Love Thy (Theban) Neighbours

Posted on 24 November 2015

Talk: Silke Vanbeselaere (KU Leuven), “Love Thy (Theban) Neighbours, or how neighbour networks could help us solve the witness issue in Ptolemaic contracts”


Date: Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Time: starting at 17:00 c.t. (i.e. 17:15)

Venue: DAI, Wiegandhaus, Podbielskiallee 69-71, D-14195 Berlin (map)


In a first stage of the project on Theban witnesses in Demotic documents, we illustrated social network analysis and data visualisation as a technique for identifying and disambiguating historic actors in a large dataset. This next phase will present you with an example of how historical research can evolve after having used the identification method.

Inspired by Padgett and Ansell’s seminal paper on the Medici: “Robust Action and the Rise of the Medici 1400-1434”, we now aim to explore different types of relationships attested in the Theban sources and compare the resulting networks.

There has been a substantial amount of research undertaken into the Theban scribes and contracting parties, but witnesses have often been left out. The most important reason for that neglect is the scarcity of information on these witnesses. With nothing more than a name and patronymic, there is not much to go on. However, without the knowledge of how these witnesses were chosen or what their place was in the Theban community, the scribal community and its functioning cannot be fully understood.

Moving on from solely focusing on the interpersonal links between the three main actors of the Demotic contracts: the scribe, the two contracting parties and the witnesses, we are now including information that is often overlooked, in particular the information on neighbours of the contracting parties.

Most of these contracts discuss the sale, inheritance or redistribution of land and real estate. It is logical that the mentioned neighbours are important for our understanding of the location of the properties discussed, but it may seem more elusive as to why we are now including information on neighbours in our study of witnesses.

While studying other scribal practices in the Ancient Near East, we stumbled upon their possible importance in interpreting our networks. Not only were we alerted to the highly likely family connections between neighbours - and thus between people mentioned as contracting parties and neighbours in our contracts - but also to the appearance of neighbours as witnesses in certain contracts as people with an interest in the transaction.

While trying to deal with the specific difficulties of historical network analysis, such as the consideration of time in relationships and the directionality of relations in contracts and other written historical documents, we aim to study the neighbourhood networks, scribal networks and family networks individually and as a whole. The similarities and discrepancies should tell us something more on the choice of witnesses, functioning of the scribal and, in extension, the whole of the Theban community.


Or you can download the file from here (6,2 MB).



Or you can download the file from here (593 MB).


Or you can download the file from here (370 MB).