Egyptians: Ammonios’ papyrus letter on “inhuman Egyptians” (third century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Egyptians: Ammonios’ papyrus letter on “inhuman Egyptians” (third century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified June 5, 2024,

Ancient author: Ammonios (third century CE), Oxyrhynchos Papyri / POxy XIV 1681 (link; link to

Comments: This letter by Ammonios (likely writing from somewhere near Oxyrhynchos) opens with his (perhaps facetious but at least exaggerated) concern that he will be perceived as uncivilized or even as an “inhuman Egyptian” for living deeper into Egypt. The point here is that this personal letter reflects everyday denigration of Egyptians on the part of Greeks. It was not uncommon to cast aspersions on rivals by labelling or treating them as a lowly “Egyptian” (e.g. Josephos on Apion – link; Philo on Judeans being treated as though Egyptians – link). And accusing someone of “Egyptianizing” and therefore of evil or underhanded behaviour was a standard slur for quite some time (link). But this letter shows this ethnic prejudice went beyond the polished productions of the literary elites.


[front] Ammonios to the brothers [perhaps fictive], Julius and Hilarus, many greetings! You are, my brothers, perhaps considering me a barbarian or an inhuman (ananthrōpos, i.e. apanthrōpos) Egyptian [i.e. for living deeper into Egypt than the recipients]. However, I claim that it is not the case because, first of all, you have had a partial proof of my disposition. Moreover, many reasons have pressured me to go to my friends: in the first place my wish to see them after a year’s interval and, secondly, my desire to leave Egypt before winter. So I hope that after three days I will also come to you and tell you my news. Greet my sister Hieronis with Julius her husband and Isidora (?) with her. . .  [remainder of letter lost].

[back] Deliver to my brothers Julius and Hilarus from Ammonios.

{recto} Ἀμμώνιος Ἰουλίῳ | καὶ Ἱλάρῳ το[ῖ]ς ἀδελ|φοῖς πλεῖστα χαίρει(ν). | ἴσως με νομίζετε, ||ἀδελφ[ο]ί, βάρβαρόν τι|να ἢ Αἰγύπτιον ἀνάν|θρωπον εἶναι. ἀλλὰ ἀ|ξιῶ μὴ οὕτως̣ [ἔ]χ̣ειν, | πρῶτον μὲν ἀπὸ μέ||ρους πεῖραν λαβόν|τα̣ς̣ τῆς ἡμετέρας | γνώμης, πολλ̣ὰ̣ δέ̣ | με̣ ἤπειξε πρὸς τοὺς | ἐμοὺς γενέσθαι, πρῶ||τον μὲν τὸ διʼ ἐνιαυ|τ[ο]ῦ αὐτοὺς θεάσασθαι, εἶ|τα τὸ βούλεσθαι πρὸ | χε̣ιμῶνος καταλῖ|ψαι τὴν Αἴγυπτον. || ἐλπίζω οὖν μετὰ | τρεῖς καὶ ἐγὼ πρὸς | ὑμᾶς ἐλθεῖν καὶ | τὰ περὶ ἐμοῦ ὑμῖν | ἐξηγήσασθαι. ἀσπα||σθαι τὴν ἀδελφὴν | Ἱερω̣ν[ί]δ̣α μετὰ Ἰου|λίου το[ῦ συ]μ̣β̣ίου καὶ | Ἰσιδώ[ραν(?)] μ̣ε̣τὰ̣ τ̣ῶ(ν) | [ ̣ ̣] ̣ ̣[⁦ -ca.?- ⁩] | — — — — — — — — — —

{verso} || ἀπ(όδος) Ἰουλίῳ καὶ Ἱλάρῳ ἀδελφοῖς | π(αρὰ) Ἀμμωνίου.


Source of translation: B.P. Grenfell and A.S. Hunt, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, vol. 14 (London: Egypt Exploration Society, 1920), public domain, adapted by Harland.

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