Gemellus' Evil Eyes (P.Mich. Vi 423-424)

Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 49 (2009) 535–555

21 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2015

See all articles by Ari Z Bryen

Ari Z Bryen

Vanderbilt University - Department of History

Andrzej Wypustek

University of Wroclaw

Date Written: February 11, 2009


In A.D. 197 a Roman and Antinoite citizen named Gemellus Horion, a landholder in Karanis, filed a series of petitions in which he describes a strange sequence of events: his neighbors Iulius and Sotas, he claims, had come onto his land and attempted to repossess it, since, he says, “they looked down on me because of my weak vision.” In response to this behavior Gemellus sent a petition to the prefect, Quintus Aemilius Saturninus, who authorized Gemellus to approach the epistrategos (P.Mich. VI 422). In the intervening time, perhaps a few weeks, Sotas died, and Iulius, along with his wife and a man named Zenas, came onto his land carrying a brephos — a fetus — so that they could “encircle (his tenant farmer) with phthonos (malicious envy).” After frightening Gemellus’ tenant farmer they stole the crops that he had been harvesting. When Gemellus and two village officials approached Iulius about the incident, Iulius threw the brephos at Gemellus in the presence of the officials, since, according to Gemellus, they also wanted to encircle him with phthonos. Iulius retrieved the brephos and took the remainder of the crops. Concerning this second incident Gemellus sent a petition to the strategos, Hierax, asking him to make an official record of the incident so that he could report it at his upcoming hearing with the epistrategos. This request dates to May 197, and is preserved in two copies, P.Mich. 423 and 424. All three of these papyri are private copies, and were found in a group of documents from a house and courtyard in Karanis. In content these two documents are unlike other petitions, which largely record less puzzling and more quotidian offenses, primarily theft and assault. Most scholars have shared the conclusion of the initial editors, that these papyri reflect an instance of a public assault by magic. If this is the case, then these papyri document a type of conflict that is otherwise unparalleled in the papyrological record, despite the Roman legal system’s willingness to entertain such charges.

Keywords: Roman Egypt, Roman History, Magic, Envy, Law, Petitions

Suggested Citation

Bryen, Ari Z and Wypustek, Andrzej, Gemellus' Evil Eyes (P.Mich. Vi 423-424) (February 11, 2009). Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 49 (2009) 535–555. Available at SSRN:

Ari Z Bryen (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Department of History ( email )

VU Station B #351802
2301 Vanderbilt Place, 227 Benson Hall
Nashville, TN 37235-1802
United States

Andrzej Wypustek

University of Wroclaw ( email )

pl. Uniwersytecki 1
Wrocław, Lower Silesia Province 50-137

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