AV1 | Introduction

The first Avroman parchment is one of the relatively few papyri to survive from Arsacid territory, and as such it is valuable contemporary evidence for Parthian political and social history. Several aspects of the text are worthy of comment. I round the bases here, but much more is available in the AV1 bibliography.

Image from Minns 1915: plate 1
Image from Minns 1915: plate 1

First, the dating formula. Line 5 supplies the year 225. Most scholars (e.g. Thommen in Hackl et al. 2010: 2.471) think this is a Seleucid era date rather than an Arsacid one, though this is by no means certain. If it is a Seleucid year, it would date the document to 88/7 BCE; if an Arsacid year, to 24/3 BCE.

It is reasonably clear that the Arsaces referred to in line 1 was an Arsacid king of Parthia, probably Mithradates II (Minns 1915: 41; Wiesehöfer 2015: 335). His titulature on the Avroman parchment can be compared with the formulae found on Arsacid coins and in Babylonian documents. Especially interesting is the use of the phrase ‘king of kings’ (βασιλεύοντος βασιλέων) in line 1. The Arsacid adoption of this title is much discussed, as it may point to an Arsacid re-connection to the ancient Persian dynasty of the Achaemenids, who certainly used the title, whereas the Seleucids apparently did not (see Fowler 2005: 141–3; Shayegan 2011: 41–292).

Three of Mithradates’ queens are mentioned alongside him, which gives us a rare glimpse into the position of royal women at the Arsacid court (see Hartmann / Huber 2006 on this topic). Two of those mentioned are ‘agnate sister and wife’ (τῆς ὁμοπατρίας αὐτοῦ ἀδελφῆς καὶ γυναικὸς). This is important evidence for Parthian next-of-kin marriage, a custom that the Arsacids shared with the Ptolemies and perhaps with the Seleucids as well. The practice, called xwēdōdah, is discussed in Zoroastrian literature (see de Jong 1997: 424–32); it is also referenced in Greco-Roman texts composed within Roman territory (Lerouge 2007: 340–5).

One queen, Aryazate, is called the ‘daughter of the great king Tigranes’. This could be a reference to Tigranes the Great, the famous Artaxiad king of Armenia who had been a hostage at the court of Mithradates II. If so, their families were connected through marriage, a common feature of dynastic politics in the ancient world.

Linguistically, the parchment (along with Avroman 2) shows that Greek was an important language for business transactions even for residents of the Parthian empire who, judging by their names, were not Greek themselves (Luther 2014: 157–8). It has also been observed that the first two Avroman documents, which date to the first century BCE, were written in Greek, while Avroman 3, which dates to the mid-first century CE, was written in Parthian; this has been interpreted as evidence for the growing importance of Parthian as an administrative language, perhaps at the expense of Greek (Wiesehöfer 2015: 339).

Finally, there is the legal and social background, discussed extensively (though by no means exhaustively) by Minns in his original publication of the document. The contract establishes a price for the vineyard (30 drachmae); stipulates how the land is to be managed; makes provisions for the supply of water; and lays down penalties if either side fails to hold up their end of the bargain. Witnesses were evidently necessary to give the document legal force, and their names give us at least some information about the local inhabitants of a territory under Parthian control.

For further discussions, see Sherwin-White / Kuhrt 1993: 167; the online entry at Encyclopedia Iranica; De Rossi 2004: 265 no. 454.

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