Zeno, Papyri of

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ZENO, PAPYRI OF , archives of Zeno. Zeno (third century b.c.e.), the son of Agreophontos, was a Greek from Caunus in southern Asia Minor, who settled in Egypt in the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285–246 b.c.e.). There he entered the service of the finance minister, Apollonius, and as his right-hand man fulfilled various functions. He went on an economic mission to Ereẓ Israel and in 259 accompanied his master on his journeys in Egypt itself. From 256 he managed Apollonius' estate in Faiyum and assisted in the development of Philadelphia in that nome. After the death of Ptolemy Philadelphus and the consequent decline of Apollonius' influence, he continued to live in Faiyum and to engage in economic enterprises there.

In 1915 Zeno's archives were discovered at the site of Hellenistic Philadelphia, east of Faiyum. Many hundreds of documents and private letters, as well as accounts, receipts, and contracts were brought to light and have found their way to museums and various universities (Cairo, Michigan, Columbia, the British Museum); the bulk of them have been published. Written for the most part in a better Greek and a more legible hand than in most papyri, these documents shed direct light on the life and activities of Zeno and his associates, and also give a general picture of the economy, administration, law, and mode of life in Ptolemaic Egypt in the middle of the third century b.c.e. They are especially clear on events in the nome of Faiyum, where at that time the land was being reclaimed for cultivation and was the scene of vigorous economic and administrative enterprises. The study of the Zeno documents has enriched the knowledge of the status of the Greek settlers who flocked from various places in the Greek world to seek a future for themselves amid the economic prosperity of Ptolemy Philadelphus' Egypt.

Among these documents are some that throw light on the life of the Jews in Faiyum in the third century b.c.e. In one account reference is made to the Jew Antigonus, in another to the Jewess Johanna, who was apparently in Apollonius' domestic service. An account dealing with bricks mentions the Sabbath, when, it seems, the foreman did not come to work. Among the papyri a memorandum addressed to Zeno by two Jewish tenant farmers (Alexander and Ishmael) mentions a Jewish guard, and has many other references to Jews.

Knowledge of Ereẓ Israel under Ptolemaic rule has been greatly augmented from the account of Zeno's visit, when he traveled through much of the country, while his master Apollonius maintained many and varied contacts with Ereẓ Israel, either in the discharge of his official duties or in the pursuit of his business interests. The Zeno papyri also reveal the existence in the country of Ammon of a military colony comprising men of different origin and headed by *Tobias the father of Joseph who is known from Josephus' Antiquities, Book 12. Tobias' influence is evident from his correspondence with Ptolemy and Apollonius found in the archives (257 b.c.e.). The papyri also give new information on the administration and economy of Ereẓ Israel, the slave trade conducted there in which Zeno himself participated, the export of oil to Egypt, Apollonius' extensive estate in Bet Anat in Galilee, and Gaza as the harbor for the export of spices. One of the most interesting facts revealed by the papyri is the independent attitude adopted by village leaders in Ereẓ Israel toward the royal administration; one of them, Yadus (Jaddua?) actually expelled from his village (in Judea or in Edom) the representative of the administration.

Most of the Zeno papyri have appeared in the following publications: C.C. Edgar, Catalogue Général des Antiquités Egyptiennes du Musée du Caire: Zenon Papyri, 5 vols. (1925–40); idem (ed.), Zenon Papyri in the University of Michigan Collection (1931); W.L. Westermann (ed.), Zenon Papyri, 2 vols. (1939–40) (Columbia papyri); "Società italiana per la Ricerca dei Papiri greci e latini," in Egitto: Papiri greci e latini, 4–6 (1917–20); The Papyri about Jews have been published in: Tcherikover, Corpus, 1 (1957).


Tcherikover, in: Tarbiz, 4 (1933), 226–47, 354–65; 5 (1934), 37–44; M.I. Rostovtsev, A Large Estate in Egypt in the Third Century (1922); C. Préaux, Les Grecs en Egypte d'après les Archives de Zénon (1947).

[Menahem Stern]