The most valuable direct evidence of a marriage ban is found in Greek papyri—original documents—from Roman Egypt of the early second century A.D. In the Roman world, documents such as petitions, contracts, administrative and judicial records, wills, receipts, accounts, and personal letters were written on papyrus, a paper-like material made from layers of the pith of the papyrus reed. Papyri have survived in large numbers in Egypt, where they are preserved in arid conditions on the edge of the desert; the discipline of papyrology is devoted to their decipherment and study.1 The papyrologist must be both a palaeographer (reader of antique script), a legal expert, and a Hellenist, as most papyri from Roman Egypt are written in Greek. In the fourth to first centuries B.C., Egypt was governed by Alexander’s successors and partially Hellenized; in the Roman period, Greek continued to be the everyday literate language, though some Latin documents are found, often legal instruments for Roman citizens.2 Many collections of papyri have been published and are named for the institution conserving them, e.g. P. Mich. VII 442 (papyrus in the University of Michigan collection).
Our texts are, in order of importance, the Cattaoui papyrus, BGU 140, the birth declarations and status examinations of soldiers’ illegitimate children, the contracts of deposit as dowries, and a possible divorce on account of military service. These documents demonstrate or suggest the existence of a ban on marriage for soldiers. Each text alone may seem frail, as papyri often have lacunae due to holes or the disappearance of ink, but together they suggest a coherent picture.
1 Introduction: Bagnall (1995).
2 Many inhabitants of Roman Egypt undoubtedly used Egyptian in daily speech,
but it ceased to be written in documents early in the Roman period. Bagnall (1995),
18–19. The Latin papyri (or wood tablets) are collected in R. Cavenaile, Corpus
Papyrorum Latinarum (1956).