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Tax receipts show Egyptians kept traditions under Roman rule

Postdoctoral research fellow Andreas Winkler examines ancient papyri at Tuesday talk

“Tax receipts are boring,” said postdoctoral research fellow Andreas Winkler. “Historians usually don’t make much use of them.”

But at a research colloquium Tuesday in the Department of Egyptology and Assyriology,  Winkler explained how his analysis of ancient tax receipts dispells previously held beliefs about the economic and religious lives of Egyptians under Roman rule in the first and second centuries. About 25 students and faculty members attended his talk.

Winkler, a native of Sweden who received his doctorate in Egyptology at the University of California at Berkeley, said he focused his research on Tebtunis, an ancient city in the southwest corner of the Fayum Basin. The city is home to the temple of the crocodile god Soknebtunis or Sobek, lord of Tebtunis.

“The temple library was one of the best preserved in ancient Egypt,” Winkler said, adding that it contained all kinds of papyri, including the receipts he analyzed.

The receipts showed that ancient Egyptians paid state taxes to the Romans, as was previously thought. But the documents also revealed that Egyptians were paying a second tax to the priests of the city.

Winkler’s slides showed images of numerous papyri containing property transfer information. They included the amount of  money that went to both the Roman government and the city priests.

It was widely thought that under Roman rule, ancient Egyptian taxes to city priests were obsolete, Winkler said. But the papyri show that “Egyptians continued to keep priestly traditions under Roman rule,” Winkler said.

The ancient receipts also suggest that priests were paid for their service in parcels of land. A high priest, or Lesonis, who acted as a sort of economic bookkeeper for a council of higher priests, distributed the parcels.

Winkler said his research is evidence for “greater continuity between the Ptolemic period and Roman period” of Egypt than was previously thought.

Pinar Durgun GS, a doctoral student in archaeology, said she attended the colloquium to gain a greater understanding of the work of other departments. Durgun said she tries to attend as many Tuesday presentations as possible, as they help her see the possible directions she could take her own research in the future.


A previous version of this article misstated the name of the department holding Tuesday's research colloquium. It is the Department of Egyptology and Assyriology, not the Department of Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies. The Herald regrets the error.


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