A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
A single Greek word, ginesthoi, or "make it so," written at the bottom of a Ptolemaic papyrus may have been written by the Egyptian queen Cleopatra VII herself, says Dutch papyrologist Peter van Minnen of the University of Groningen. Received in Alexandria on Mecheir 26 (February 23, 33 B.C.), the papyrus text, recycled for use in the construction of a cartonnage mummy case found by a German expedition at Abusir in 1904, appears to be a royal ordinance granting tax exemption to one Publius Canidius, an associate of Mark Antony's who would command his land army during the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C. The text reads as follows:
We have granted to Publius Canidius and his heirs the annual exportation of 10,000 artabas [300 tons] of wheat and the annual importation of 5,000 Coan amphoras [ca. 34,500 gallons] of wine without anyone exacting anything in taxes from him or any other expense whatsoever. We have also granted tax exemption on all the land he owns in Egypt on the understanding that he shall not pay any taxes, either to the state account or to the account of me and my children, in any way in perpetuity. We have also granted that all his tenants are exempt from personal liabilities and from taxes without anyone exacting anything from them, not even contributing to the occasional assessments in the nomes or paying for expenses for soldiers or officers. We have also granted that the animals used for plowing and sowing as well as the beasts of burden and the ships used for the transportation [down the Nile] of the wheat are likewise exempt from 'personal' liabilities and from taxes and cannot be commandeered [by the army]. Let it be written to those to whom it may concern, so that knowing it they can act accordingly.
Make it so!
"Written in an upright hand by a court scribe, the document was meant to be an internal note from Cleopatra to a high official charged with notifying other high officials in Alexandria," says van Minnen. "The personal nature of the communication is evident in the lack of any formal introduction of Cleopatra herself (she is not even mentioned by name) and the absence of a title after the name of the official to whom it was addressed (the name cannot be read)." The manuscript is not one of the copies received by the other officials, as there is no forwarding note attached to it and because it was executed in multiple hands. The text of the ordinance was written first, Cleopatra's written approval second, and the date of the document's receipt in Alexandria third. As for the "make it so" subscription, there are only two parallels from antiquity, says van Minnen, citing one of Ptolemy X Alexander I, who signed a document "take care" in Greek in 99 B.C. and another such closing penned in Latin by the fifth-century Roman emperor Theodosius II in a petition to Appion, the bishop of Syene.
According to Lorelei Corcoran of the University of Memphis, such documents would have been both written and signed by a court scribe; however, given the nature of this particular papyrus, Cleopatra herself would have been the only one who would have had the authority to approve such edicts. The document, known as Berlin P 25 239, is on display at the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung in Berlin.