Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Private tradition, public state: Women in demotic business and administrative texts from Ptolemaic and Roman Thebes
by O'Brien, Alexandra Alice, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 1999, 295; 9951822
Abstract (Summary)

Following the conquest of Alexander the Great in 332 BC Egypt experienced a gradual transition from an Egyptian to a Hellenistic administration. Egyptian law was recognised by the Ptolemies, but not by the Romans who adopted Hellenistic practice wholesale. This had major implications for women, since Egyptian custom treated women as legally independent persons, while Hellenistic law customarily required them act through a male guardian.

Study of the Demotic business and administrative texts from Ptolemaic and Roman Thebes reveals cultural and gender-based differences in treatment of individuals in the documents. The Egyptian papyri show men and women owning and transferring a variety of properties with almost equal frequency. Women were clearly substantial property owners in Thebes at this time. However, gender could affect an individual on many levels: the titles given to a party in a contract, the portion of an estate an individual could inherit, involvement in management of property and interaction with the state.

Analysis of the Theban documents, in addition to related material, suggests that the management of a woman's property by her husband lies behind both the rare use of titles in association with women, as well as women's infrequent appearance in leases, loans and non-tax ostraca. The Hellenistic culture of the administration reinforced any tendency to down-play the involvement of women and to not give them titles in business documents. The few taxes women paid were initiated prior to the administrative reforms of year 22 of Ptolemy II, the intention of which was probably to bring the administration of Egypt into line with Hellenistic practice. The administration's increasing Hellenisation in the later Ptolemaic and Roman periods is reflected in a sharp decline in numbers of female tax payers. The dearth of Demotic legal papyri of the Roman period illustrates both the end of official recognition of Egyptian law and the corresponding loss of the legal independence of women, which had been a fundamental element of Egyptian culture since the early Pharaonic period.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Johnson, Janet H.
School: The University of Chicago
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 60/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Ancient civilizations, Ancient languages, Womens studies
Keywords: Administrative texts, Demotic business, Ptolemaic, Public state, Roman Republic, Thebes, Tradition, Women
Publication Number: 9951822
ISBN: 978-0-599-55531-0
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