Trade Licence

SB VI 9545 Nr. 33 (P. 12065)


Everything is controlled! For almost every job you need a permit or have to pay a tax. This is also the case in the trade license presented here, which was written on a reused ceramic shard. This reddish ostracon, as inscribed pottery shards are called, was found during the excavation of Otto Rubensohn in Elephantine in Upper Egypt in the winter of 1906/07 and came shortly afterwards to the Berlin papyrus collection.

This ostracon is a rarely preserved specimen of a trade license for a hetaera, who is allowed to carry out her trade in one day. This day is mentioned twice in the text and can be converted into our current dating system. It is the 23rd of September of the year 142 AD. The double mention of the date indicates that the permit was issued exactly on the day on which it was valid. This is also characteristic of the other trade licenses for hetaeras that have survived. Such a trade license is therefore comparable with a work permit for a particular day.

For such a trade license certainly a fee had to be paid. But this can only be assumed, because the present text is actually no receipt for the payment of such a fee and also does not mention any amount of money. However, the text offers sufficient clues from which such a payment can be deduced. At the beginning of this short text, we learn to whom this trade license applies and who granted it. The permit was issued for a woman with the very rare name Thinmareine. Unfortunately, no further details about this person are given except the trade, for which she receives a one-day permit in this text. The trade is approved by Ammonios and his colleagues, who are described in this text as the lessees of the prostitution tax. Already in the Ptolemaic period, many taxes and levies through which the state received its revenues were leased to persons who, instead of the state, now had the right to collect these taxes and finally pass them on to the state. In the Roman period, from which also this text originates, the leasing of taxes decreases. In our text, with the description of the issuers of this trade license as lessees of the prostitution tax, an indication is given that Thinmareine presumably paid a fee to obtain this license, which should have been indirectly considered as a receipt. In the last line of the text, the permission is confirmed again by another person. A Brasidios Valens, whose name, however, cannot be read confidently, apparently writes here in his own hand, since the writing of this line differs significantly from the other lines.

Much has been speculated about the context of this and similar trade licenses for hetaera. The fact that it is permitted to carry out the trade on a single day suggests that it may have been issued in the context of festivities. However, the days indicated do not yet allow for a clear allocation.

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