Divorce Agreement
from Egypt

Language: Greek
Medium: Papyrus
Length: 19 lines
Size: ? cm high
? cm wide
Genre: divorce document
Date: March 28, 13 B.C.E.
Place of discovery: Egypt
Date of discovery: ?
Present location: Berlin
Identification no.: B.G.U. 1103
(Berliner griechischen Urkunken)

(Adapted from Hunt & Edgar 1932)

To: Protarchus
From: Zois, daughter of Heraclides, along with her guardian and brother, Irenaeus, son of Heraclides; and from Antipater, son of Zenon.

Zois and Antipater agree that they have separated from one another, dissolving the union that they have formed on the basis of an agreement made through the same tribunal in Hathyr of this 17th year of Caesar. And Zois acknowledges that she has received from Antipater by hand from his house the material that he received as dowry: clothing valued at 120 drachmai and a pair of gold earrings. The marriage agreement shall from now on be nullified; and neither Zois nor anyone acting on her behalf shall initiate proceedings against Antipater for restitution of the dowry; nor shall either person initiate proceedings against the other concerning cohabitation or any issue whatsoever up to the present. And subsequently it shall be lawful for Zois to marry another man and for Antipater to marry another woman without either of them being answerable. In addition to this agreement being valid, whoever transgresses it shall be leable both for damages and the prescribed fine.
17th year of Caesar, Pharmouthi 2.

Hathyr was the name of an Egyptian month (in the modern calendar, from October 28 to November 26.

Caesar here refers to Augustus, who ruled the Roman Empire 30 B.C.E.—14 C.E.

A drachma (plural: drachmai) was the Greek term for a coin. After the Emperor Augustus, the tetradrach (=4 drachmae) was approximately equivilent to the Roman denarius. (For biblical examples, see, for example: Tobit 5:14; 2 Maccabees 12:43; Luke 15:8).

Pharmouthi was the name of an Egyptian month (in the modern calendar, from March 27 to April 25).

    1. How long was this couple married?

    2. Why would Zois need a "guardian"?

    3. How did dowries function in the ancient Mediterranean? See Hanson and Oakman (1998:37-43).

    4. What does it say about the couple that the dowry consisted of clothing and one pair of earrings and no money?

    5. For a marriage contract from this same year, click here.


    Goody, Jack. The Oriental, the Ancient and the Primitive: Systems of Marriage and the Family in the Pre-Industrial Societies of Eurasia. Studies in Literacy, Family, Culture and the State. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990.

    Hanson, K. C. "The Herodians and Mediterranean Kinship. II: Marriage and Divorce." Biblical Theology Bulletin 19 (1989) 142-51.

    Hanson, K. C. "The Herodians and Mediterranean Kinship. III: Economics." Biblical Theology Bulletin 20 (1990) 10-21.

    Hanson, K. C. and Douglas E. Oakman. Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998.

    Hunt, A. S. and C. C. Edgar. Select Papyri. Vol. 1: Non-Literary Papyri Private Affairs. Loeb Classical Library 281. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1932.

    Pestman, P. W. Marriage and Matrimonial Property in Ancient Egypt: Contribution to Establishing the Legal Position of the Woman. Papyrologia Lugduno-Batava 9. Leiden: Brill, 1961.


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