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Ch. V § 1
This webpage reproduces part of
The House of Ptolemy

by E. R. Bevan

published by Methuen Publishing, London,
1927

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Ch. V § 3

p139 CHAPTER V

The System of Government
(continued)

§ 2. The Nomes and their Officials

It has been shown in former volumes of this series how the different districts in the Delta and in the valley of the Nile, each with its own chief town and special deity, which had once, in the remote past, before they went to form together the realm of the Pharaohs, been independent settlements, retained under the Pharaohs their distinct existence. Upon this division of the kingdom into a number of clearly marked-out differing regions the systems of Pharaonic government had been based. As early as the time of Herodotus the Greeks had been quite aware of these territorial divisions in Egypt. They translated the Egyptian word for them (hesepu) by a Greek word, nomos, connoting distribution, and we use the Greek word to‑day in the Anglicized form "nome." When the Ptolemies took over the country, their administration, too, had to be based upon the nomes, which were an existing fact.

The names and number of the nomes given us by Egyptian inscriptions and by Greek and Latin authors vary. Obviously there were differences of arrangement at different times; a town might at one time be subordinate to the capital of a nome, at another time count as a capital itself, with a nome p140of its own. Strabo gives, as the ancient number of nomes, 10 for the Delta, 10 for the Thebaid, and 16 for the middle country — 36 in all;11 he does not specify the arrangement of his own day. But he mentions incidentally by name, as in or adjoining the Delta, seventeen nomes, and collating his names with the two lists we have in the Revenue Papyrus of Ptolemy II and with the list in Pliny (V § 49), we get for the Delta the following twelve nome-capitals in all the documents; the old Egyptian names are those given by Maspero in Schrader's Atlas de Géographie Historique:

Greek Name
of
Nome-Capital
Egyptian Name
of
Nome-Capital
Modern Name of
Town on or near
Ancient Site
1.
Saïs
Saï
Sa-el‑Hagar
2.
Busiris
Pusiri
Abu‑sir
3.
Sebennytus
Zab-nutir
Sammanûd
4.
Mendes
Pi-binibdidi
Tell Roba
5.
Tanis
Zâni
Sân
6.
Leontopolis
Tell Mokdam (near Met‑Ghamr)
7.
Pharbaëthus
Shodnu
Horbeit
8.
Bubastis
Pu-bastît
Tell-Bastah (near Zagazig)
9.
Athribis
Hathiribî
Benha
10.
Prosopis
Zâk-ai
(?)
11.
Letopolis
Sokhmît
Aüssim
12.

Heliopolis
(= Delta in Rev. Pap. Col. 31, l. 6)

Onu
El‑matarieh

In addition to these twelve, Strabo mentions in the Delta or adjoining country: (1) the nome Menelaïtes, named from the town called Menelaus after the brother of Ptolemy I, at the north-western corner of the Delta, near Canopus; (2) Gynaecopolites, capital Gynaecopolis (Gynaikōn Polis, "City of Women"), apparently somewhere south-west of the modern Damanhur, between Naucratis and Saïs; (3) Momemphites, capital Momemphis, adjoining the last-named nome; (4) Nitriotes, the nome comprising the Natron Valley (mod. Wady Natrûn), a nome also mentioned in the Revenue Papyrus, Col. 61; (5) Phagroriopolites, capital Phagroriopolis ("Bream-Town"), to the east of the Delta, near the Pithom of the Old Testament and the Bitter Lakes. p141The two lists of the Revenue Papyrus mention two nomes not given by Strabo, but given by Pliny, adjoining the Delta on the outside — the Libyan Nome on the West (in old Egyptian, Amentît, "the West") and the Arabian Nome on the East (in old Egyptian, Sup-ti, "Crowned Hawk"), and also a Nome Sethroites, given likewise in Pliny's list, which is placed conjecturally in the map of the Egyptian Exploration Fund on the coast between Tanis and Pelusium.

In the Nile Valley between the Delta and the Thebaid (including the Fayûm) we get the following six nome-capitals in all the documents:

Greek Name
of
Nome-Capital
Egyptian Name
of
Nome-Capital
Modern Name of
Town on or near
Ancient Site
1.
Memphis
Minnofîru
Badrashîn
2.
Aphroditopolis
Pnebtephae
Atfih
3.
City of Crocodiles
Shetet
Medinet-el‑Fayûm
4.
Heracleopolis
Hininsuton
Ahnas
5.
Oxyrhyncus
Pimâzit
Bahnassa
6.
Cynopolis ("Dog-Town")
Kaîsa
El‑Kaïs

Above Cynopolis, Strabo does not indicate whether the towns he mentions are nome-capitals or not, but if we take as nome-capitals those which correspond with nome-capitals mentioned in the old Egyptian documents and in Pliny (the first is mentioned as a nome-capital in both the Revenue Papyrus lists) and include the Thinite nome mentioned by Agatharchides, we get:

Greek Name
of
Nome-Capital
Egyptian Name
of
Nome-Capital
Modern Name of
Town on or near
Ancient Site
7.
Hermopolis ("The Greater")
Khmunu
Eshmunen
8.
Lycopolis ("Wolf Town")
Siaût
Assiût
9.
Aphroditopolis
Zobui
Edfa
10.
Panopolis
Khemmi
Akhmîn
11.
Thinis
Thini
Girgeh
12.
Diospolis ("The Less")
Hâît
Hu (Heü)
13.
Tentyri
Tantorirît
Denderah
14.
Coptos
Qubti
Kuft

p142 At Coptos we are less than 25 miles from Thebes, and there is reason to think that already under the earlier Ptolemies the Nile Valley from here to the frontier was administered as a single province by the governor established in Thebes, and that the ancient nome-system was left out of account for purposes of administration. In the two lists of nomes in the Revenue Papyrus they merely give "the Thebaid" as covering all Upper Egypt; the most southern nome they mention is that of Hermopolis Magna. Yet the Elephantine papyrus speaks of the Apollonopolite nome south of Thebes (the nome of which the capital was Edfu).12

According to the system of government taken over by Alexander, we have seen native Egyptian nomarchs at the head of the several nomes. Under the Ptolemies the governor of the nome has a military title; he is strategos, General; and under the earlier Ptolemies he seems to have been invariably a Greek. His title indicated the fact that Ptolemaic rule in Egypt was the occupation of the country by a foreign military power. The strategos united in his hand all the military and civil powers in the nome, and in ordinary times of quiet in Egypt the work of civil administration will have occupied him more than his military duties.13 An official with the title nomarches is still occasionally mentioned under the Ptolemies, but he is subordinate to the strategos, and seems to be specially concerned with public works and the royal domains; further, the nomarch seems now usually to have been a Greek, not an Egyptian. In the Fayûm, where the conditions were no doubt exceptional, we find a number of nomarchs, each exercising oversight in a particular subdivision of the nome called a nomarchy. These nomarchies were permanently named after the nomarchs who held office there in the early days of Ptolemaic rule — "Nico's nomarchy," "Philip's nomarchy," and so on. Out of the seven of these early nomarchs whom we know, five have Greek, and two have Egyptian, names.14 In the two old Egyptian capitals, Memphis and Thebes, we hear (not, so far, before the 2d p143century) of men with the title of hypostrategos ("subgeneral") — Greeks by their names.

Other nome-officials subordinate to the strategos were the epistates (superintendent) of the nome, whose functions were concerned with the administration of justice, the epistates of the phylakitai ("superintendent of the police"), the epimeletes (bailiff), who was the chief representative of the financial administration in the nome,15 under whom was an official of the treasury called oikonomos. Another official often mentioned, called antigrapheus ("Controller"), and the basilikos grammateus ("Royal Scribe," the Greek translation of an old Egyptian title), the "right-hand man" (Wilcken) of the strategos, whose duty it was to supervise the working of the government machine generally, but especially the statistical reports and records and all fiscal transactions.16

The nome was divided — Strabo says "most nomes" — into a number of districts (topoi or toparchies), and the topoi again into kōmai, "villages," "small townships." And each of these subdivisions had its own officials; over the whole topos was the toparch, and over the kōmē the kōmarch. In the Fayûm a larger tract, the meris ("division"), comes between the nome and the toparchy, and merides are occasionally mentioned in other nomes. The administrative staff of the toparchy reproduced in miniature that of the nomes, to which it was subordinate, and the staff of the kome that of the toparchy. Just as the strategos had beside him a basilikos grammateus, so the toparch had beside him a topogrammateus ("district scribe") and the komarch a komogrammateus p144("village scribe"). There was an oikonomos of the toparchy and an oikonomos of the kome, an epistates of the toparchy and an epistates komes ("village chief of police").


The Author's Notes:

11 XVII p787.

12 See E. v. Druffel, Archiv, VI (1920), p33. Elephant. 7.6, 12; 17.17. Cf. Archiv, V p215.

13 Occasionally two nomes are found under a single strategos (Hohlwein, Musée Belge, XXVIII (1924), 125 ff.).

14 The Fayûm had, apparently, once formed several nomes, which remained distinct nomarchiai under the Ptolemies, when the Fayûm became a single nome under one strategos (Jouget, Rev. d'Et. Anc. XXIV (1922), pp340, 341).

15 The antigrapheus is now thought by Wilcken to have had a standing independent of both epimeletes and oikonomos, as an official at the service of the finance department generally, who might be applied to either by a hypodioiketes or by an epimeletes for information, where figures were required as a basis for payments or receipts. The province of each antigrapheus was limited territorially, though the province did not necessarily coincide with the nome (e.g. τὰ κατὰ Μέμφιν) (U. d. Pt. I pp196, 197).

16 As time went on, the official personnel dealing with the financial and economic business of the realm probably became more complicated. In the 2nd century the head of the financial administration in the nome seems to have been ho epi tōn prosodōn ("The Supervisor of Revenues"), and subordinate to him appear — in the case of the Saïte nome — two epimeletai, each over one of the divisions of the nome (Louvre, 63, vii); also, instead of one oikonomos for the nome, we get an oikonomos for revenues in money and another for revenues in corn.º


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