, which at that time had lost its status of a rich city for centuries but was still considered as a trading city.

The three issuer, a shoemaker named Aurelios Ioannes, a sailor Menas and a gardener whose name is unknown vouch for a man named Aurelios. He is to be released from the public prison for an indefinite period, but must remain in his place of residence, follow the instructions of the addressee and and may be returned to prison on order. The name of the recipient is no longer recognizable because of a gap in the text, but he is the son of a commander and probably stands for an authority.

The agreement offers scope for speculation in the event of non-ordering. It is not uncommon in antiquity to have a guarantee given by several persons, and this is repeatedly documented in other papyri. However, it is particularly important to note the regulations with regard to a possible deposit amount in detail. Because of this fact and the recognizable words in the last line, this information is in the lost part of the text. Moreover, as we are unaware of the actual cause of the stay in the public prison or debt tower, a classification into criminal or civil proceedings is not possible.

Especially exciting are the variations of the reading possibilities of this papyrus. The biggest difference can be found in the number of debtors. There is the possibility of one or two debtors. However, the second type of reading reveals that the debtors have fewer and less different attributes than the guarantors and the addressee. Comparing the position of the attributes, the following pattern emerges: name, profession, name of father, place of residence. In the case of two debtors, their profession would have been omitted, the father’s name would have been given only once, but the nicknames have been noted. Assuming the same position of attributes, it can only relate to one person, but in much more detail. Aurelios, called Apakouthios, whose occupation is unrecognisable due to a gap in the text, father Menas, nickname Koukkouma, place of residence Memphis.

Despite the many gaps in the text, this deed of surety provides a good insight into the legal system of Byzantine Egypt. Although papyri with guarantees are not extremely rare, they always provide a perspective on each individual time.

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