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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

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The Greek Papyri                        275
abbreviated form by a Berlin papyrus. No document gives a
better picture of the spirit and practice of Roman administra-
tion than this, with its detailed instructions how this or that
breach of the regulations (if, for example, a priest wears his hair
long or wears a woollen garment, thus infringing the priestly
law) might be turned to the financial advantage of the govern-
The principles of'administration were clearly recognized by
the people; it is significant that petitions and complaints of
robbery, injustice, or maltreatment commonly conclude by
imploring the competent authority to take action lest any
harm accrue to the state (or treasury)'; even where the dispute
is purely private and no official is involved, the petitioner asks
for assistance on the ground that if it is not forthcoming he will
be unable to pay his taxes. A petition of A.D. 280, alleging .abuse
of his powers by a financial official, has been endorsed by the
prefect of Egypt to this effect: With a view to what is expedient
for the revenues ... his Excellency the epistrategus shall sift
the matter with the utmost equity.' Such petitions might be
addressed to a variety of authorities from the king or emperor
down to the local police commandant and deal with a great
variety of topics; but when they are used for evidence of the
state of the administration, it is necessary to remember that no
petitions are written to express satisfaction with the govern-
ment. The incidental information they contain is varied and
often valuable, particularly that circumstantial detail which a
petitioner trusts will give verisimilitude to his claims. To take
two from a group of Ptolemaic petitions addressed nominally
to the king, though in fact decided by subordinate officials;
from one, in which a widow of a soldier complains that her
neighbour is interfering with her building of a wall, we learn
that her husband had erected a shrine to the Syrian goddess
and Aphrodite Berenice, and, as the lady's name is Asia, we
may suspect that his predilection for a foreign deity was due to