Socio-Economic Relations in Ptolemaic Pathyris: A Network Analytical Approach to a Bilingual Community

→Lena Tambs

Purpose Statement

The purpose of the project is to conduct a detailed study of the Ptolemaic military camp of Pathyris (2nd-1st Cent. BCE) through a systematic and analytical examination of its inhabitants, their interrelations and the social and economic networks they formed. In addition to elucidating the structural complexity of socio-economic relations in an ancient community, the project seeks to demonstrate how, and to what extent, application of network theory and Social Network Analysis (SNA) has the potential to significantly expand our understanding of social and economic life in ancient times.

A Bicultural Community in Ancient Egypt

Pathyris (modern Gebelein) was strategically situated between two rock formations some 30 km south of Thebes (modern Luxor). Whereas the larger area was inhabited from Prehistory (Fiore Marochetti 2013: 1), the temporal scope of the project concentrates on a well-defined period of roughly 75 years – from the establishment of a military subdivision sometime between 165 and 161 until its abandonment in 88 BCE.

Following Upper Egyptian practice, the soldiers affiliated with the Pathyrite and neighbouring camps were predominantly natives, serving as soldiers in times of crisis (Vandorpe 2011: 296). The community the soldiers and their families formed was thus predominantly ‘Egyptian’.

Active attempts to Hellenize the region though led to a number of Greek economic and legal institutions being introduced – first through regional, but later also local availability. Significant is the establishment of a Greek notarial office in 136, a local branch of the (royal) bank in 116, and a granary (and thereby also a local tax office) sometime between September 114 and August 112 BCE (Vandorpe 2011: 297-299).

Ancient map. Leaflet | Tiles © MapBox |Data © OpenStreetMap and contributors, CC-BY-SA | Tiles and Data © 2013 AWMC CC-BY-NC 3.0. Place name added by author.

Despite significant visibility in the source material, it is noteworthy that rather than being consumed by Greek culture, Pathyris soon evolved into a bicultural community with coexisting Greek and Egyptian practices, institutions and languages. A rich body of preserved written sources allows this ancient military camp to be studied in some detail.

Textual Sources from the Military Camp of Pathyris


It is noteworthy, that the bulk of the texts are documentary, and that the various types of documents contain different types of information. Furthermore, the texts under examination belonged to family and institutional archives. This is significant, because archives typically comprise texts relating to specific persons, families or institutions, and their extended relations. In the case of Pahyris, individual persons are not only often mentioned in several documents belonging to one archive, but occasionally also across archives. As such, information on the social relations connecting the actors can be meaningfully linked together and visualised in the form of social networks.

P. Adler Dem. 23 (PC 870a). Demotic contract of land sale dated 12th of January 89 BC. Tm Arch 106: Horos, son of Nechoutes. Courtesy of the Papyrus Carlsberg Collection.

A total of 21 Graeco-Demotic archives consisting of Greek, Demotic and Greek-Demotic documents have been reconstructed from the site (see Vandorpe 1994; Vandorpe & Waebens 2009; TM Arch Pathyris). The papyri, ostraca and wooden tablets associated with these archives make up the project’s empirical dataset.

A Network Analytical Approach

At least from the 1970s, aspects of network theory have had some influence on historical and archaeological studies (Erickson 1997:150-151; see also Ruffini 2008: 14-20). Of particular relevance for the current project is Social Network Analysis (SNA) – a methodological approach to identifying, describing, and explaining patterns of social relations.

Common to all network perspectives is the basic assumption that various entities are engaged in relationships, that are fundamental for understanding their behaviour in the past (Brughmans, Collar & Coward 2016: 7). Within an overall network perspective, urban societies can be conceptualised as dynamic ‚whole-networks‘ (Marsden 2005: 8), that are structurally composed by complex systems of overlapping, competing and/or collaborating sub-networks.

By means of offering digital and analytical tools for organising and visualising large and complex data sets in more holistic ways, SNA analyses patterns of social relations through employment of network theory, that is understanding networks as social structures consisting of sets of ‘nodes’ (actors) and ‘edges’ (relational ties) representing their interconnectivity (Wellman, B. & S. D Berkowitz [eds.] 1988: 4).

2-mode affiliation network, showing relations between the texts (blue) of with the archive and the persons (red) appearing in them. Network graph generated by author. Data source: Trismegistos. Software: Gephi 0.9.1 (Bastian, Heymann & Jacomy 2009).

Ancient archives are usually studied archive by archive, but in ‘small-world’ communities like Pathyris, surviving archives are often interconnected and overlapping. For example, the owner of the so-called archive of Horos, son of Nechouthes (TM Arch 106) reappears in the Correspondences of Pates and Pachrates (TM arch 59), here as a soldier serving in the Judean-Syrian-Egyptian conflict of 103-101 BCE. Through such overlapping agents, the archives can be merged. A more fruitful approach to studying the Pathyrite community is one that embraces such interlinks, thereby also allowing the archives to be studied collectively.

SNA connects micro and macro levels and allows the researcher to effortlessly zoom in – and back out – on the dataset, which makes it particularly well suited for the task at hand. When used in combination with other methods for studying ancient texts and archives, SNA represents a formalised and powerful visual and analytical toolbox that allow basic structures of social life to be measured and described using formalised methods and precise terms.

Main Objectives and Expected Outcome

The project’s main research objectives are two-levelled: methodological and case-specific. While the value of network analysis for historical studies is increasingly acknowledged, its influence on the field of Egyptology has been scarce. This is despite excellent opportunities offered by surviving material from ancient Egypt. Methodologically, the project examines how formal network analysis compare to other methods of small-scale community studies.

On the case-specific level, the following two main questions will be addressed:

(1) What does Pathyris’ structural composition and network density reveal about life in this settlement?

(2) How does network position influence social and economic behaviour on the individual and group level?

The working hypothesis is that applying analytical tools embedded in SNA to map a high number of specific social relations in a bottom-up approach, will facilitate subsequent interpretation of emerging patterns of social and economic relations and connectivity in Ptolemaic Pathyris. Having identified individuals or groups with structurally significant network positions, such agents or groups of actors can be discussed in relation to known social categories.

On a local level, this is expected to shed light on social networks and interpersonal connectivity as parameters for personal and group action, for example in relation to forms of integration like reciprocity and redistribution and (non-market) economic exchange, as defined by Karl Polanyi (1957). In a broader perspective, consideration of cause and effect of contemporary political instability and governmental initiatives to control the area are expected to contribute to the larger discussions on Hellenization processes and cultural complexity in Ptolemaic Egypt.

As for academic outreach, results are expected to be of multidisciplinary relevance: in addition to Egyptology and Historical Network Analysis, the temporal scope of the Ptolemaic Period, the substantial amount of Greek texts and the bicultural identity of the case study ensures the projects relevance, also for Classical and Mediterranean studies. By means of studying the material using new analytical methods, the project contributes to research on ethnicity and the Hellenization of Egypt from a local perspective.

As an area of interest, Ptolemaic Egypt has often fallen between Classics and Egyptology and Greek and Demotic texts have typically been treated by different specialists. By means of bringing the texts together in a collective interdisciplinary study, a more real-world picture of the bilingual community of Pathyris is expected to emerge.

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Bußmann (Cologne), Prof. Dr. Paliou (Cologne), & Prof. Dr. Ryholt (Copenhagen)



TM Arch Pathyris:

Adler E. N., Tait, J. G., Heichelheim, F. M., Griffith, F. L. (eds.) 1939, The Adler Papyri, London: Oxford University Press

Bastian, M., Heymann, S. & M. Jacomy 2009, Gephi: an open source software for exploring and manipulating networks, International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media:

Brughmans, T., Collar, A. & F. Coward 2016, ‘Network Perspectives on the Past: Tackling the Challenges’, in: The Connected Past: Challenges to Network Studies in archaeology and History, Brughmans, T., Collar, A. & F. Coward (eds), Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 3-19

Erickson, B. H. 1997, ‘Social Networks and History: A Review Essay’, in; Historical Methods, vol. 30, No. 3, pp. 149-157

Fiore Marochetti, E. 2013, ‚Gebelein‘, in: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, W. Wendrich et al. (eds.), Los Angeles:

Marsden, P. V. 2005, ‘Recent Developments in Network Measurement’, in: Models and Methods in Social Network Analysis, Carrington et al. (eds.), Structural Analysis in the Social Sciences, vol. 27, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 8-30

Polanyi, K. 1957, ’The Economy as Instituted Process’, in: Trade and Market in the Early Empires – Economies in History and Theory, K. Polanyi, C. M. Arensberg & H. W. Pearson (eds.), Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press & The Falcon’s Wing Press, pp. 243-270

Ruffini, G. R. 2008, Social Networks in Byzantine Egypt, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Vandorpe, K. 2011, ‘A Successful, but fragile biculturalism. The Hellenization process in the Upper Egyptian town of Pathyris under Ptolemy VI and VII’, in; Ägypten swischen innerem Zwist und äusserem Druck: Die Zeit Ptolemaios’ VI. Bis VIII. Internationales Symposion Heidelberg 16.- 19.9.2007, Jördens, A. & J. F. Quack (eds.), Philippika 45, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, pp. 292-308

Vandorpe, K. 1994, ‘Museum Archaeology or How to Reconstruct Pathyris Archives’, in; Acta Demotica: Acts of the Fifth International Conference for Demotists, Pisa, 4th – 8th September 1993, Bresciani, E. (ed.), EVO 17, pp. 289-300

Vandorpe, K. & S. Waebens 2009, Reconstructing Pathyris‘ Archives. A Multicultural Community in Hellenistic Egypt, Collectanea Hellenistica III, Brussel: Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van Belgie & l’Union Academique Internationale

Wellman, B. & S. D Berkowitz (eds.) 1988, Social Structures: a Network Approach, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press