Egyptian Grape Guards Ancient Contract Decoded

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
June 5, 2023

I agree that I have made a contract with you on the condition that I guard your property, a vineyard near the village Panoouei, from the present day until vintage and transport, so that there be no negligence, and on the condition that I receive in return for pay for all of the aforementioned time.
These are the words written by a guard hired to protect a vineyard in ancient Egypt, as described in a new paper published in the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists .  The text has come to light thanks to the translation of a 1,600-year-old labour contract scrawled in Greek on a piece of papyrus, dating back to a time when the Roman Empire was in control of Egypt.

The ancient document had been sitting in a collection at the University of Michigan for nearly a century, before it was pulled out by Kyle Helms, a classics doctoral student at the University of Cincinnati, who translated the text for the first time.

In ancient times, guards were hired to protect vineyards from marauding people and animals. Sometimes, specially constructed two level stone towers enabled the guards to have a view over the vineyards. At other times, they simply roamed the field, warding off any animals that might trample or gnaw on the vines.  Some ancient sources describe grape thieves who violently beat the watchmen so they could steal the fruit in order to make their own wine. Helms explained that crime could be especially high from July to September, the time of the harvest.

Scholars are unclear where the ancient village of Panoouei is located as it is the first mention of it. Vineyards were found throughout the country from the Delta in the north to El-ephantine, an ancient city several hundred miles south along the Nile.