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Papyrus as ancient niche multimedia: Guarding grapes and other tales from papyri

If you think home invasion robberies for food or wine are anything modern, guarding grape vines has been written about extensively, taking place in ancient Egypt, according to experts in a niche corner of the media known as papyrology, the study of media written on scrolls or sheets of the papyrus plant, usually which points to ancient writings. The noteworthy point is that the ancient writing turns out to be a labor contract for security guards to watch the grape vines. You may wish to check out the site, "BASP 50 - Brice C. Jones."

Papyrus as ancient multimedia
Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Apparently, paying money to security guards for protection is mentioned in the ancient writings, a practice that's common in modern times any place where people have enough money to pay for someone or some group to guard their property's valuables, in this case, grape vines.

University of Cincinnati (UC's) Peter van Minnen edited the recently published 50th volume of the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists. The latest volume of a University of Cincinnati-edited papyrus research journal throws light on the perils of produce patrol and more stories from ancient times, according to the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists (BASP).

Guarding grapes in ancient Egyptian vineyards was no easy gig

If you weren't careful, you might end up beaten by grape thieves skulking in the darkness, explains a March 24, 2014 news release, "Guarding grapes and other tales from papyri." A job is a job, and somebody has to do it, at least better than using guard dogs in ancient times. Body guards and security guards seemed to be in high demand, at least on the papyrus, for people who farmed their own or other's land. The noteworthy part is about contractual obligations in ancient times.

A University of Cincinnati graduate student writes about the contractual obligations of vineyard guards and researchers from around the world contribute more stories from ancient times in the most recent volumes of the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists (BASP).

UC's Peter van Minnen, associate professor of classics, has edited the international journal since 2006. BASP is an annual collection of articles and reviews pertaining to important discoveries from around the world in the field of papyrology – the study of ancient texts on papyrus and other materials.

The latest volume of the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists (BASP) is the 50th in the series and the eighth to have been edited at UC

This recently published journal features 35 contributions from 26 writers from 11 countries. The previous year’s volume features 44 contributions from 41 writers from 14 countries. Each of the past two volumes includes content in three languages.

In "Guarding Grapes in Roman Egypt (P.Mich. inv. 438)," UC graduate student Kyle Helms details what he deciphered from a roughly 3-by-5 inch shred of dark brown papyrus dating back to the fourth century. See, "What's New in Papyrology - Feedage - 10306243 -" In large, cursive script, the hired guard outlines his labor contract:

"I agree that I have made a contract with you on the condition that I guard your property, a vineyard near the village Panoouei, from the present day until vintage and transport, so that there be no negligence, and on the condition that I receive in return for pay for all of the aforementioned time." An unknown amount of money, as the papyrus is broken off at the bottom, according to the March 24, 2014 news release, "Guarding grapes and other tales from papyri."

In his contribution, Helms references another papyrus record of a vineyard guard who was beaten by "violent and rapacious" criminals while attempting to chase them from the vineyard. Other University of Cincinnati research published in the latest volumes of BASP include:

  • "A Cancellation of a Contract of Debt from Hermopolis" by Andrew Connor, classics graduate student, BASP 49
  • "P. Tebt. 2.562: Conclusion of a Report of Proceedings" by Taylor Coughlan, classics graduate student, BASP 50
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