Government and Private Organizations: The Functions of the Egyptian Associations in the First Century A.D.

Jinyu Liu

DePauw University

An abundance of papyrological materials has been published since the publication of San Nicolo' book about the associations in the Ptolemaic and Roman times, which remains the only synthetic study in that area in the past ninety years.  Despite the excellent contributions by Peter van Minnen and Ilias Arnaoutoglou from the points of view of economic and legal history respectively, this material has not yet been fully explored to shed light on the nature and functions of the Egyptian associations and their relationship with the notoriously complicated administrative structure.

What was the relationship between the associations and the government? How and to what extent did this relationship affect the functions of the associations? To what extent did these associations function as protective and regulatory bodies of their respective trades? These are the main issues that this paper explores. I suggest that the associations were required to publicly register themselves but that the government did not actively seek to regulate the functions of the associations. The use of associations as tax-paying units, for example, was hardly institutionalized in the first century AD. The operation of the associations was based on contractual rather than legal provisions.

It is often suggested that the government depended on the associations to restrain their members and to keep order. This paper shows the other side of the coin, that is, the associations would use the public registration of the agreement of the association members to provide security to their agreement and to exert pressure on the members to fulfill their obligations.


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