Among the documents shedding light on funeral practices in Graeco-Roman Egypt is this incomplete sheet of papyrus from the Western Desert.

It preserves a letter from over 1,700 years ago addressed to Sarapion and Silvanus. The writer, Melas, was complaining about their behaviour. The men had failed to collect the body of a certain Phibion, taken there by a funerary worker (nekrotaphos), and to pay for the funeral expenses. However, they had collected his belongings. Phibion is presented as their ’brother’: although the term does not necessarily imply familiar relation in the papyri, in such a case it may well be that Phibion was their brother.

Melas then lists all the expenses that he himself had covered and now wishes to claim back, the total of which amounted to 520 drachmas. As common in accounts, each entry includes figures: at the end of the lines there is a sinusoid (or ‘double curve’), a symbol for drachma, followed by letters of the alphabet that stand for numbers. The total is given in lines 29-33, first spelled out and then repeated through symbols and figures.