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Women's Letters from Ancient Egypt, 300 BC-AD 800

Roger S. Bagnall and Raffaella Cribiore
The private letters of ancient women in Egypt from Alexander the Great to the Arab conquest

Description

More than three hundred letters written in Greek and Egyptian by women in Egypt in the millennium from Alexander the Great to the Arab conquest survive on papyrus and pottery. Written by women from various walks of life, they shed light on critical social aspects of life in Egypt after the pharaohs. Roger S. Bagnall and Raffaella Cribiore collect the best preserved letters in translation and set them in their paleographic, linguistic, social, and economic contexts. The authors' analysis suggests that women's habits, interests, and means of expression were a product more of their social and economic standing than of specifically gender-related concerns or behavior. They present theoretical discussions about the handwriting and language of the letters, the education and culture of the writers' everyday concerns and occupations. Numerous illustrations display the varieties of handwriting.

"This important collection makes available to students and scholars a vast trove of letters attributed to women that is unparalleled in the ancient world."
Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"Bagnall and Cribiore combine an elegant presentation of translations of women's letters from Greek and Roman Egypt with thoughtful and penetrating analyses. . . .This book will revolutionize our understanding of women and literacy in Greek and Roman Egypt."
—T.G. Wilfong, University of Michigan

"This comprehensive collection of papyrus letters by women makes an outstanding contribution to women's history, exemplary in the combination of scholarly rigor with accessible presentation."
—Jane Rowlandson, King's College London

Roger S. Bagnall is Professor of Ancient History and Leon Levy Director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University.

Raffaella Cribiore is Professor of Classics at New York University.

Praise / Awards

  • "Women's Letters from Ancient Egypt is a remarkable accomplishment. Bagnall and Cribiore combine an elegant presentation of translations of women's letters from Greek and Roman Egypt with thoughtful and penetrating analyses. The end result is a self-contained, readable and fascinating publication of a rich body of evidence. This book combines the guilty pleasure of reading other people's mail with the edification of greater insight into the ancient world. Thanks to the authors' expert commentary, the women (and men) of Greek and Roman Egypt come to life through countless vivid details in their own words. This book will revolutionize our understanding of women and literacy in Greek and Roman Egypt."
    —T. G. Wilfong, Associate Professor of Egyptology, Department of Near Eastern Studies and Associate Curator for Graeco-Roman Egypt, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan
  • "This comprehensive collection of papyrus letters by women makes an outstanding contribution to women's history, exemplary in the combination of scholarly rigor with accessible presentation. Ten brief but authoritative introductory chapters contextualise the following comprehensive collection of women's letters from Greco-Roman Egypt, which allow unprecedented access in English translation to ancient women's own voices and their daily concerns."
    —Jane Rowlandson, Senior Research Fellow in Ancient History, King's College London, University of London
  • "Beautifully written; imaginative use of comparative material (the Paston letters); the best presentation to date of the only way to find out what ordinary women did and thought in classical antiquity; set in the multilingual, multicultural world of Greco-Roman Egypt, covering over a thousand years; goes into the nuts and bolts of how to read a papyrus letter -- handwriting, vocabulary, changes over time; explains how to tell a scribe's work from a woman's words; really thinks about women's lives, literacy, self-expression, informed by intelligent reading in comparative social history as well as by years of grueling expeditions into the Egyptian deserts. A milestone in social history."
    —Amy Richlin, Professor of Classics, University of California, Los Angeles
  • "At last! A comprehensive collection of known women's letters from Alexander the Great to the end of the eighth century C.E., this volume provides a wonderful window onto the daily lives of women in antiquity. Here we catch glimpses of their concerns in work and family life, health and legal issues, economic exchanges, and religious practices. Bagnall and Cribiore's excellent introduction to the collection offers a necessary corrective to a simplistic and transparent reading of the letters. An essential volume for all who are interested in gender and the socio-historical fabric of ancient life.

    A wonderful window onto the daily lives of women in antiquity. An essential volume for those interested in the socio-historical fabric of ancient life."
    —Kim Haines-Eitzen, Associate Professor of Early Christianity Department of Near Eastern Studies, Cornell University
  • "This important collection makes available to students and scholars a vast trove of letters attributed to women that is unparalleled in the ancient world. These documents were written on papyrus and ostraca and appear here in English translation . . . For senior scholars to publish a collection like this one is an act of altruism for which all who study women must be grateful."
    Bryn Mawr Classical Review

  • "This valuable collection makes available in English translation all letters written by women in Egypt from the reign of Alexander to the end of the Greco-Coptic period in the late eighth century. In bringing these artifacts to a broader audience in such a clear and conscientious manner, the editors of this work have done a great service."
    —Bret Mulligan, The Journal of Hellenic Studies

  • "With its unique introduction to Egyptian feminine epistolography of the classical and late periods, this volume is a useful resource to fill out the otherwise predominantly androcentric classical sources...These letters tease and tantalize with their brief glances into the lives of ordinary women, their problems and their joys."
    --CJ-Online

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Copyright © 2006, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 440pp.
  • 32 B&W photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2006
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11506-8

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  • $95.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2015
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03622-6

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  • $45.00 U.S.

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Keywords

  • Egypt, Greece, Rome, women, daily life, papyri, papyrology, everyday life, gender

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