Egypt, 4th cent. A.D. (Grenfell papyrus I.53. G)

The abrupt style and eccentric spelling of these letters give convey an unusual sense of spontaneity. The addresses of neither husband nor wife are specified, and the precise nature of the problem described is not entirely clear: presumably some male member of Artemis’ household has become the lover of one of Sarapion’s daughters.

Artemis to Theodorus her own husband. Above all I pray to the dear Lord that we have found you well. I have sent this letter and maforte[1] with your fellow soldier Apion. Your children send their love and Allous often complains of you, for although you have written frequently and sent love to everyone to her alone you have not sent your love! Ara sends her love.

(The enclosed letter) Artemis to Sarapion also known as Isidorus. The soldier Phanes writes and you are continuing in your folly. May the prefect swiftly suppress your folly. He writes me that you are amazed at me, and say that the prefect does not want home-wreckers. If you want to condone the prostitution of your daughters, do not criticise me but blame the elders of the church [if I tell you] how these daughters of yours have made their escape by saying ‘we want husbands’ and how Lucra was caught in the act with her lover, after she made herself a neighbourhood nuisance;[2] as a result of this they hate me because for your sake we have described their actions. If you know who the man is, put up with it; we are the first to reveal that he is of better birth than someone; and I myself am hardly the daughter of a slave! 

I am writing this to you, Theodorus, so that [Sarapion] will make every effort because of the situation and it is essential that you show him the letter. Give this to Theodorus the soldier from his son [sic]. 


1. A late Latin word derived from Hebrew for a cloth used as a covering.

2. A woman’s sexual misbehaviour makes the husband a laughing-stock in no. 55 and no. 57.