Egyptian Dates

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This page gives access to a set of conversion tables for determining the Julian equivalent of Egyptian civil and lunar dates in the Ptolemaic era. Two tables are provided: a table converting civil dates to Julian dates, and a table notionally converting lunar dates to civil dates according to the lunar cycle of pCarlsberg 9.

In this section, several topics are discussed:

The Financial Year

The Evidence

The financial year is not described in any source and is only known from the papyrological record. It was first identified by J. G. Smyly, Hermathena 14 (1907) 106, and studied in detail in H. Frank, AfP 11 (1935) 1. Its existence and its operation is clear from three types of evidence, as summarised in A. E. Samuel, Ptolemaic Chronology 78f.:

From this data, it is clear that the government operated a financial year alongside the civil year, which used the same calendar year but began on a different date. Financial years were numbered similarly to ordinary civil years. Under Ptolemy II, Ptolemy III and Ptolemy IV, the financial year ran ahead of the civil year, which indicates that they succeeded between 1 Thoth and the beginning of the financial year, around 1 Mecheir. Financial years were numbered similarly to ordinary civil years, but the transition between two consecutive years occurred on 1 Mecheir, not 1 Thoth. Under Ptolemy II, Ptolemy III and Ptolemy IV, the financial year ran ahead of the civil year, which indicates that they succeeded between 1 Thoth and the beginning of the financial year.

The precise Egyptian date it began is not completely certain. Since Smyly's original publication, it has generally been held, in light of the accounting data given above, that the financial year ran from 1 Mecheir to 30 Tybi. In almost all cases of demotic/Greek double dates from the reigns of Ptolemy II and Ptolemy III, the dates differ in year number for dates in Mecheir or later. Papyri with bilingual dates before Mecheir almost always use the same year number.

However, F. Uebel, Proc XIV Int. Congress of Papyrologists, 313 at 322 n. 27 noted the following papyri with double dates characteristic of the financial year that appear to show that the financial year could start in Tybi:

Some of these readings may be dismissed. P. W. Pestman, Chronologie égyptienne d'après les textes démotiques 128 had noted problems with readings of pdem Lille 1.4 and 1.9:

The remaining Lille papyri in this list were published after Pestman's work (F. de Cenival, Cautionnements démotiques). However, J. Bingen, CdE 50 (1975) 239 at 247, accepted the readings, noting also that pdem Lille 2.96 also had the date Tybi year 22 in Greek. He also noted that certain other papyri in the same series were dated to Tybi without a double date (pdem Lille 2.39 (year 23); pdem Lille 2.77 (year 25); pdem Lille 2.95 (year 18)), while yet others were dated to Mecheir without a double year number, when one would have been expected (pdem Lille 2.58 (year 23); pdem Lille 2.63 (year 22)). Unfortunately, no day numbers are preserved in any of these papyri.

F. Uebel, Proc XIV Int. Congress of Papyrologists, 313 at 318, argued from pPetr. 3.109(a) and pPetr. 3.109(b), and from UPZ 2.153, that the precise date could only be shown to lie between 26 Tybi and 4 Mecheir. J. Bingen, CdE 50 (1975) 239 at 248, concluded that there was a certain laxness about the transition. While noting Bingen's caution that some of the evidence he cites implies an argument from silence, I am inclined to agree with him.

Clearly, apparently financial dates around Tybi and Mecheir should be treated with some caution. Nevertheless, 1 Mecheir is certainly very close to the actual date and may be assumed as a convenient convention unless and until evidence emerges to show otherwise.

The Origins of the Financial Year

Until recently, the earliest clear example of a financial date was oStrasb. Gd. 25, dated Mesore year 27=28 = Sept/Oct 258 (P. W. Pestman, Chronologie égyptienne d'après les textes démotiques 20, 21). The difficulty in reliably dating early Ptolemaic ostraca with lower-numbered double dates of this form is that the year numbers could apply to either Ptolemy II or Ptolemy III. This problem has largely been resolved by a recent study of the prospopography of taxpayers, officials and scribes named in demotic taxation ostraca (B. P. Muhs, Fs Pestman 71, and B. P. Muhs, Tax Receipts, Taxpayers, and Taxes in Early Ptolemaic Thebes). Muhs established clear criteria for assigning many types of taxation ostraca to the reigns of Ptolemy II or Ptolemy III (and possibly earlier -- see below). As a result, odem BM 20265 (S. V. Wångstedt, OrSuec 27-8 (1978/9) 5 at 10 no V), dated 10 Payni year 23=24, which is a receipt for payment of the salt tax at a rate prevailing under Ptolemy II, and which was signed by a scribe who signed receipts for other individuals securely dated to Ptolemy II, can now be assigned to Ptolemy II, and dated to 4 July 262.

However, it is likely that the system was introduced earlier, around year 21. In those years, the Macedonian regnal year is projected to have started around the beginning of Mecheir, 28 March 267 or 265. H. Frank, AfP 11 (1935) 1 at 19f., suggested that the system was introduced around this time to eliminate the uncertainty in the tax year caused by the drift of the Macedonian calendar. P. W. Pestman, Chronologie égyptienne d'après les textes démotiques 6, suggested that a change in year 19 would coincide with the introduction of the (Egyptian) coregency-based regnal era, but also noted that a change in year 21 gave the closest coincidence of 1 Mecheir with the start of the Macedonian year.

Frank's theory that the financial year was introduced to compensate for drift of the Macedonian calendar against the Egyptian civil year implies that before this time the tax year was based on the regnal year. Until recently it has not been possible to test this model because no taxation records of an annually assessed tax from this period were known that could be certainly assigned to the period before year 21 of Ptolemy II.

S. V. Wångstedt, OrSuec 17 (1968) 28, proposed to assign a number of demotic ostraca receipts for NHb (yoke) and NHT (of uncertain meaning) taxes to Ptolemy II, and others to Ptolemy III. However, noting that there was a gap in the demotic record for Ptolemy II for years 17 and 18, P. W. Pestman, Chronologie Égyptienne d'après les textes démotiques 18, proposed that this marked the transition from his accession-based Egyptian civil year to his coregency-based Egyptian civil year. Since the receipts for NHb and NHT taxes included receipts dated to Egyptian years 17 and 18, D. Devauchelle (ed.), Ostraca démotiques du Musée du Louvre 26, argued that they could not belong to Ptolemy II and assigned them all to Ptolemy III; E. Grzybek, Du calendrier macédonien au calendrier ptolémaïque, 118ff., assigned them to Ptolemy I for the same reason. However, B. P. Muhs, Fs Pestman, 71, showed on prosopographical grounds that the payers and scribes named in these receipts do most plausibly fit in the reign of Ptolemy II. With this study, and with B. P. Muhs, Tax Receipts, Taxpayers, and Taxes in Early Ptolemaic Thebes, Muhs has greatly improved our ability to assign these ostraca to specific reigns. In particular, he showed that the NHb and NHT taxes were discontinued at the end of tax year 21 of Ptolemy II, and replaced by the @mA (salt) tax.

S. P. Vleeming, Ostraka Varia, 38f., noted that quite a few of these receipts were dated in year <N+1> for payment of tax for year <N>, and proposed that they represented an Egyptian form of the financial year in which the financial year ran behind the civil year, rather than ahead of it (i.e. FY <N> (Eg.) = FY <N+1> (Mac.)). Since Vleeming accepted Devauchelle's assignment of these ostraca to Ptolemy III, he implicitly supposed that this financial year ran alongside the better-known form described above. Since it is now apparent that many of them actually date from before the creation of the financial year, one might suppose that these represent data that we can use to test Frank's hypothesis. However, B. P. Muhs, Tax Receipts, Taxpayers, and Taxes in Early Ptolemaic Thebes, 29, has argued that these receipts are simply for payments in arrears. While this is certainly true in one case (odem Louvre 88), and may well be so in others, Vleeming's analysis suggests that this is is not the principal explanation.

There is an additional feature of these receipts which suggests that Vleeming is correct, and also suggests an explanation for these double dates. In B. P. Muhs, Fs Pestman, 71, Muhs argued that the year used to date these ostraca was the ordinary civil year of Ptolemy II. There is one significant problem with Muhs' theory: two of the receipts record tax payments for NHb and NHT taxes in years 30 and 33. There is apparently no doubt about the readings. But the only such years in the Ptolemaic dynasty before year 21 of Ptolemy II are Macedonian regnal years of Ptolemy I. These two receipts, therefore, constitute prima facie evidence for Frank's theory that the tax years in these receipts are based on Macedonian regnal years, not Egyptian civil years. While the actual receipt date is evidently tied to the Egyptian year, the year number used is apparently normally derived from that of the Macedonian regnal year beginning in that year, rather than the ordinary Egyptian civil year number, based on the anniversary of accession.

There is a further complication unique to Ptolemy II. He became coregent with his father in Dystros (Mac.), so his actual Macedonian regnal year was initially aligned with that of his father, which (most likely) began in Daisios (Mac.). Consequently, his first notional regnal year was short, running from Dystros to Daisios, but when he became sole king, his third Macedonian year was also short, running from Daisios to Dystros, with the net effect that his Macedonian year numbers ran in advance of Egyptian years based on his coregency, rather than behind them as one would expect if Dystros year 1 marked his actual accession. However, since we have NHb tax receipts dated to years 1 and 2, we can conclude that he was in charge of tax administration right from the start of his coregency, so that a tax year number was always based on Dystros (Mac.), which, in his first two decades, generally corresponded to Tybi (Eg.). The result would be that his tax year number fell a full year behind his Macedonian regnal year once he became sole ruler.

If so, we should expect to see, before the introduction of the separate financial year, that receipts before the change of the regnal year in Egyptian year N, usually in Tybi, should all or almost all be for year N-1, while receipts after the change of the regnal year should all or almost all be for year N. On the other hand, if Muhs' theory that the mismatched dates simply reflect payments in arrears, we should expect to see late payments throughout the year, perhaps tailing off in later months, but without an abrupt change in distribution.

Vleeming's view was based on the published ostrace from Elephantine and Thebes, but he did not publish a distribution analysis, and his results are combined with data for taxes such as the salt tax that were certainly introduced after the creation of the financial year. The following chart shows the distribution of the dates of receipts for NHb and NHT taxes in the years in which these taxes are known, as given by the published sources I have located. Where I am aware of alternate readings, dates are shown according to the original publication, unless there are strong circumstantial reasons to prefer the alternate reading.

Only those receipts which explicitly state both the year of the tax and the year of the receipt are listed, except for the italicised receipts D1424, D933 and H77, which are for early years that are otherwise undocumented. Bolded receipts are those stating that payments for taxes of year <N> were made in year <N+1>; unbolded receipts are those stating that payments for taxes of year <N> were made in year <N>. Receipts are identified by catalogue number in published catalogues as follows:

D = D. Devauchelle (ed.), Ostraca démotiques du Musée du Louvre
H = G. R. Hughes et al., Catalog of Demotic Texts in the Brooklyn Museum
Ma = G. Mattha (ed.), Demotic Ostraca
Mu = B. P. Muhs, Tax Receipts, Taxpayers, and Taxes in Early Ptolemaic Thebes
S = M. Smith in S. P. Vleeming, Ostraka Varia, 39-40 nn. 90, 92, 93
V = S. P. Vleeming, Ostraka Varia
W = S. V. Wångstedt, OrSuec 17 (1968) 28
W2 = S. V. Wångstedt, OrSuec 19-20 (1971/2) 23
W3 = S. V. Wångstedt, Ausgewählte demotische Ostraka

While the record is not perfect, it seems clear that the Vleeming's model is in fact correct: almost all mismatched year numbers are in or before before Tybi, and very few matched year numbers fall in these months. Also, there are virtually no receipts for Mecheir, which suggests that it was already the first month after the end of the tax year, when tax collection activity would normally be light. Finally, Vleeming showed that virtually all receipts known to him which are apparently out of alignment on the preferred reading of the original publication are susceptible to alternate readings that place them in alignment, and the same is true of the additional receipts published since his work (though it is unclear whether he reexamined apparently aligned receipts for confirmation).









































































































































W30 W32












































V49 W333








W11 W12

















































W2 Ma220









Mu58 W21 Ma221














W21 W24 Ma217


















V9 Ma218























Notes on some individual ostraca:

The End of the Financial Year

I have not located any study of the system's end. The latest explicit date I have found is pEnt 80: 22 Mesore financial year 6 (assigned to Ptolemy IV rather than Ptolemy III on prosopographical grounds) and pdem Lille 2.94, dated to Phamenoth year 6=7 of Ptolemy IV. However, W. Clarysse, Anc. Soc. 7 (1976) 185, noted that pStrasb. 6.562, dated Thoth of year 8 -- late October/early November 215 -- refers to a shipment of grain out of the harvest of year 8. This must refer to the harvest of c May/June 215 = Pharmouthi/Pachons year 7, and since the Macedonian year started around Epeiph/Mesore -- August/September -- at this time, the harvest can only be accounted as that of year 8 if the reference is to the financial year. This is the latest certain use of the financial year I have found.

I have found two suggestions of a later use. E. Bikerman (CdE 15 (1940) 128) argued that the earliest dated document of Ptolemy V, UPZ 1.112, showed the use of the financial year in Mesore of year 1 of Ptolemy V. This papyrus concerns the sale of taxes for the first and second years from the month of Mesore for 12 months and 5 epagomenal days. Since this is a financial transaction, Bikerman concluded that the document dates to the first financial year, starting in 1 Mecheir (Eg.). and hence that Ptolemy V must have succeeded between 1 Mecheir and 1 Mesore (Eg.). The conclusion is accepted by A. E. Samuel, Ptolemaic Chronology, 111f., and has since been confirmed by other data. However, the confirmation of the result does not confirm the logic of Bikerman's reasoning: Mesore year 1 is also a valid date in the civil calendar.

The second suggestion is more convincing: S. Lippert (pers. comm. 2006) notes an unpublished Tebtunis papyrus dated Choiak year 1 = 2 of Ptolemy V. If the financial year were still used in this reign, the relationship between the financial and civil years prevailing in the previous three reigns would have been reversed: financial year numbers would be one behind civil year numbers from 1 Thoth to 30 Choiak, showing the form "year N (Eg.) = year N-1 (Gr.)". This double date, if valid, conforms to this pattern and would appear to show the persistence of the financial year through the entire reign of Ptolemy IV. If so, the double date is probably the latest we will find. Modern projections show that at the beginning of the reign the Macedonian regnal year was well aligned to the Egyptian civil year, and it is generally agreed that the Macedonian calendar was subordinated to the Egyptian calendar in this reign, though the exact date is unknown. In these circumstances, the financial year would be more confusing than useful. For these reasons, it seems to me that the chances are high that it ceased to exist early in the reign of Ptolemy V, though direct evidence of the reform apparently remains to be found.

The Chronological Significance of Financial Years

A. E. Samuel, Ptolemaic Chronology 90f., has argued that not all of the double dates of the form <Egyptian date> year N = N+1 equate the civil and financial years. He pointed to two examples which, he argued, could not possibly refer to the financial year:

Thus, the possibility of a reference to the financial year is not excluded in either case. In any event, I very much doubt that the Greek component in dates of this form could refer to the Macedonian regnal year, since they do not mention a Macedonian month nor even an eponymous priest. Until there is clear evidence to the contrary, it seems to me that the default assumption should be that these double dates all equate civil years with financial years.

It has been supposed that we can go further. For C. C. Edgar, Zenon Papyri in the University of Michigan Collection 50f., all Greek documents from the reigns of Ptolemy II and III, whether financial or not, were dated either by the Macedonian regnal year or by the financial year, but never by the Egyptian civil year. T. C. Skeat, JEA 34 (1948) 75, makes the same assumption in discussing a set of Macedonian / Egyptian double dates. However, there is at least one counterexample: pColZen 3.10, a Greek document dated 7 Phamenoth year 28 and docketed on 2 Xandikos year 29. In this case the Egyptian year number cannot be financial but must be civil, since the month is after Mecheir but the year is still behind the Greek year.

A. E. Samuel, Ptolemaic Chronology 79-81, did not discuss the general proposition advanced by Edgar. However, he particularly objected to Skeat's arguments on the grounds that the documents he discussed were not financial documents, just as he had objected to regarding pEleph 26 as being dated by the financial year on the same grounds. He concluded that the equations involved in Skeat's documents must be between Egyptian civil and Macedonian regnal years.

In my view, Samuel's argument, as presented, is not very strong:

While Skeat's approach allows reasonable dates to be found for the documents under consideration, it results in other difficulties for the reconstruction of the Macedonian calendar under Ptolemy III, notably in the phasing of intercalary months and the alignment of the regnal years. However, these issues are mostly important for establishing the chronology of the Macedonian calendar. Otherwise, financial years are generally not significant for establishing Ptolemaic chronology, except for acting as a spoiler, introducing a possible uncertainty of 1 year into a conversion. This is particularly confusing at the boundary of two reigns. For example, there are several papyri apparently dated to late in (Egyptian) year 26 of Ptolemy III (pSorb 1.41, pSorb 1.49 etc -- see J. Bingen, CdE 50 (1975) 235 at 239) which must be understood as being dated by the 26th financial year rather than year 25 of the ordinary civil year, which was his last complete regnal year.

7 Oct 2006: added S's comments on receipts in the distribution table, previously overlooked (thanks to Brian Muhs)
14 Oct 2006: corrected date of V8 (thanks to Mark Depauw). Added notes on pdem Lille for variations in start of FY.
28 Dec 2010: Note Lippert's unpublished FY double date of Choiak year 1=2 Ptolemy V as the latest known FY date. (Thanks to Sandra Lippert and apologies for not updating this point much earlier!).

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