In the late period of ancient Egyptian history (712-332 BC) and into the Graeco-Roman period (332BC-395AD), papyri are found that are written in demotic, abnormal hieratic, or hieratic, and that record a variety of contracts – many documenting a loan. During this time and before, associations were formed around occupations, for example: goose-herders, goat-herders, donkey-drivers, ship-contractors. etc. In earlier times, guilds of mummifiers and undertakers, etc, are also known.
Members of these voluntary groups could stand up for one another and offered a form of joint, non-hereditary grouping that is still found in Egypt today, where it is called al-jamiyah al-khiriah – voluntary societies. This is the first of several entrees about associational activities in ancient Egypt.
The following loan contracts are two examples of legal documents for members of voluntary associations, the first pertaining to goat-herders and second to goose-herders:
- A manuscript featuring two goat-herders written in abnormal hieratic explains the new arrangement of a debt:
The goatherd Paiuiuhor son of Nesamun states to the goatherd Ityaâ that the latter has paid his (i.e. Paiuiuhor’s) debt to the goatherd Tjaynahebu and that he now owes this amount to Ityaâ. If he tries to go back on this deal the amount owed by him will be doubled. Source – K. Donker van Heel, ‘A day in the life of the ancient Egyptian goatherd Ityaa: abnormal hieratic P. Michaelides 1 and 2 (P. BM EA 10907 and 10906)’, in JEA 90 (2004), p. 153-166
The top half of the contract is shown below:
2. The following manuscript details a money loan between two goose-herders.
Of interest, are first, the various ways in which the contract identifies the two parties, and second, the inclusion of the signatures of four witnesses. thereby lessening chances of malpractice by either of the two parties.
Says the [Goose] herd [of the Domain of Amon, Petash] otmef, son of Inarou, his mother Te[te]tichy, to the Gooseherd of the Domain of Amon
(2) [……….., son of In]arou, his mother Obastorer: [I have received from you] 3 [kite silver] of the treasury of Ptah, [refined, which you gave] me; it is I who will give you 6 kite silver of the treasury of Ptah, refined17,
(3) [because of] them, in year 36, 1st month of the peret season (Tybi). If I fail [to give] you [these] 6 kite silver of the treasury [of Ptah, refined], in year 36, 1st month of the peret season (Tybi) they will bear (interest) against me, 1/10th of silver to
(4) each (kite of silver), from year 36, 2d month of the peret season (Mecheir) onwards, while they don’t stop as interest [in any month (and) any year] that they will be with me, while interest (will) bear as interest against me
(5) again, and also this interest which is (mentioned) above, till whatever ever they would reach; and I will give then [ to you and also their interests]. This(?) money which is (mentioned) above and also their interests [will] befall on me
(6) (and) on my children, and also (on) the pledges that you will want [from me, all, all, (as) houses, slave, (female) slave, cow,] donkey, and cattle, barley, emmer,
(7) silver, bronze, clothing, everything as chattels, and you will take them [to you] because of them, till [you have filled them with the above money and their interests]. [I shall not be able to say], ‘I have given to you money (or) interest among them, while
(8) this document is in your hand. [In writing of Onnôfri, son of Tethotefônch. Four witnesses signed on the verso of the contract.]
S.P. Vleeming, The Gooseherds of Hou (Pap. Hou). A Dossier Relating to Various Agricultural Affairs from Provincial Egypt of the Early Fifth Century BC (Leuven, 1991)
J.G. Manning, The Last Pharaohs: Egypt under the Ptolemies, 305-30 BC. 2010 by Princeton University Press.
Background on Associations in ancient Egypt –
Certain private associations in Ptolemaic Egypt engaged in distinctly Egyptian religious activities and compiled rules in native Demotic. These rules closely parallel those written in Greek and Latin, however, and examination of several rules from Tebtunis further suggests that their associations played social roles analogous to those played by associations elsewhere in the Graeco-Roman world.
Source – Muhs-Membership in private associations in Ptolemaic Tebtunis. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient. Vol. 44, No. 1 (2001), pp. 1-21 Published by: BRILL