The name of the Fayum province

In a few texts from the Old Kingdom the Fayum is known as Sy-rsy "the southern lake" [Piacentini 1997, pp.21-24]. From the Middle Kingdom onwards the traditional name of the Fayum is tA Sy, "the land of the lake" (Wörterbuch V, p.226) or tA Sy Sbk "land of the lake of Sobek" (for instance in the Kahun papyri) and its synonym pA ym, "the lake", a Semitic loan word, which replaced sy from the New Kingdom onwards. In hieroglyphic texts the old name lives on into the Ptolemaic period, e.g. on the statue of Anchouy, governor of the Fayum (TA-Sy) in the time of Nectanebo or even Ptolemy I [Vandersleyen 1999, fiche 150, p.255] or in the nome processions [Yoyotte 1962b, p.104]. The learned hieroglyphic language even used the famous wAD wr "the Great Green" for the Fayum lake [Yoyotte 1962b, p.91 and n.2; Vandersleyen 1999, pp.75-77]. In documentary demotic texts from the 6th to the 2nd centuries BC the Fayum is called pA tS n p3 ym, "the nome of the lake" (e.g. P.Mallawi dem. 1-3; P.Lille dem. I 32 l.13). The Greek translation ἡ Λίμνη is only found in a few documents dated before 257 BC. In P.Rev. Laws col.71 l.10; P.Petrie III 56a l.7 and 56b l.13, three texts from about 259 BC, Λίμνη becomes "officialised" into Λιμνίτης. Shortly afterwards the nome was renamed Arsinoites nomos after queen Arsinoe II, who was deified by her brother Ptolemy II immediately after her death in 270 BC [for the death of Arsinoe, see Cadell 1998 and Minas 1998, p.43 n.1]. It took another ten years before this new honour was added to the many others, since the earliest examples date from about 257 BC (P.Col. Zen. II 62, l.10; PCZ I 59041 l.3). The change of name was also followed in demotic, where all official and notarial documents now have pA tS n ArsynA, "the nome of Arsinoe", though here the old name is used unofficially at least up to the 2nd cent. BC, e.g. in P.Oxf. Griffith 28 (132 BC). With a short interruption during the invasion of Antiochos IV in 168 BC , when the nome was officially styled "Krokodilopolites" (P.Teb. III 698), the name Arsinoites was to last for over a thousand years, until the very end of the Byzantine period. It even led to a name change of the nome capital into "city of the Arsinoites", short "Arsinoe". But probably the native Egyptians continued to call it "the lake district" in ordinary conversation, and in Coptic the old Egyptian name P3-ym reemerges as Peiom (Sahidic), Phiom (Bohairic), Piam (Fayumic), used both for the nome (tosh, tash) and for its capital (polis) (cf. Roquet 1973, p.4). The modern Arabic name Al-Fayum (and Medinet Al-Fayum) directly descends from this [cf. Vycichl 1983, p.64].

Theodosiopolite nome
A Theodosiopolite nome in the Fayum, to be distinguished from the upper Theodosiopolite nome in the Thebais, between the Cynopolite and Hermopolite nomes [for which, see Drew-Bear 1979b, pp.299-303] is found from AD 455 (P.Prag. II 131) to AD 644 (BGU I 320). From the date of the earliest occurrences it is clear that the renaming honoured the emperor Theodosius II (AD 408-450).
Grenfell and Hunt (P.Tebt. II, pp. 363-365) assumed that Theodosiopolites was a new name for the Arsinoite nome, but in P.Oxy. LI 3636 Theodosiopolite and Arsinoite nome are mentioned side by side and so are the Arsinoitai and Theodosiopolitai in 14 texts (click here). From this G. Fantoni (CPR XIV, pp.41-48) concluded that the Theodosiopolite nome covered only a part of the Arsinoite nome, probably the south-west part, roughly corresponding with the meris of Polemon. In AD 487 Ibion is situated in the Theodosiopolitike enoria (Stud. Pal. XX 128), from AD 556 to 622 the administrative unit (pagarchy?) of the Arsinoitai and Theodosiopolitai in the province of Arcadia was headed by one or two pagarchs, and probably coincided with the former Arsinoite nome as a whole. In the period before and after this the Theodosiopolites is explicitly called a nome. Its capital Theodosiou polis was tentatively identified by Fantoni with Tebtynis. This is supported by Hickey 2008.
The following villages are explicitly situated in the Theodosiopolite nome : (Ibion) Eikosipentarouron, Eleusis, epoikion Kaoisan, Magdola, Psintheus, Theaxenis, Theogonis, Tin, Tristomos and the hamlet epoikion of Strategios. All these villages are in the meris of Polemon, except Tin, epoikion Kaueisan and epoikion Strategiou, which are further unknown, and may in fact belong to the Theodosiopolite nome in Middle Egypt.

The subdivisions of the nome
Older Egyptian texts, Demotic documents and a few Greek translations of the latter divide the nome and even the lake into two parts, locating a village either north or south of the henet of Merwer, "the canal of Moeris". Sometimes Greek texts call the canal "Argaitis". As shown by Vandorpe 2004 this canal coincides with the Bahr Yussuf. This canal run in fact from the south-east to the north-west, but the Bahr Yussuf was considered to run at right angles to the Nile course and therefore to make a division between south and north.
For over 500 years the Arsinoite nome was divided into three merides : the meris of Herakleides to the north-west ("north" of the Moeris canal) and those of Polemon and Themistos to the south-east and north-east respectively. The earliest occurrence dates from 244 BC. In the Ptolemaic and Roman periods villages are usually identified as belonging to a meris. In the Ptolemaic and early Roman periods the merides had their own oikonomoi, tax officials and police structure. But there was one strategos for the whole Arsinoite nome up to about AD 60. From AD 60 to AD 136 each meris had its own strategos, and from AD 136 to ca. AD 260 there werfe two strategoi, one for the meris of Herakleides and one for the merides of Polemon and Themistos together (see Derda 2006, pp.73-112 . In a certain sense, this was a return to the pharaonic system. After AD 260 there is again one strategos, but the merides are still mentioned until the beginning of the fourth century.

Names of the individual villages
The degree of new settlement in the area is reflected in the names of the villages, which often have a "colonial" ring. Relatively few places are known from the pharaonic period, e.g. the capital Sd.t, which is already attested in the Old Kingdom, or the temple cities Tebtynis, Narmouthis and Bakchias.
Traditional Egyptian village names refer to the cult of the local god, in the Fayum often a crocodile god, e.g. Krokodeilon polis, Soknopaiou Nesos, Kerkethoeris, Kerkeosiris. Andriantes "the statues" refers to the colossi of Amenemhat III in Biahmu, whereas Magdola "the watch-tower" may also predate the Ptolemaic period. But many villages are named after towns in Middle and Lower Egypt. The towns of Middle Egypt (Memphis, Oxyryncha, Kynon polis, Apollonos polis) are mainly reflected in the meris of Polemon, whereas the names of Delta towns (Athribis, Boubastos, Heliou polis, Letous polis, Mendes, Neilou polis, Pharbaithos, Sebennytos, Tanis) are in the meris of Herakleides (see now Clarysse 2007). One third century BC papyrus (SB XX 14699) confirms that the inhabitants of the village Oxyryncha are indeed colonists from the great city Oxyrhynchus and even participate in the yearly festival of their mother city.
A similar "colonial nomenclature" is visible in the Greek village names, which may show immigration from the Near East (Samareia, Syron Kome, the village of the Syrians and Arabon kome, village of the Arabs), but in the meris of Themistos correspond to the names of Alexandrian demes, e.g. Apias, Bakchias, Hephaistias, Lysimachis, Lagis. The latter group of villages is typical of the meris of Themistos (Clarysse 2007). Here and in the dynastic village names as Ptolemais, Arsinoe, Theadelpheia and Philadelpheia, we see the official namegiving by the central administration, who reorganised the area in the early third century BC (see now Müller 2006).
The Egyptian names for these villages were often different from the Greek, with equivalences only known thanks to a few bilingual Greek-demotic texts. Thus Philagris turns out to be the same place as Coptic Perkethaut, in demotic "the foundation of Thoth", or Alexandrou Nesos corresponds with Tmounpouoris "the island of Pouoris". The multiple names are most conspicuous for the nome capital Medinet el-Fayum, pharaonic Sd.t, which from Krokodilonpolis became Ptolemais Euergetis (in honour of Ptolemy VIII) in 116 BC (Casarico 1987b), and in the Roman period Arsinoiton polis and Arsinoe.

© Willy Clarysse