P. Mich. inv. 3196 in Context

The papyrus recording the theft of a donkey is just one of many papyri in the Zenon archive. How does this text fit into what we have learned about the archive?

Date and Place

Dated securely to May 7, 254 BC, the papyrus entered Zenon's archive while he was in charge of the estates at Philadelphia. This document is not at all out of place in the larger archive; Zenon would have been required to keep track of the productivity of the fields, and the loss of a donkey would have been reported to him. Nikias, who was presumably watching the donkey when it escaped, is also known from another papyrus in the archive as the donkey keeper.


The man who submits the complaint is named Antigenes, and he identifies himself as a Macedonian. Antigenes was probably a veteran of the Ptolemaic army; he states that he was "of the troop of Nikanor." The Ptolemies provided their veterans with land grants, and many were settled in the Fayum region, so it is not suprising to find these individuals at Philadelphia.

Alexandros, the chief policeman, served in an official post at Philadelphia. By submitting his report to the chief policeman, Antigenes also involved legal officers, and if the donkey was stolen, or found by another individual, Alexandros could recover it and return it to its rightful owner.


P. Mich. inv. 3196 is similar to many documents in the archive in that it records the daily happenings at the estates at Philadelphia. The Zenon archive is comprised of receipts, private letters, accounts, and official documents, all of which can help us form a picture of life in third century Egypt. Papyrus documents offer us a rare glimpse into how normal people lived; while literature can reveal the profound--or not so profound--thoughts of the educated elite, the papyrus documents give us access to a broader range of individuals in various social stations.

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