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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

270                      7he Greek Papyri
challenging his own companions (with whose abilities he was
doubtless acquainted) to a kind of all-in wrestling match, was
victorious, and received a money prize from the emperor while
the others were awarded clothes for consolation prizes. He
repeated his success on a day when the emperor led the pro-
cession to the Lagaion (it is interesting to find a Roman emperor
honouring the memory of the father of the first Ptolemy) and
concludes his letter: 'so don't be vexed; though we haven't
found the fellow, fortune has given us something else'.
But the great mass of the documents, whether public or
private, have no direct connexion with education or the history
of Greco-Roman culture. Although these may be reflected in the
description of people as illiterate, or in the style, the syntax, and
the orthography of the documents (for example, the stilted and
repetitive language of Byzantine documents is proof enough that
Greek was a dying tongue, kept alive by artificial stimulants),
the documents are primarily sources for the economic, social, and
administrative history of the country. These documents are
now counted in their thousands; and embarrassing though their
number sometimes is, in it lies no small part of their value. One
tax-receipt or a single account may not be very informative
(though it is to a single papyrus of A.D. 359 that we owe the
knowledge that the government was taking steps at that time
to revive the trade between Egypt and India); its value is
greatly enhanced when it can be treated as one of a series in
which normal can be distinguished from abnormal practice, the
incidence of the tax and its local variations calculated, or, in the
case of accounts, the price-level of an article observed over a
number of years. The same holds good of contracts which form
one of the largest classes of documents; we have enough leases,
for example, to follow the development of the system of land-
tenure from Ptolemaic times down to the end of the Byzantine
period, though evidence may be more plentiful for one period