Women at the Edge: Gender and Ethnicity in Law at Dura-Europos
Given the increasing interest in law among historians, especially in women’s contact with legal institutions and the impact of their legal status, this is an opportune time to extend the boundaries of most classicists’ purview with an examination of women and law at Dura-Europos. This paper explores women’s use of legal documents and the impact of law upon notions of gender and ethnicity at the edge of the Roman Empire. I argue that it is by looking at legal documents that we are able to see women in the furthest corners of the Roman Empire acting outside the gender role traditionally ascribed to them and using a legal system that was alien, yet adaptive to the native culture. Reading the work of Roman jurists gives one the impression that women could not and did not use Roman law and that Roman law appears to be culturally isolated. But to read the documents from Dura-Europos is to realise that women were active participants in law and that Roman legal practice blended with Greek in the East to form a set of legal practices and procedures that served the local population well.
Women, regardless of where they were in the Roman Empire, were traditionally considered incapable of participating in law. The jurist Paul in the Digest (22.6.9pr) tells us: “Those under twenty-five are allowed to be ignorant of the law. So are women in some cases, owing to the infirmity of their gender.” For the same reason, they were supposed to have guardians to represent them--they were, in theory, treated like children. Nevertheless, women did participate in law, despite their supposed ignorance and weakness.
There is a growing body of work on the participation of women in law in the Roman world. I mention just a few titles: Jane Gardner’s ground-breaking Women in Roman Law and Society (1986), Susan Treggiari’s Roman Marriage: iusti coniuges from the time of Cicero to the time of Ulpian (1991), Antti Arjava’s Women and Law in Late Antiquity (1996), and Judith Evans Grubbs’ recent sourcebook, Women and the Law in the Roman Empire (2002), which is an invaluable resource for those interested in the subject. Despite this interest, little attention has been paid to the correlation between women’s participation in Roman institutions, such as law, and their social and geographical milieu, especially at the edge of the Roman Empire.
But the great collection of parchments and papyri from Dura-Europos can contribute much to our understanding of women’s experience of law. Macedonians, Parthians, and finally Romans held this city on the Euphrates. Their successive domination added to the diversity of the population, evidenced in the documents which were written in Greek, Syriac and Latin, and which feature parties with Greek, Semitic, and Roman names, all of whom, nevertheless, came together in their use of law. I discuss four documents preserved from the period of Roman control of AD 165 to 256,1 all of which feature women and count among the best preserved texts from the site. Two of these documents concern familial matters (marriage and divorce), and two concern business matters (sale and deposit); these documents contain the sorts of legal agreements a woman at Dura-Europos might expect to draw up during her life.
P.Dura 31 of AD 204 records the divorce of Acozzis.2 She bore a Semitic name and, embodying the local diversity, was once married to the Greek-named Lysias. She now sought a divorce from her second husband, Nabusamaus (another Semitic name). The divorce agreement is a double document, a type for which Dura-Europos is well known. Double documents comprise two texts, one written below the other. When rolled up, the lower text is concealed inside; the upper is visible on the outside, the veracity of its contents guaranteed by the hidden text. This form of document is similar to but more elaborate than simply folding the papyri, the practice that succeeded it in Egypt, and is found in this period only in the East. We have examples of it also in the Babatha archive, which I shall discuss shortly, and in the P.Euphrates collection.3
In P.Dura 31 the lower text is the full original, containing stipulations and witnesses’ signatures. It is, at times, garbled with many grammatical errors, suggesting bad dictation to a scribe, or the scribe’s unfamiliarity with a template. I doubt that the document was written by either of the parties; the dictator or author of the template was probably a notary. Normally the upper texts that appeared on the outside contained simply a description of the type of document and witness declarations. In P.Dura 31, however, we seem to have a typographically and grammatically correct version of the lower, inside text. It is in a different hand, probably the hand of the official with whom the document was lodged, who seems to have gone out of his way to make sure that the document made sense.
The lower, inside text opens with Roman dating, “In the consulship of Lucius Fabius Cilo for the second time and of Flavius Annius Libo; in the twelfth year of the reign of Imperator Caesar Lucius Septimius Severus Pertinax Augustus, the tenth of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, and the seventh of Lucius Septimius Geta Caesar, his sons, Augusti,” followed by the local style of dating--“in the year 515 of the former reckoning, on the fourth of the month Artemisius.” These two dating formulae at the beginning indicate the multi-cultural nature of this document. Next, in lines 28-29, we see the names of the parties, and those of their parents and grandparents--“Nabusamaus son of Konon son of Abissaeus and Acozzis daughter of Seleucus son of Abissaeus,” a mixture of Semitic and Greek names. Acozzis and her husband had married under an oral agreement (gegenesthai autois ton sunoikismon eti proteron agraphôs, ll. 30-31), probably on the Greco-Syrian model, as Syrian and Greek law held sway before the arrival of the Romans. They now divorced without blame (ll. 37-38), leaving each other free to remarry (ll. 34-7). Despite problems with the text, the agreement made is legally sound and even includes stipulations--binding affirmations that are quintessentially Roman (ll. 51-55). One of the scribe’s errors, however, was to place the parties’ stipulations not before, but in the middle of the witness declarations that begin at line 49.
Acozzis and Nabusamaus’ divorce document shares notable features with another example from Dura-Europos, P.Dura 32 of AD 254: the parties, Amimma and Julius Antiochus, give each other permission to remarry and agree not to make any claims against each other in the future.4 But the circumstances of Acozzis and Nabusamaus’ marriage and its dissolution are not so commonplace. Since the couple had grandfathers of the same name, with no distinction such as a patronymic made between them, it is reasonable to assume that they were cousins. Unlike P.Dura 32, this document makes no provision for the restoration of property. Welles et al. believe that it would have been covered by a general release of all claims,5 though it is curious that no details were given for the division of the cousins’ personal and familial property.6
We know from lines 53-54 that Acozzis had a son, Barnaeus, who signed for her: “I, Barnaeus son of Lysias, having been asked, wrote for my mother”). As her son must have reached majority to be able to sign, she was probably in her 40s at the time of the divorce. It seems strange that her second marriage, as opposed to her first, should have been to her cousin. Such dynastic unions were usually undertaken to preserve property and were effective only with the production of children--but Acozzis and Nabusamaus had no children (ll. 31-32). A possible explanation for their union is that they were both either widowed or divorced, with Nabusamaus no longer of an age to enter into a relationship that would produce children. To prevent Acozzis living alone or having to live with her son, perhaps she and her cousin were joined in a union that would protect Acozzis, provide companionship, and safeguard both parties’ family property. Although the union seemed ideal, nevertheless human nature, manifested in the curiously sensitive term dusare(s)teis (l. 32, which I translate as “a lack of amiable cooperation”) intervened and Acozzis and Nabusamaus could not bear to remain together. Their failure to adhere to the subsequent divorce agreement carried a heavy penalty--3,000 denarii in AD 204 compared with 1,000 denarii in P.Dura 32, dating to AD 254--perhaps reinforcing the suggestion that theirs was a union meant to protect family wealth.
Throughout the document, we see that Acozzis is named directly as one of the parties: it seems that she had no guardian acting for her. On the basis of statements by Paul, Gaius and other jurists, it had been assumed that women could not be parties to legal agreements or actions without guardians.7 But in the documents from Dura-Europos women act without guardians.
It had once been thought that Duran women were pioneers, but the subsequent discovery of the documents comprising the P.Euphrates collection prompted the suggestion that the phenomenon belongs to the third century, not to Dura-Europos. This collection, which includes public and private documents and letters dating from AD 232-252, comes from the same region as Dura-Europos. In it we find, for example, a petition written from a certain Bathsabbatha, whose brother had been murdered and his possessions stolen. She writes to the local centurion asking for his testimony that her brother had been murdered, so that she can pursue his murderer for return of the possessions. Bathsabbatha petitions without a guardian; the reply is written below the petition and is evidence that the local authorities were willing to accept legal and administrative documents from women acting independently.
We now have more evidence: as far back as the Hellenistic period, some Ethiopian women in Egypt acted without guardians, except when they were involved in serious legal issues and needed to emphasise their social standing. Then they used guardians, just like Greek women in the community. Katelijn Vandorpe has examined an archive of the second century BC belonging to a couple, Dryton and Apollonia, and their offspring.8 She has found that Apollonia, a woman from a Greek family that had lived in Egypt for two or three generations, married a Greek man using a Greek legal document, perhaps to emphasise that she was part of the elite Greek community. As a businesswoman, she drew up loan contracts using both Greek and Egyptian-style documents, and it is notable that she used Greek documents for loans of larger sums, Egyptian documents for smaller sums.9 Also in the second century, we find another woman behaving like Apollonia: in Egyptian documents she acts without a guardian and in Greek documents with (for example, Pap.Lugd.Bat. 19.2 and 3 = P.Batav. 2 and 3).10 Moving forward to the third century in the Roman period, we find women asking for guardians (P.Oxy. 4.720 and 12.1466), presumably so that their subsequent legal undertakings would be more secure.11
Our assumption of a move in the third century AD towards women’s legal independence seems to have been a function of the evidence, not an accurate reflection of reality. In Egyptian documents, generally women had always acted alone; in Greek documents, they were inclined to use a guardian.
It is possible that from the time of the Roman Republic only women of Greek and Roman origin had acted with guardians, leaving all other indigenous women in Egypt and the Near East to act independently when it suited them: in the second century BC we find an Egyptian woman using Greek contracts but without a guardian (Pap.Lugd.Bat. 19.6 = P.Batav. 6).12 We also find in 173 BC (P.Giss. 2) an Egyptian woman giving herself in marriage, as was permissible in Egypt, though using a Greek marriage agreement.13 But there were exceptions, such as Julia Crispina in the Babatha archive. In P.Babatha 20 she appears as an episkopos, a guardian, and in no document in the archive does she have a guardian acting in her interests. If she is to be identified as the daughter of the consul, as has been suggested, then perhaps her independence is a sign of her elevated status, though this theory contradicts the Roman jurists.14 If, however, she was a local woman of some standing, which is another suggestion, then her independence could be explained by her Eastern origins.15
The evidence for women and guardianship is large and complicated. But the accumulated material of Egypt, Dura-Europos, the Euphrates and Arabia suggests that guardianship of women varied according to certain criteria and circumstances: social standing, ethnicity, the extent of local Romanisation, and the gravity of the legal problem.
As I mentioned above, in lines 53-55 we see that Acozzis’ son Barnaeus signed for her. Parties to a document often had someone sign on their behalf because they were illiterate: in P.Dura 32, Aurelius Valentinus states that he has written on behalf of Amimma who is described as being without letters (agrammatou, l. 23). The rest of his statement is very similar to that in P.Dura 31. It is rare to find women who sign for themselves: in one document, a woman with the ius trium liberorum makes a point of stating that she can act independently and, moreover, that she has also signed for herself.16 It is most likely that a word similar to agrammatou was accidentally omitted from P.Dura 31.
Clear indications of Roman law, as opposed to Syrian or Greek, as a legal system, are absent from this document. Roman law did not require marriage documents, or tabulae nuptiales, and though they were common in the classical period in the West, almost all surviving examples are from the East. Evans-Grubbs in her sourcebook is forced to take examples of marriage documents not from Italy, but from Egypt and the Near East.17 Also, marriage sine manu became the norm, that is, marriage in which the woman was party to the agreement, not the subject of it. Coincidentally, in the Greek East, outside of Greece itself, Greek marriage law developed under Eastern influence to accept marriages as valid even without written documentation and to regard marriage as an agreement between a man and a woman, not the woman’s father or guardian. These coincidences between Roman and Greek law must have made using a legal document lodged with the Roman authorities palatable, even easy, for Acozzis and her husband.
I suggest that Roman law, as opposed to Greek or Syrian law, in P.Dura 31 is evidenced not by the appearance of particular legal restrictions and formulations, but by indications of certain ways of doing things, such as using stipulations, or certain ways of arranging one’s affairs, such as using a written document that was acceptable to the Roman authorities. Dura-Europos was now a Roman city and so perhaps we can assume that Acozzis and her husband felt that if they were to divorce, they should do it with a written agreement that would carry weight with the Roman authorities. Perhaps both parties had more to lose if their document was not valid in the eyes of officials: they were older and they probably had property (though none is explicitly mentioned), disbursement of which could have been compromised by a faulty divorce. One of them may have been anticipating remarriage, which would have been rendered invalid if the divorce was faulty, or at any rate made more difficult if he or she had not removed any suspicion of adultery.
Their decision as non-citizens to use a Roman legal document is an example of how adaptable Roman provincial law was to the needs of people, including non-citizens. Only five years later, the Constitutio Antoniniana would make concrete what had already started to happen in the legal world--everyone was becoming Roman.18 Acozzis, a non-Roman woman acting without a guardian, participated in Roman law just like a man, despite her illiteracy and “the infirmity of her gender.”19
Acozzis’ divorce is notable for two non-citizens using a Roman legal document. Moving forward in time to AD 232, P.Dura 30 records the marriage of two citizens.20 The background to the agreement is as follows: a soldier named Aurelius Alexander and a widow named Aurelia Marcellina married at the winter quarters of the Cohors Duodecima, just outside the city. From their names, both parties were clearly citizens from recently enfranchised families. The document was found at Dura-Europos, perhaps because it was deposited there with the local authorities.
Aurelius Alexander may have come from the area, if troops were employed locally for the Parthian war;21 from his name we can be sure at least that he is from the Eastern half of the Empire. His new wife, Aurelia, is named as the daughter of Marcellinus, and she is said to have married in the presence of her mother and her brother, Agrippinus. It has been suggested that Marcellina was a local woman, but the fact that the rest of her family has Latin names raises the possibility that she or her family came originally from the West.22 This possibility is tempered, however, by the fact that she acted independently: she simply married in the presence of her family, not with their permission, and she had someone sign for her not in the role of guardian, but simply because she was illiterate (ll. 36-38). Aurelia’s first husband is not named, but the fact that her second marriage was to a soldier in the camp suggests that her first husband was probably also in the military. We might surmise that he was killed in action out East during the Parthian wars, leaving Aurelia widowed and childless (no children are mentioned in the document); marriage to one of his soldier comrades seems likely.
The contents of the document give little indication of its provenance: we are told that it was drawn up in the camp, where official documents were written in Latin, and at least two of the witnesses’ signatures are in Latin (ll. 3 and 5 of the verso). But the rest is in Greek.23 The document could have come just as easily from Egypt as from a Roman army camp: the core elements--a statement that the bride has given herself (or been given) to the groom,24 a list of the dowry items, the obligations and expectations arising from the union, and dispersal of the bride’s property in the event of divorce--are found in Greek, Egyptian and Roman marriage agreements. With the omission of any mention of the lex Julia, which is found in other Roman documents, only the appearance of stipulations alerts us to the fact that this was a document drawn up under the period of Roman control. Curiously, in a break with the tradition of Duran documents, P.Dura 30 contains consular dating and the month in the Greek style, but it does not refer to the old style of dating for the year. Perhaps some people at Dura were less wedded to the old ways than were others.
As part of the marriage, Aurelius Alexander receives dowry paraphernalia from his wife, all of which is assigned a monetary value. Comparison with other documents shows us the significance of the items. P.Oxy. 10.1273, an Egyptian marriage document of AD 260, also contains a list of dowry items, such as clothing, jewellery, and cash. P.Oxy. 49.3500, a marriage document between two embalmers, dating to the 3rd century AD, omits any mention of dowry items, presumably because the woman had no items of value worth listing.25 The rest of this document, however, follows familiar lines--the woman gives herself in marriage and responsibilities and penalties are listed in the usual way. The omission or inclusion of dowry paraphernalia offers an interesting insight into the financial status of the documents’ parties. The quality and quantity of the items in both documents, together with the fact that the clothing is new, suggest that Aurelia Marcellina and the bride of P.Oxy. 10.1273 came from affluent families; the embalmer of P.Oxy. 49.3500 did not. The items themselves give us some idea of the possessions that affluent women in places such as Dura-Europos could expect to own, such as robes, tunics, and earrings. In P.Dura 30, we are reminded of the exoticism of the city in the phrase Mediskia kai epikarsia kaina (l. 20), which seems to describe silk and diagonally striped garments or fabric.26
Just as a divorce document was not required to dissolve a union, so a marriage document was not needed to verify one. So why did Aurelius Alexander and Aurelia Marcellina decide to record their marriage in writing? One answer is that over time, the practice of drawing up documents was becoming more popular: Acozzis and Nabusamaus married without a document, but later divorced with one. Perhaps the increased use of documents is a reflection of growing Romanisation at the city. A second answer concerns wealth: for couples like Aurelius Alexander and Aurelia Marcellina, who was bringing a significant dowry with her, a document not only made the union public, but also protected the weaker party, who was usually the woman.
Continuing the theme of protection afforded by legal documents, I turn to an undertaking between two women, P.Dura 29.27 It dates to 251 and is a deposit agreement between a local woman, who may or may not have been a citizen, Amaththabeile, and a Roman citizen, Aurelia Gaia. The text of the papyrus is a double document, the upper text retaining only the date and title, the lower text containing the agreement in full. Amaththabeile, whose Semitic name means “servant of Bel”, was probably not from citizen stock, although her father may have become a citizen in 212. (I find it strange that space was left in line 5 for his name--perhaps there were problems transliterating from Syriac.) The other party was Aurelia Gaia. We know from her name that she was certainly of citizen stock and was most likely descended from Greek colonists: her father’s name suggests that the family was associated with the garrison.28
The difference in the two women’s status is reflected in the agreement they undertook: Aurelia Gaia was able to safeguard Amaththabeile’s one hundred denarii--the sum is given in line 7--and so she lived in property secure enough to look after a sum that could have purchased as much as 100kg of salt or wheat or 100 pints of oil in AD 251;29 Amaththabeile did not live in such a property. It is interesting to see that the silver was of good quality, that is, it had been tested for purity: the inflation of the third century was clearly a problem in Dura-Europos. I am curious to know how Amaththabeile came upon such a large sum of money. She may have been saving up her wages and now had amassed enough money to make deposit a necessary undertaking. But given the evidence that most people lived at subsistence level, it is most likely that she came by the money through inheritance or sale of a property.
What was Aurelia doing taking Amaththabeile’s money? She certainly was not a banker: this is a document recording a simple deposit, so no rate of interest is mentioned. Besides, women were not allowed to act as bankers, that is, to lend money with interest, and presumably they were not allowed to look after others’ money and add interest in return for the opportunity to invest it.30 But Aurelia could have used Amaththabeile’s money for investment without paying out interest, which would still have offered lucrative business opportunities. Alternatively, Amaththabeile may have been Aurelia’s freedwoman, and the agreement was therefore based on duty rather than entrepreneurship. Whichever it was, these women of different status came together to use law--Aurelia acting like a Roman businessman or patron, Amaththabeile taking advantage of the legal system (possibly the system of another culture) to safeguard what little she had.
At lines 16 to 17 we are told that Aurelia swore the Imperial oath--she would probably have sworn by the Greek god Zeus and by the genius of the Roman Emperor, another nice example of the flexibility of Roman institutions. She swore to the amount that was deposited and to her receipt of it. Amaththabeile did not swear anything, nor did anyone write for her. The differing levels of the women’s engagement in the document may reflect their differing status, and indeed if Amaththabeile were not a citizen, but perhaps a Bedouin, she may not have been able to take the oath. It is more likely, however, that this document follows other deposit agreements, which were written from the position not of the depositor, but of the recipient.31 So here, Aurelia alone agrees (l. 5) to the terms of the contract.
Aurelia and Amaththabeile’s document follows the format and basic concepts of a Roman deposit agreement, but not the details. For no mention is made of whether the sum is to be repaid with Amaththabeile’s original denarii, or with money or goods of equivalent value. Greek law, which is probably the influence here, makes no distinction; Roman law does.32 Nevertheless this document seems to have been legally valid in a Roman city.
Like Acozzis, Aurelia Gaia and Amaththabeile also acted without guardians. It is worth considering the possible impact that the independence of women in Egypt and the Near East had on women in the rest of the Empire. As provincial women came increasingly to act without guardians, so guardianship for women of Roman (or Greek) descent seemed unnecessary. Over time, the control of a guardian became a legal fiction in so many cases that common sense prevailed and the need for a guardian became obsolete everywhere (though some women may have continued the tradition of guardianship for social, rather than legal reasons).
My final document is P.Dura 28, a deed of sale drawn up in AD 243 just outside the city. It is the embodiment of Duran diversity: though written in Syriac, it contains features usually found in Greek-law documents and was lodged with the Roman authorities.33 The sale was of a female slave, Amath-Sin, who had been captured, presumably from the Parthian East. The seller was Marcia Aurelia, daughter of Samenbaraz and granddaughter of Abgar; the purchaser was Lucius Aurelius Tiro, son of Bar-Belsamen. The contrast between the Roman names of the parties and the Semitic names of the parents is striking. Given that the document dates to 31 years after the Constitutio Antoniniana, it is odd that the fathers’ names lack Roman praenomina, since they should have been citizens: adoption of the Roman naming system seems not to have been universal upon the promulgation of the Constitutio. By the second generation of citizenship, however, all trace of Duran ancestry had been erased.34 But Romanisation was by no means complete: the opening date of this document retains some local flavour, as Roman consular dating is followed by the month and year according to the Babylonian calendar and then by the number of years after the foundation of the nearby colony Antoniniana Edessa.
The expression of the document is decidedly non-Greek: the transaction is undertaken from the point of view of the seller, and some of the phrasing is Syriac in style. Some of the contents are also alien to the Greco-Roman world: the actual handing over (traditio) of the slave is omitted, as are penalties for breaking the terms of the agreement (though the condition of the slave is insured for six months from the date of sale).35 The rest of the contents, however, could have come from a document written in Greek. On the basis of the three documents I have described above, we should not now be surprised to find a Greek-style document from this city even in the Roman period. Still, the language of the document remains surprising. Why would such obviously Romanised parties choose Syriac over Greek? It is possible that one of the parties, probably Marcia, understood neither Greek nor Latin and therefore chose Syriac to make sure she knew what had been signed in her name. But if this were true, it is curious that we do not have more documents from Dura-Europos and surrounding sites in Syriac, which must have remained the primary language for many, if not most of the population.
Marcia acted independently, her husband signing for her only because she was illiterate. Welles et al. claim that it is odd for a civilian woman to be selling a captive slave to a soldier. They surmise that Tiro was a military man from his cognomen, which was often used by soldiers, and from the fact that his citizenship dates to before 212, given that his praenomen is Lucius, rather than Aurelius.36 Even if Tiro was a former soldier, what was odd about the situation? It is well-known that soldiers kept slaves, who at Dura-Europos could have acted either as personal servants or as household workers. Soldiers and former soldiers may have had access to slaves through the camp, but they may also have chosen to buy trained slaves through their contacts with civilians. At the age of twenty-eight, it is unlikely that Tiro purchased the slave for her looks, but her skills may have been useful. Moreover, Marcia, though a woman, was certainly able to sell her property. This document sheds light on the networks between individuals of different ethnicities and professions at Dura-Europos, and shows that women were very much part of those networks.37
All the women in these documents--Acozzis, Aurelia Marcellina, Amaththabeile and Aurelia Gaia, and Marcia Aurelia--lived in a Roman city, with a Roman governing authority, and for practical reasons they used documents agreeable to local government officials, because their provisions would be intelligible to anyone and valid anywhere in the Roman Empire. As Hannah Cotton has said of the Babatha archive, “there is nothing in the documents … to suggest that recourse to Roman law and Roman courts was anything but voluntarily adopted. Without coercion or attempts to impose uniformity, the very presence of the Romans as the supreme authority in the province invited appeals to their authority, to their courts as well as to their laws.”38
Durans were ethnically diverse: they wrote in Syriac, Greek and Latin, and came from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Throughout this paper, I have remarked on the fact that the provisions of Duran legal documents differed from those we would expect in Roman law, but that there are also striking similarities between Duran documents and those found elsewhere in the Greco-Roman world. In the Roman period, what was the law at Dura-Europos?
The evidence of the Greek-language documents in the Babatha archive suggests that in a society where legal documents were written either in a local language, such as Syriac, or in Greek, the documents in Greek bore no signs of any law except Greek law.39 Even documents written in Syriac followed for the most part Greek legal provisions. Applying this theory to Dura-Europos, we may conclude that the law in the Greek-language documents such as P.Dura 29 and 31 was also Greek, but it was acceptable to the Roman authorities because it did not undermine any Roman law.
Welles, who supplied an overview to law at Dura-Europos in the first published compilation of the Duran documents, declared that law in the city was Greek. He described the law of the Hellenistic world as “varying in many ways from place to place but meeting the needs of the business men who were not tied to one community, but travelled and traded throughout the Mediterranean.”40 While travelling traders certainly benefited from the flexibility of Greek law, locals, such as Marcia Aurelia, more often benefited: at Dura-Europos she was able to draw up a document in a local language that contained long-established provisions, which were agreeable to the Roman authorities. Marcia should have been grateful to the Romans for adopting the flexibility of Greek law.
By piecing together the Greek and Roman law elements of extant documents from Dura-Europos, we can start to have an idea of what legal provisions, strictures and procedures formed part of provincial Roman law in this city. But without a provincial edict from Syria, or a local municipal edict comparable to the Spanish lex Irnitana, we cannot know exactly which laws were applied there to such topics as inheritance and property or guardianship and manumission.41 Although we will probably never have such evidence, the contents of the parchments and papyri do perhaps suggest that, contrary to the lex Irnitana, law in the East adhered less to the Roman law known from the jurists than it did in Spain. Still, our lack of evidence for provincial edicts and local custom across the Empire, as well as the general paucity of evidence for legal documents in Italy, means that our ability to define Roman law is very difficult.42
Private law documents did not have to follow Roman law as presented by Roman legislation and the jurists (though they could not contradict it), yet Roman legal processes could be applied to them if something went wrong. So, for example, Babatha had two guardians for her son, a practice local to Arabia, rather than one, which was the Roman practice. But when she suspected the two guardians of withholding maintenance money from her son, she launched before the governor an actio tutelae--a Roman-law procedure--against them.
The women at Dura-Europos were merely drawing up documents. The widespread adoption of the Greek language for legal documents at Dura-Europos and the city’s domination by the Seleucids gave prominence to Greek law in private documents. In documents of the Roman period, there were Roman touches, but these were not matters of strict law (they included dates and stipulations) and they probably mattered little to the women, who were concerned only that their documents were effective. The Syriac and Roman-law elements in the Duran documents are so few that legally-uneducated parties probably had no clear idea what legal system they were using.
Few people--women or men--at Dura-Europos would have known of any Roman legislation, or leges. Any knowledge they had would have come from previous experience and would have been in the form, “Such-and-such a lex allows me to do this.” While Durans’ knowledge of Roman lex was lacking, their understanding of ius may have been more developed--they knew what at Dura was right and wrong, and what was allowed and disallowed;43 they had a basic understanding of how to have legal documents drawn up and how to go to court. For Durans, law did not consist of leges and jurists’ interpretations. Their conception of law was as a nexus of rights, customs, prohibitions, and procedures, and when it was overseen by Roman officials, it was Roman law.44
Romans believed that the Twelve Tables were compiled after consideration of Solon’s legislation--that they were not put together in cultural isolation. Whether or not that was true, Roman law certainly came to embody the diversity of the Empire--it could be used by almost anyone, in either Latin or Greek, and it could adapt to local law and custom. It comprised different elements in different provinces and municipia. As Welles et al. remark of P.Dura 30, “If our text must be regarded as Roman in the sense that it is an agreement between Roman citizens concluded in a Roman environment under the provisions of Roman provincial law prescribed by the Roman governor, it is evident that this is purely ius gentium.”45 As was the case with religion, so with law too the Romans found assimilation more effective than imposition.
The Duran documents provide evidence for women of different socio-economic status and ethnicity using legal documents to be lodged with the Roman authorities. They provide evidence that law gave women the opportunity to act outside their stereotyped gender role by enabling them to take control of their own relationships and finances, and by guaranteeing legality of that control. It is highly significant that the women at Dura-Europos acted independently. It was precisely this departure from standard Roman legal practice that, ironically, provided these women with greater opportunities to lodge documents that were compatible with Roman law with the Roman legal authorities.46 Whether or not Duran women knew the jurists’ strictures against women acting without guardians, they were otherwise using Roman law, which at Dura-Europos gave diverse peoples the chance to marry, to divorce, to conduct business--to live as a community.
Bellinger, A. R. and C. B. Welles. 1939. “A Third-Century Contract of Sale from Edessa in Osrhoene.” YCS 5: 93-154.
Bowersock, G. 1991. “The Babatha Papyri, Masada, and Rome.” Review of N. Lewis, Judean Desert Studies: the Documents from the Bar Kokhba Period in the Cave of Letters, Greek Papyri; H. Cotton and J. Geiger, Masada II, the Yigael Yadin Excavations 1963-1965. Final reports: the Latin and Greek documents. JRA 4: 336-44.
Cotton, H. 1993. “The Guardianship of Jesus Son of Babatha: Roman and Local Law in the Province of Arabia.” JRS 83: 94-108.
Crook, J. A. 1967. Law and Life of Rome. London.
Duncan-Jones, R. 1990. Structure and Scale in the Roman Economy. Cambridge and New York.
Evans Grubbs, J. 2002. Women and the Law in the Roman Empire: a Sourcebook on Marriage, Divorce and Widowhood. London and New York.
Feissel D. and J. Gascou. 1989. “Documents d’Archives romains inédits du Moyen Euphrate (IIIe Siècle après J.-C.),” Comptes rendus de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres: 535-61.
———. 1995. “Documents d’Archives romains inédits du Moyen Euphrate (IIIe s. après J.-C.).” Journal des Savants: 65-119.
Galsterer, H. 1986. “Roman Law in the Provinces: Some Problems of Transmission.” In M. Crawford, ed., L’Impero romano e le strutture economiche e sociali delle province. Como: 13-27.
Gonzalez, J. 1986. “The Lex Irnitana: a New Copy of the Flavian Municipal Law.” JRS 76: 147-243.
Goodman, M. 1991. “Babatha’s Story.” Review of Y. Yadin, The Documents from the bar Kokhba Period in the Cave of Letters: Greek Papyri; N. Lewis, J. C. Greenfield, Y. Yadin, Aramaic and Nabatean Signatures and Subscriptions. JRS 81: 169-75.
Lewis N., Y. Yadin, and J. C. Greenfield. 1989. The Documents from the Bar Kokhba period in the Cave of Letters. Judean Desert Studies. Jerusalem.
Rowlandson, J. 1998. Women and Society in Greek and Roman Egypt: a Sourcebook. Cambridge and New York.
Sheridan, J. 1996. “Women without Guardians: An Updated List.” BASP 33: 117-31.
Vandorpe, K. 2002. “Apollonia, a Businesswoman in a Multicultural Society (Pathyris, 2nd-1st centuries B.C.” In H. Melaerts and L. Mooren, eds., Le rôle et le statut de la femme en Egypte hellénistique, romaine et byzantine: actes du colloque international, Bruxelles-Leuven, 27-29 novembre 1997. Paris and Sterling, VA: 326-36.
Welles, C. B., R. O. Fink, and J. F. Gilliam. 1959. The Parchments and Papyri. The excavations at Dura-Europos: final report; 5, pt. 1. New Haven, CT.
1 These documents are to be found in Welles, Fink and Gilliam, with accompanying translations and comments. The texts can also be viewed online in the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri (DDBDP), available on the Perseus website (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cache/perscoll_DDBDP.html). I am using the texts in the DDBDP, which differ occasionally from those published by Welles et al. I include links below to each document individually.
The following translation is based on that of Welles.
In the consulship of Lucius Fabius Cilo for the second time and of Flavius Annius Libo; in the twelfth year of the reign of Imperator Caesar Lucius Septimius Severus Pertinax Augustus, the tenth of Marcus Aurelius (25) Antoninus Augustus, and the seventh of Lucius Septimius Geta Caesar, his sons, Augusti; in the year 515 of the former reckoning, on the fourth of the month Artemisius, in the village Ossa, before the witnesses who have signed below. Nabusamaus, son of Conon and grandson of Abissaeus, and Acozzis, daughter of Seleucus and granddaughter of Abissaeus, (30) both of the people of the village Ossa, stating that they had been married previously under an oral agreement, and then they have had no children, and there is now a lack of amiable cooperation in their union, have acknowledged that they are separating from each other and that they gave each other permission and power, Nabusamaus (35) on the one hand to Acozzis to live with any other man whom she chooses, and Acozzis on the other hand to Nabusamaus to marry any other woman whom he wishes, and that they neither accuse nor will accuse each other, neither concerning their union nor on account of their heirs nor with reference to any other instrument written (40) in their name (if any written instrument has existed or been composed previously), while this agreement remains valid wherever it may be produced--in good faith they have questioned each other and have agreed with each other--nor on any pretext nor concerning anything else (45) altogether; if one of them does make such accusation, (they have agreed that) the charge will be invalid and he will pay without legal argument or decision to the other a penalty of 3,000 denarii of silver and a like amount to the Fiscus, while this contract will continue valid nevertheless. Witnesses: Zabinas son of Adaeus, Abissaeus (50) son of Abissaeus.
(3rd hand) I, Nabusamaus, son of Conon, the above, agree and approve according to what has been written above.
(4th hand) I, Barnaeus, son of Lysias, on request, have written for my mother Acozzis, and she, the above, agrees and (55) approves.
(5th hand) I, Julius Germanus, a veteran, bear witness.
(6th hand) I, Zabinas, son of Adaeus, bear witness.
(7th hand) I, Abissaeus, son of Abissaeus, bear witness.
(8th hand) It has been unfolded.
The documents of the Babatha archive are collected as P.Babatha, sometimes also called P.Yadin. On this collection, see Lewis. The P.Euphrates collection is discussed by Feissel and Gascou 1989 and 1995.
Welles et al. 161.
6 A divorce document that does provide detailed discussion of the division of property is P.Kron. 52 (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.05.0146&layout=&loc=52, translated at Rowlandson 130-31), dating to AD 138. In this agreement, the couple had married without written agreement, a Greco-Syrian practice seen also in Acozzis’ document. There is no mention of any blame, and the wife, who acts with a guardian, is given permission to remarry. The division of property is sufficiently complex to have merited a separate document, as probably happened in the case of Acozzis.
Gaius, Institutes 1.144.
Vandorpe, especially 329-31. I am grateful to Maryline Parca for the reference. For some of the texts of Apollonia’s archive in translation, see Rowlandson 105-12. On guardianship in Egypt, see also Sheridan.
9 Vandorpe 329. In another example, P.Kron. 17 (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.05.0146&layout=&loc=17, translated at Rowlandson 131-33), a loan agreement between female parties of AD 140, we find all parties acting with guardians. The Greek names of the parties and the fact that the document was drawn up under Roman rule probably explains the presence of guardians.
10 Translated by Rowlanson 226 ff. Greek text available at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.05.0071&query=head%3D%231.
11 Translated by Rowlandson 190-91. It may be significant that these documents were written in Latin and Greek, thus showing the Roman legal influence.
12 See Rowlandson, pp. 250 ff., for a translation. The Greek text is available at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.05.0071&query=head%3D%234.
13 Available at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.05.0119&query=head%3D%231 and translated by Rowlandson 168-69.
The identification is made by Lewis 111 and is supported by Bowersock 341.
Evans Grubbs 122 ff.
18 Indeed, before 212, the Praetor’s Edict, by means of a legal fiction, allowed peregrini to go to law against citizens by regarding them as Roman for the duration of the legal process.
19 It is worth remembering that many men who appear in legal documents were also illiterate. Illiterate parties, whether male or female, would have someone write and sign on their behalf, and there are many, many examples of this practice.
The following translation draws from that of Welles.
On the outside of the roll: In the consulship of Virius Lupus and Marius Maximus, on the Calends of October, in the first day of the month of Hyperberetaeus, in the winter camp at Qatna of the Twelfth Cohort ……. Palestinian of Alexander Severus.
(5) “Good luck!
There have acknowledged and contracted with each other on the present day Aurelius Alexander, soldier of the above cohort and of the century of Papius, and Aurelia Marcellina, daughter of Marcellinus, resident in Qatna, in the presence of her mother …..na and her brother Agrippinus: (10) Marcellina, on the one hand, to have given herself from widowhood into the community of marriage ……. with the above Alexander, and that there remain for them for all [time ………], bringing with her out of her possessions, appraised by garment and item, the intermediaries being qualified men, the following things: a white, new cloak of the value of 15 denarii; (15) another white, new cloak, of the value of 50 denarii; a ……… tunic, new, worth 40 denarii; a dalmatic robe, undyed, new, worth 30 denarii; a scarlet dalmatic robe and purple hood, new, worth 75 denarii; another white, new dalmatic robe, worth 50 denarii; a ………, purple, new, worth 25 denarii; (20) silken and striped stuffs, new, worth 50 denarii; crockery and bronze utensils, worth 25 denarii; earrings and fingerrings, ………, worth 50 denarii; (in addition?), the 565 denarii of silver brought by her; (all of which?) the above Alexander has acknowledged to have received and to hold (with?) his own possessions, namely the ……… things, (25) and to be content, also, with what comes to him ………… to owe 175 denarii ………… dowry (amounting to) 750 denarii of silver, it having been agreed between them [that if] the above Alexander wishes to divorce the above Marcellina because of (30) ………………………and the property ……………… (as?) (35) it was agreed between them, arose, if anyone …… either ……….
I, Faustinus Avianusm a veteran, on request, have written [for Aurelia] Marcellina, daughter of Marcellinus, [being] illiterate, and consenting [as above].
I, [Aurelius] Alexander consent as above (40) ………
I, ………, optio, bear witness.
I, Antonius Mezianus, optio, [have signed].
I, …………, bear witness.
(5) I, … …ippus, have signed.”
21 Welles 154.
22 Welles 154.
23 Military documents from Dura-Europos are written in Latin. The private nature of this document most likely explains why it was written in Greek.
24 The combination of a traditional style of document, in which the bride is the object of transaction in the marriage, and the less-universal independence of the bride, who is one of the parties to the transaction, results in the bride “giving herself into matrimony, she is at once the giver and the gift” (Welles 12).
25 P.Oxy. 10.1273 and 49.3500 are translated and discussed by Evans Grubbs 127-129. They are also available at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.05.0181&layout=&loc=1273 and http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.05.0181&layout=&loc=3500 respectively.
26 See Welles 158 on this phrase.
The following translation comes from Welles.
(1st hand) In the consulship of the Third and the First, on the sixth day before the Nones of October; and in the year 562 of the former reckoning, the second day of the month Hyperberetaeus, in ………. Aurelia Gaia, Daughter of Saturnilus, of Dura, resident in that place, …………. (5) has acknowledged to Amaththabeile (blank space), of Dura, also resident in that place, that she has been paid and has got from her (Amaththabeile) as a deposit, free from all risk, on this day, 100 denarii of good legal silver, without deduction or addition, which she will keep with her and as part of her property and will return it to the above Amaththabeile whenever ………… she is asked to do so, (10) without delay or postponement; if, demand having been made, she fails to return (the money), she shall be held liable to the penalties specified for those who violate the security of deposits, and the right of exaction shall devolve upon the above Amaththabeile and anyone else who validly presents this document in her behalf both from Gaia herself and from her property, in every manner and way. [In good] faith (15) the above Gaia has been asked by Amaththabeile and has acknowledged that she has been paid and has got in deposit from the above Amaththabeile the designated 100 denarii and will return them whenever she is asked, and she has sworn the imperial oath that these things are truly thus [….. and ?] given.
(2nd hand) I, Aurelius Theodorus, son of Bernicianus, of Zeugma, resident in that place, on request have written (20) for Aurelia Gaia, who is illiterate, but acknowledges that she has got as deposit 100 denarii which she will also return whenever she is asked.
(3rd hand) Antonius Polycrates.
(4th hand) I, Flavius Valerius, bear witness.
(5th hand) I, Aurelius Oniaces, bear witness.
28 Welles 150.
I have taken figures from the Edict on Maximum Prices, then multiplied by 10 on the basis of the rate of inflation in Duncan-Jones’ wheat prices (151-54).
30 Women not allowed to be bankers: D 2.13.12 Feminae remotae videntur ab officio argentarii, cum ea opera virilis sit (women seem to be barred from the office of banker, since this work belongs to men).
For example PSI 9.1063 of AD 117.
There is disagreement on this vexed point: see Crook 209. D 188.8.131.52 and 16.3.24, however, suggest that Romans did distinguish between return of goods and return of equivalent value.
33 For the full text and translation of this document, see Welles 142 ff. The DDBDP gives only the two lines of Greek, omitting the Syriac, so for the full text, see Welles 142ff. On this text, see also Bellinger and Welles, who discuss the Greek and Syriac legal influences on the document. The following translation also comes from Welles.
“In the sixth year of the Imperator Caesar Marcus Antonius Gordianus Pius Felix Augustus; in the consulship of Annius Arrianus and Cervonius Papus; in the month Iyar of the year 554 of the former reckoning; and in the year 31 of the freedom of the renowned Antoniana Edessa, Colonia Metropolis Aurelia Alexandria; in the residence of Marcus Aurelius Antiochus, eques Romanus, son of Belsu; and in the second term as strategus of Marcus Aurelius Abgar, eques Romanus, son of Ma’nu, grandson of Agga, and of Abgar, son of Hafsai, grandson of Bar-KMR; on the 9th day of the aforesaid month.
The defendant, Marcia Aurelia, daughter of Samenbaraz, granddaughter of Abgar, the seller, declares to Lucius Aurelius Tiro, son of Bar-Belsamen, of Carrhae: I have received from him 700 denarii and have sold to him Amath-Sin, my female slave, a purchase, whose age is twenty-eight years, more or less, a captive; in such wise that from this day and for all the future you, Tiro, the buyer, and your heirs, shall have full power over this slave whom I have sold to you, to possess and to govern and to do with her whatever you may wish; and if any man shall contend or talk against Tiro, the buyer, or against his heirs, as to the title (?) to this slave whom I have sold to him, then I, the defendant, the seller, or my heirs, will oppose this claim and clean and clear the property, and I shall establish it for the good of Tiro, the buyer. It is not lawful in any way to alter this contract. I sell to you this slave while I confirm a certain law, so that from now on to the expiration of six months they are protected, and so it has been agreed between them. If this slave shall run away, however, from this day forward it shall be at the cost of Tiro, the buyer.
Two documents of this sale have been written: one copy, retained for record, is to be put into the archives of the renowned Antoniniana Edessa, and the other …………….. shall be in the possession of Tiro, the buyer.
I, Aurelius Hafsai, son of Samasyabh, Edessene of the Twelfth Tribe, declare that I have written in behalf of the defendant, Aurelia, my wife, in the subscription of the document, because she is illiterate, who acknowledges that she has sold this slave of hers and has received the price thereof, according to what is written above.
Marcus Aurelius, son of Bel-Bussurabal.
Marcus Aurelius, son of Panu-adaggal (?).
With the signature of the inspector of documents: ‘I, Aurelius Mannus, superintendent of the sacred and civic archives, bear witness.’
I, Marcus Aurelius Belsu, son of Muqimu, the scribe, have written this contract.”
Aurelia, the defendant, daughter of Samnai, the seller, testifies for herself.
I, Aurelius Hafsai, son of Samasyabh, have set my seal to this document.
Abgar the strategos: “Aurelius Abgar, the strategos, testifies.”
Abgar, son of Barsamya, testifies.
Aurelia, the defendant, daughter of Samnai, the seller, testifies for herself.
34 It is possible, of course, that Marcia and Tiro’s fathers had died before 212 and so never taken on Roman names.
35 On the Syriac features of this document, see Welles 18.
36 Welles 143. Earlier, Bellinger and Welles (120) had suggested that Tiro was a slave dealer.
37 For a very basic introduction to women in the Near East, see Ilse Seibert, Women in the Ancient Near East (New York 1974). Much work has been done on women and the law in this region before the Roman period: see the recent book by Sophie Lafont, Femmes, Droit et Justice dans l’Antiquité orientale (Göttingen 1999) and her copious bibliography. There seems, however, to be no good recent treatment of Syrian women and the law under the period of Roman control.
40 Welles 20.
Inheritance and property were probably covered by Cicero’s edict for Cilicia. On the possible contents of provincial edicts, see Galsterer, especially 17-19. Guardianship and manumission are topics in the lex Irnitana, on which see Gonzalez.
See Cotton 101 n. 90. It is possible that even with a much larger body of material we would still be unable to define Roman law in the East, since Roman legal practice in that part of the Empire may have been so flexible that it could adapt according to the needs of various groups, communities, periods and issues.
I am working from Celsus’ definition of ius: ars boni et aequi (D 1.1.1.pr).
44 There were probably very few people in the Roman Empire who had knowledge of leges or even access to compilations of them. Lawyers would most likely have had a rudimentary knowledge of them, at least enough to give the impression of knowledge and so convince a judge, while notaries and other composers of legal documents probably understood general procedure well, but relied on templates to supply details for special cases.
45 Welles 155.
46 I am not suggesting that women acting with guardians were denied access to law, but that they could not necessarily conduct their legal affairs exactly as they wished. Nor am I suggesting that the adaptability of Roman law and its ability to blend with local procedure benefited only women: some of the documents I have discussed in this paper feature men, as well as women, and they would also have appreciated that Roman law allowed them to conduct their legal affairs following familiar practices and procedures.