An engrossing study of literacy and the scribal economy at the village level
Recording Village Life presents a close study of over 140 Coptic texts written between 724–756 CE by a single scribe, Aristophanes son of Johannes, of the village Djeme in western Thebes. These texts, which focus primarily on taxation and property concerns, yield a wealth of knowledge about social and economic changes happening at both the community and country-wide levels during the early years of Islamic rule in Egypt. Additionally, they offer a fascinating picture of the scribe’s role within this world, illuminating both the practical aspects of his work and the social and professional connections with clients for whom he wrote legal documents.
Papyrological analysis of Aristophanes’ documents, within the context of the textual record of the village, shows a new and divergent scribal practice that reflects broader trends among his contemporaries: Aristophanes was part of a larger, national system of administrative changes, enacted by the country’s Arab rulers in order to better control administrative practices and fiscal policies within the country. Yet Aristophanes’ dossier shows him not just as an administrator, revealing details about his life, his role in the community, and the elite networks within which he operated. This unique perspective provides new insights into both the micro-history of an individual’s experience of eighth-century Theban village life, and its reflection in the macro social, economic, and political trends in Egypt at this time.
This book will prove valuable to scholars of late antique studies, papyrology, philology, early Islamic history, social and economic history, and Egyptology.
Jennifer A. Cromwell is a Marie Curie Research Fellow at the University of Copenhagen.