The Education and Miseducation of an Administrator in Late Roman Egypt

Alexander Jones (ISAW) and Roger Bagnall (ISAW)

This lecture will take place online; a Zoom link will be provided via confirmation email from Eventbrite to registered participants.

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This lecture about how administrators and business managers were trained in Late Antiquity grows out of our joint project to publish a fourth-century codex now divided between the Princeton University Library and a private collection. The codex as we have it dates to the 360s and comes from the Oxyrhynchite nome. It contains three types of material, in no particular order as far as we can tell: metrological texts, that is, treatises on measures and their relationship to one another; mathematical problems; and model contracts. The mathematical problems dominate the codex, and constitute the largest collection of such texts that we possess. Most are matters of plane or solid geometry, but there are also puzzles and exercises with fractions. Three of the texts in the codex, of which only one is fully preserved, are model contracts. Two of these are loans of money,  and the third is an undertaking to lease arable land.

 Although nothing tells us directly what the purpose of the codex was, the three parts all fit with the needs of managers in Roman Egypt. They needed to be able to calculate the area of pieces of land, to figure out the cost of digging ditches or making dikes, to know how many bricks were needed for building a granary. They also needed to be able to represent their employers in making legal agreements with tenants, borrowers, or sellers of produce.

The mathematical problems also belonged to a cross-cultural tradition, already more than two millennia old, of education in numeracy and calculation in "real world" contexts, radically different from what we usually think of as Greek mathematics. Our codex is a surprisingly human document revealing the struggles of a student and teacher who were both slightly out of their depth when their subject had advanced beyond arithmetic and memorized rules-of-thumb.

Alexander Jones is Leon Levy Director and Professor of the History of the Exact Sciences in Antiquity at ISAW. He studied Classics at the University of British Columbia and the history of the ancient mathematical sciences in the Department of the History of Mathematics at Brown University. Before coming to NYU, he was for sixteen years on the faculty of the Department of Classics and the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto. His work centers on the history and transmission of the mathematical sciences, especially astronomy. His most recent book is A Portable Cosmos: Revealing the Antikythera Mechanism, Scientific Wonder of the Ancient World (Oxford University Press). He is also the author of several editions of Greek scientific texts, among them Pappus of Alexandria's commentary on the corpus of Hellenistic geometrical treatises known as the "Treasury of Analysis"; an anonymous Byzantine astronomical handbook based on Islamic sources; a collection of about two hundred fragmentary astronomical texts, tables, and horoscopes from the papyri excavated a century ago by Grenfell and Hunt at Oxyrhynchus; and (in collaboration with members of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Projectthe astronomical, calendrical, and mechanical texts inscribed on the Antikythera Mechanism.

Roger S. Bagnall is Emeritus Professor of Ancient History and Leon Levy Director Emeritus at ISAW. Before joining the NYU faculty in 2007, he was Jay Professor of Greek and Latin and Professor of History at Columbia University, where he had taught for 33 years. During that time he served as Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Chair of the Department of Classics. Educated at Yale University and the University of Toronto, he specializes in the social and economic history of Hellenistic, Roman and Late Antique Egypt. He has held many leadership positions in the fields of classics and papyrology; he is co-founder of a multi-university consortium creating the Advanced Papyrological Information System. Among his best-known works are Egypt in Late Antiquity (1993), The Demography of Roman Egypt (1994; with Bruce Frier), Reading Papyri, Writing Ancient History (1995), Early Christian Books in Egypt (2009), and Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East (2010). His edition (with Giovanni Ruffini) of the first volume of Ostraka from Trimithis inaugurated ISAW's series of digital books. He has also edited many volumes of papyri and other ancient texts.  He directs NYU's excavation project at Amheida (jointly sponsored with Columbia) in the Dakhla Oasis in Egypt. His latest book, An Oasis City, presents the results of the Amheida excavations.He is a member of the American Philosophical Society and the Académie Royale de Belgique, as well as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the British Academy and a Corresponding Member of the German Archaeological Institute. In October, 2016 he received an honorary doctorate from the Université de Paris-Sorbonne.

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