Magdola meris of Themistos)


The evidence for Magdola consists of 63 references in 56 texts; seven of them do not mention the name of the village, but can be ascribed to Magdola because of their finding place (one papyrus, SB III 6319, a list of members of a thiasos, and three inscriptions found in situ), or thanks to prosopographical overlaps (P.Princ.Univ. I 8 and P.Tebt. I 83). from the middle of the third century BC (the earliest text that has been dated accurately is, however, from 139 BC, P.Köln.ägypt. I 5) to the seventh century AD. Among the 50 texts are four inscriptions, one of which contains the name of the village; they are dated to the late first century and early second century AD. The survey archive (5 texts), found at Tebtynis, no doubt comes from the office of the komogrammateus of Magdola (see infra, 'Land').
In three campaigns (1900/01, 1901/02 and 1902/03) Jouguet excavated both in the necropolis and in the kom itself. The necropolis revealed several Ptolemaic and Roman tombs, the latter containing more than 60 mummies with papyrus cartonnages (now in Paris). Thus the famous enteuxeis papyri in the Sorbonne originate from cartonnage from Medinet el-Nahas. Other sarcophagi were in terracotta and, more rarely, in wood.

Click images to enlarge
Sarcophagus from excavations by Jouguet. C.C. Edgar, Graeco-Egyptian Coffins (CGC 1905), p. 10, Pl. 5.

The chart below shows a peak in the second century BC and a gap in the fourth and fifth centuries AD. Perhaps Magdola was abandoned in the late third or early fourth century. In that case, the large number of documents from the third century is surprising, unless for some reason the village was abandoned suddenly. The rare texts of the sixth and seventh century might indicate that Magdola was 'refounded', at the same spot or perhaps nearby.

The name μάγδωλος (mkt3l in Egyptian) is a derived from the Semitic word "migdol", watch-tower (Vycichl 1984, p.132) and is fairly common in Egypt, especially in the Fayum area (cf. Dizionario III, pp. 218-219; Timm IV, p. 1644). The name is usually in the plural Μάγδωλα, with a purely orthographic variant Μάγδολα, corresponding to demotic NA-mktl (cf. P.Köln.ägypt., pp.62-64); the singular Μάγδωλον is found only once. The form Μάγδωνλα is a mere scribal error. The ethnic Μαγδωλείτης is found once; the form Μαγδώλιος or Μαγδώλιον in the fragmentary PCZ IV 59596 is unexplained. The semitic loanword was well accepted and need not imply a Semitic population (pace Crawford 1971a, p.42 and I.Fayoum III, p.34), of which is there is no trace thus far.
From the Ptolemaic period (P.Tebt. I 82, BC 115) until the third century AD (P.Baden IV 90) Magdola in the meris of Polemon is regularly called a κώμη. The seventh century papyrus SB VIII 9757 refer to Magdola as a chorion. In view of the small percentage of late documents, Grenfell and Hunt suggested that Magdolon Palaali, a chorion in the Arsinoites found in several seventh-century texts, might be identical with Magdola (P.Tebt. II, p. 388).
Timm suggests that the Coptic Miktaal, found twice in the Hamuli manuscripts in connection with Tutun (Tebtynis), might refer to Magdola. Since Magdola is only rarely attested in late documents, Timm thought of the village Magdolon Palaali rather than Magdola. If miktaal is indeed the same as Magdola or if it is a synonym of Magdolon Palaali and the latter is identical with Magdola, the village would be attested up to the ninth or tenth century AD.
The absence of Pharaonic remains suggests that Magdola was founded in the (early) Ptolemaic period. That some of the cartonnage papyri found in the cemetery date from the fourth century BC (P.Lille dem. 27-28) is surprising, but not significative, as reused papyrus could come from far away both in time and place.

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When excavating the south-western Gharaq-basin in 1901-1903, P. Jouguet and G. Lefebvre discovered an ancient village at Medinet el-Nehas, which they could identify as Magdola thanks to an inscription in situ containing the village name (I.Fayoum III 152).
Eight papyri explicitly situate the village in the meris of Polemon; by the sixth century AD it belonged to the Theodosioupolite nome (SB I 5139). It is often mentioned in combination with Ibion Argaiou (9 times), Berenikis Thesmophorou (8 times) and Tebtynis (7 times, of which 4 ostraca belonging to the same group). Several farmers cultivated land in both Magdola and Kerkeosiris: Apollonios, Petenephies, probably also Orsenouphis) [see Crawford 1971, p.91]. In SB I 5139 (sixth century), Magdola seems to be united with Ibion, either Ibion Argaiou or Ibion Eikosipentarouron; Aurelius Phoibammon leases 5 arouras of land, situated in the topos Araa of 'the village' Ibion and Magdola, further called "the named village" (ἡ αὐτὴ κώμη), in the singular.

View of Medinet Nehas. Photo P.Davoli.

About half of the cultivators have Greek names, and so have their fathers. From P.Tebt. I 83 col. IV, it appears that the larger kleroi (20 to 50 arouras) were all in the hands of Greeks. One of them, Ammonios, lived in Oxyrhyncha, where he also cultivated some land. Petenephies also cultivated land in Magdola and Kerkeosiris. In the other texts Greeks and Egyptians are listed side by side.
In the sixth century, Aurelius Phoibammon from Ibion (Argaiou) and Magdola, leases land in Arsinoe belonging to Aurelius Anoup (SB I 5139).

An archive of fragmentary land surveys gives some information on vineyards and palm groves, sacred and cleruchic land in the late second century BC.
In P.Tebt. I 80 the village area amounts to a total of 156.25 arouras, including 31 5/8 arouras of vineyards and gardens, whereas the sacred land was only 170 arouras. The village area is larger than that of Kerkeosiris (70 arouras), the sacred land is less [cf. Crawford 1971a, pp.45-46].
Of the 170 arouras of sacred land (ἱερὰ γῆ) 150 belonged to the temple of Souchos (P.Teb. I 82 ll.3-4). The remaining 20 arouras belonged to a temple of Orsenouphis (10 arouras) and two ibis shrines (ἰβίων τροφαί) (3 and 7 arouras) (P.Teb. I 82, ll.36-45). This sacred land was mainly used for vineyards and olive plantations. The Heroon owned at least 50 arouras. Part of this was royal land (βασιλικὴ γῆ), some other parcels belonged to the κεχωρισμένη προσοδός; in most cases, however, the category to which the land belonged is unknown. Parts of land owned or cultivated by the temples was 'shore land' (αἰγιαλός) and the inscription I.Fayum 152 even stresses that the land of the Heroon is "washed" (προσκλύζει) by the shoreland. A recent survey found "an extensive area to the north of the site of wind-eroded ancient lake bottom, while the adjacent peripheral areas of the settlement are littered with catfish- and other fish-bones, and occasionally weights for fishing nets" [Rathbone 2001, p.1113].
Magdola is absent from Uebel's list of third century BC cleruchs [Uebel 1968], which covers the early Ptolemaic period. For the late second century cleruchic land is listed in P.Teb. I 83: 19 machimoi with kleroi of 5 arouras, 10 policemen (φυλακῖται) with kleroi of 10 arouras, 6 katoikoi with 50 and 20 arouras, together 325 arouras, but the list is far from complete.
Catoecic land is also found in the Roman period in P.Strasb. VII 603 and P.Tebt. II 357. One single reference to a phrontis of Magdola (SB XX 14197 verso l.147) links the village to the estate of Appianus and the archive of Heroninus. Apparently Magdola played only a minor role in that estate. The presence of a phrontistes in Stud.Pal. III 063 suggests that some land in the village was part of an estate in the sixth century AD.
On the whole, vineyards and olive plantations seem to have played an important role in the village agriculture in the late Ptolemaic and early Roman period, not only for the land of the katoikoi (P.Tebt. I 83, ll.74-80), but also for temple land (P.Tebt. I 82).
In the second century AD vineyards are again mentioned at least four times. CPR VII 8 deals with the reed-harvest on two parcels of 5 and 4 arouras, P.Flor. III 385 refers to a vineyard with trees, P.Strasb. VII 603 and P.Teb. II 357 mention vineyards on catoecic land. The importance of viticulture is confirmed by the "fire-brick wine-pressing installations" and "slags for the production of amphorae" found on the site [Rathbone 2001, p.1116].

For the later third century BC two names of oil sellers are preserved : Phanesis and Teos . Twice workmen from Magdola are paid for work on canals and dykes, though probably not in the village itself.
Several ostraca deal with transport of grain to granaries in other villages, such as Karanis, Theadelpheia and Tebtynis.
According to SB XIV 12169, Soterichos, sitologos of Magdola, sent 2089 artabas of wheat to the harbour of Kaine for soldiers in Memphis; in this text, Magdola seems to function as a centre for some unnamed neighbouring villages.

Religion in Magdola is best documented for the late Ptolemaic period. The main god was no doubt Souchos (Σοῦχος θεὸς μέγας), whose temple owned 150 of the 170 arouras of sacred land. A crocodile necropolis was adjacent to the human cemetery. The crocodiles were buried in groups, sometimes more than 20 at a time; often very young animals and even eggs were bundled and wrapped up. In the middle of the crocodile cemetery was a cats tomb. A late Ptolemaic papyrus, found on the surface near a crocodile tomb, offers a long list of members of a thiasos with some fragments of rules of the corporation, e.g. "he who takes the wife of someone else will pay a fine of 1,000 dr." (SB III 6319 l.45). Orsenouphis son of Soukonophis, one of the members of the association, is no doubt identical to or related with a machimos of that name.
In the kom a Ptolemaic temple of the Thracian rider god Heron was found by Jouguet; the god also owned some land near the lake. The temple had an Egyptian plan, with a propylon and a monumental wooden gate (still partly preserved). Before the gate stood a statue of a griffon or a winged sphinx (now in the Cairo Museum). Behind the gate a court opened to the actual temple buildings. These consisted of several halls and the inner sanctuary, with minor chapels, a corridor and a staircase leading to terraces. The temple was constructed partly of mud brick, partly of stone; a dedication (I.Fayoum III 152) dates the propylon to 131 BC, which is a terminus ante quem for the temple itself. The right of asylum of the Heroon was granted by a royal order of 95 BC, advertised by an inscription on the propylon (I.Fayum III 152), see now Rigsby 1996, no.220. By the early second century AD, the Heroon had incorporated new deities, among whom possibly Demeter and Kore, almost certainly also Isis, Harpocrates and Sarapis [I.Fayoum I, p.35; Jouguet 1902a, pp.245-247].
The temple was richly decorated with paintings in the Roman period, but unfortunately all what remains is a single photograph and a succinct description by Jouguet (1902). The frescoes on the front of the propylon depict the god Heron, in military dress, standing before his horse; to the left and right are two offering scenes: a man, dressed in tunic and coat with fringes, followed by a small servant offers an object to a serpent wound around a tree; the interior of the propylon showed to the left three gods seated on thrones and to the right two goddesses seated on an eagle with outspread wings. One of these goddesses (Demeter?) wears a lotus sceptre and a veil, the other (Kore?) a laurel wreath. In another scene a woman or goddess, accompanied by two small genii, holds a lance and a double axe. One of the genii wears the double royal crown (pshent), the other two feathers on top of rams horns.
A painting inside the sanctuary (room C), dedicated to the "great hero gods" by a certain Hakiaris, is dated by Jouguet to the third cent. AD. Lefebvre connected this scene, but also the others, with the cult of Kastor and Pollux, mixed with some elements of the cult of the Kabiroi (I.Fayoum III 154). In hall C (perhaps the same room?), two paintings were found of Isis and Sarapis, in the same style. A graffito in the temple (I.Fayoum III 153) also mentions Sarapis. Clearly the function of the temple has changed between the Ptolemaic and the Roman period. Further discoveries in the temple include a wooden 'naos', a wooden statue of an enthroned Isis and her son Harpocrates in traditional style, a royal statue in limestone and several bronze lamps.
P.Tebt. I 80 mentions a Hermaion, a sanctuary for Hermes/Thoth, whereas shrines for the ibises , the sacred birds of Thoth, are found in P.Tebt. I 82. One of the 'smaller sanctuaries' (ἐλάσσονα ἱερά) mentioned in the same text is dedicated to Orsenouphis, who is also called 'a god of the village' (θεὸς τῆς κώμης). Two terracottas of Harpocrates and a statuette of Isis and Harpocrates (Jouguet 1902a, pp. 245-246) are not really significant, because these are ubiquitous in Roman Egypt.
The cult of Zeus Soter and the Syrian goddess Atargatis, which Jouguet attributed to Magdola on the basis of an inscription bought in Alexandria (I.Fayoum 03 150) belongs to Pelousion, not to Magdola.

Policemen and desert-police (ἐρημοφύλακες) are attested in BC 125-100. A komogrammateus is reported for the same period, but his name is lost. Towards the end of the second or the beginning of the third century AD, a certain Sisois was village scribe. Soterichos was sitologos of Magdola (and other villages in the meris) in AD 96. BGU XIII 2251 is a list of candidates for the function of 'praktor sitikon', dating from the mid second century AD. In the early second century AD, a contract concerning a catoecic kleros in Magdola was written in the grapheion of Tebtynis.
Two ostraca of the third century AD are written by 'dekaprotoi of Tebtynis and Magdola'; although the ostraca are receipts for grain transport from Magdola to Tebtynis, it is surprising that the title mentions both villages. Maybe Magdola and Tebtynis belonged to the same toparchy at that moment.
In P.Strasb.Gr. VI 537 (third century) a certain Keletes is responsible for the magdolophylakia in Magdola and Tristomos.

Nearly a hundred persons from Magdola, especially officials and farmers from the Ptolemaic period, have been included in the prosopography, click here.


B. Van Beek, Mar 7 2003