Wilbour Papyrus

Last updated

The Wilbour Papyrus is a papyrus purchased by the New York journalist Charles Edwin Wilbour from a farmer when he visited the island of Elephantine near Aswan in 1893. There he purchased seventeen papyri from a local farmer. He did not realize the importance of his find and when he died in a hotel in Paris his belongings, including the papyri (among these the Brooklyn Papyrus and the Elephantine Papyri), were put in storage by the hotel and not returned to his family for nearly half a century. At the request of his widow, they were donated to the Brooklyn Museum.

Papyrus Writing and painting implement

Papyrus is a material similar to thick paper that was used in ancient times as a writing surface. It was made from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus, a wetland sedge. Papyrus can also refer to a document written on sheets of such material, joined together side by side and rolled up into a scroll, an early form of a book.

Charles Edwin Wilbour American egyptologist

Charles Edwin Wilbour was an American journalist and Egyptologist. He was one of the discoverers of the Elephantine Papyri. He produced the first English translation of Les Misérables.

Elephantine Island in the Nile

Elephantine ( EL-i-fan-TY-nee, -⁠TEE-; Ancient Egyptian: ꜣbw; Egyptian Arabic: جزيرة الفنتين‎, translit. Gazīrat il-Fantīn; Greek: Ἐλεφαντίνη; Coptic: is an island on the Nile, forming part of the city of Aswan in Upper Egypt. There are archaeological sites on the island.

The Wilbour Papyrus is to ancient Egypt what the census bureau is to us today. It was translated by Alan Gardiner. Most of the first section of the papyrus was lost due to decomposition. The better preserved information begins in section two which starts off with “year 4, [second month of the Inundation-season], day 15 to day 20, making six days, assessment made by (unknown)”. The name of the ruling king at the time was never mentioned but it is believed it was written during the time of Ramesses V. The papyrus is a document that is broken up into two parts, text A and text B. It is roughly 33 ft in length, contains 127 columns and over 5,200 lines. It has information on about 95 miles of land and is written by more than one scribe.

Although it is not the largest papyrus ever found, it is the largest in its class. It also contains more information than other papyri which succeed it in size. It is the largest non-funerary papyrus known to ancient Egypt. Even though at this point there has been no evidence of one like it, it is hard to believe the ancient Egyptians did not keep similar documentation. It is possible there was several like this one but was not preserved over the years. This particular papyrus has various information on the late Ramsessid period. This information includes but is not limited to taxation, information about late Ramessid administrative practices, temple economy, population, occupations and land donated to deities.

There are many theories as to what the original purpose of the papyrus was. Some believe the papyrus could be a copy of the “chief taxing master” which was responsible for temple finance. Others speculate it was the “jpw-register" of Amun. No matter what the original purpose was, it is an extremely informative document that gives us an unusual amount of insight on the government during the time of ancient Egypt.

"Occupations and Landowners"

According to the papyrus the most common occupations encountered were priests, military men, “ladies,” herdsmen, stable-masters, farmers, and scribes. Surprisingly enough the papyrus also lists a good amount of foreigners in its population. It mostly lists Libyans and Near Easterners, it is possible they were foreign mercenaries who had descendants who settled on farmland in which they obtained for serving in the military. In some cases we see if the person who owned the land had deceased. It would then say the land is being cultivated by the sons or daughters.

"Agriculture"

Even though the papyrus gives us specific information, there is still room for interpretation. The papyrus breaks the land up into four different parts. These parts are known as m-drt, ihwty, rowdy, rmnyt. One word you see continuously debated is the translation of “ihwty”. There is a few different thoughts as to what “ihwty” actually translates to. Many believe it means “tenant farmer”. Other thoughts of the meaning are “cultivator” or “field laborer”.

M-drt is translated to “split small holder”. A split small holder is a plot of land that is owned by more than one cultivator or tenant farmer. These plots are generally owned by the lower or middle class. As Sally Katary wrote in “Labour on smallholdings in the New Kingdom”, there are roughly 2,245 cultivated plots. Sally tries to break down 93 plots that are mentioned as being m-drt. She bases her number of cultivators needed for each plot off of the size of the plot. She also uses information on how many split plots are owned by the smallholder and the location of the multiple plots owned by the smallholder. By going off of the towns mentioned in both text A and B in the papyrus, we are able to identify locations of the plots. Although we have a vague idea of the locations they have not been able to be completely identified. However, it is possible these locations reveal the hierarchies of the towns and villages exposing the agricultural organization. It is also believed the plots lay across the flood plain, from the Nile banks to the desert edge and along the Bahr Yusuf.

"Taxation"

In some cases, the private processor would pay a fixed rate. It is not certain if this rate was paid as a tax fee or as a management fee to the temple. It is possible it went to the temple if the plot was situated on temple land. Taxes were also taken in the form of goods. The larger lots that were worked by field workers were also supervised and paid taxes by turning over 30 percent of their harvest.

Further reading

International Standard Book Number Unique numeric book identifier

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a numeric commercial book identifier which is intended to be unique. Publishers purchase ISBNs from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency.

Related Research Articles

Set (deity) god of the desert, storms, and foreigners in ancient Egyptian religion

Set or Seth is a god of chaos, the desert, storms, disorder, violence, and foreigners in ancient Egyptian religion. In Ancient Greek, the god's name is given as Sēth (Σήθ). Set had a positive role where he accompanies Ra on his solar boat to repel Apep, the serpent of Chaos. Set had a vital role as a reconciled combatant. He was lord of the red (desert) land where he was the balance to Horus' role as lord of the black (soil) land.

Nephthys Egyptian deity

Nephthys or Nebthet or Nebet-Het is a goddess in ancient Egyptian religion. A member of the Great Ennead of Heliopolis in Egyptian mythology, she was a daughter of Nut and Geb. Nephthys was typically paired with her sister Isis in funerary rites because of their role as protectors of the mummy and the god Osiris and as the sister-wife of Set.

Ebers Papyrus Ancient Egyptian medical papyrus

The Ebers Papyrus, also known as Papyrus Ebers, is an Egyptian medical papyrus of herbal knowledge dating to circa 1550 BC. Among the oldest and most important medical papyri of ancient Egypt, it was purchased at Luxor (Thebes) in the winter of 1873–74 by Georg Ebers. It is currently kept at the library of the University of Leipzig, in Germany.

The Elephantine Papyri consist of 175 documents from the Egyptian border fortresses of Elephantine and Aswan, which yielded hundreds of papyri in Hieratic and Demotic Egyptian, Aramaic, Koine Greek, Latin and Coptic, spanning a period of 1000 years. The documents include letters and legal contracts from family and other archives, and are thus an invaluable source of knowledge for scholars of varied disciplines such as epistolography, law, society, religion, language and onomastics. They are a collection of ancient Jewish manuscripts dating from the 5th century BCE. They come from a Jewish community at Elephantine, then called ꜣbw. The dry soil of Upper Egypt preserved documents from the Egyptian border fortresses of Elephantine and Aswan.

Setnakhte first pharaoh of the 20th dynasty

Userkhaure-setepenre Setnakhte was the first pharaoh (1189 BC–1186 BC) of the Twentieth Dynasty of the New Kingdom of Egypt and the father of Ramesses III.

Ramesses XI Egyptian pharaoh

Menmaatre Ramesses XI reigned from 1107 BC to 1078 BC or 1077 BC and was the tenth and final pharaoh of the Twentieth dynasty of Egypt and as such, was the last king of the New Kingdom period. He ruled Egypt for at least 29 years although some Egyptologists think he could have ruled for as long as 30. The latter figure would be up to 2 years beyond this king's highest known date of Year 10 of the Whm Mswt era or Year 28 of his reign. One scholar, Ad Thijs, has suggested that Ramesses XI could even have reigned as long as 33 years.

Ramesses V pharaoh in the ancient Egypt

Usermaatre Sekheperenre Ramesses V was the fourth pharaoh of the Twentieth dynasty of Egypt and was the son of Ramesses IV and Queen Duatentopet.

Huni ancient Egyptian king

Huni was an ancient Egyptian king and the last pharaoh of the 3rd dynasty during the Old Kingdom period. Following the Turin king list, he is commonly credited with a reign of 24 years, ending c. 2600 BC.

Abbott Papyrus

The Abbott Papyrus serves as an important political document concerning the tomb robberies of the Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt during the New Kingdom. It also gives insight into the scandal between the two rivals Pawero and Paser of Thebes.

Ancient Egyptian literature literature from ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian literature was written in the Egyptian language from ancient Egypt's pharaonic period until the end of Roman domination. It represents the oldest corpus of Egyptian literature. Along with Sumerian literature, it is considered the world's earliest literature.

Egyptian medical papyri

Egyptian medical papyri are ancient Egyptian texts written on papyrus which permit a glimpse at medical procedures and practices in ancient Egypt. The papyri give details on disease, diagnosis, and remedies of disease, which include herbal remedies, surgery, and magical spells. It is thought there were more medical papyri, but many have been lost due to grave robbing. The largest study of the medical papyri to date has been undertaken by Berlin University and was titled Medizin der alten Ägypter.

Brooklyn Papyrus ancient Egyptian medical papyrus

The Brooklyn Papyrus is a medical papyrus dating from ancient Egypt and is one of the oldest preserved writings about medicine and ophiology. The manuscript is dated to around 450 BC and is today kept at the Brooklyn Museum in New York.

The Ramesseum medical papyri constitute a collection of ancient Egyptian medical documents dating back to the early 18th century BC, found in the temple of the Ramesseum. As with most ancient Egyptian medical papyri, these documents mainly dealt with ailments, diseases, the structure of the body, and proposed remedies used to heal these afflictions, namely ophthalmologic ailments, gynaecology, muscles, tendons, and diseases of children. It is the only well-known papyrus to describe these in great detail. Most of the text written in the known manuscripts of this collection are in parts III, IV, and V, and written in vertical columns.

Sepermeru was a town in Ancient Egypt, located roughly between Heracleopolis to the north and Oxyrhynchus to the south in what was considered the XIX Upper Egyptian nome.

Neferronpet ancient Egyptian vizier and High Priest

Neferronpet was Vizier and the High Priest of Ptah from the reign of Ramesses II to the reign of Seti II.

The Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt is the third and last dynasty of the Ancient Egyptian New Kingdom period, lasting from 1189 BC to 1077 BC. The 19th and 20th Dynasties furthermore together constitute an era known as the Ramesside period.

Kadesh inscriptions

The Kadesh inscriptions or Qadesh inscriptions are a variety of Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions describing the Battle of Kadesh. The combined evidence in the form of texts and wall reliefs provide the best documented description of a battle in all of ancient history.

Ptahemwia was an Ancient Egyptian official who lived under king Ramses II in the 19th Dynasty, around 1250 BC.