In the ancient Egyptian tradition, the calf was one of the animals chosen to be sacrificed in temples. The Greek historian Herodotus (d. c. 425 BC) states that the purity of this animal had to be assessed by the temple priests. If the animal was clean, a seal was placed around its horns to mark its purity. Only these calves could be sacrificed on the altar. After describing how the animal was killed, Herodotus adds that the calf’s head, once removed from its body, could be sold at the market if there were Greek traders. If there were not, the head was thrown into the river.
This practice continued in Graeco-Roman Egypt, and from the early second to the third century a tax on the sacrifice of a calf is attested in surviving sources. The Greek papyri from Roman Egypt preserve a few receipts acknowledging the tax paid by individuals who mostly originate from Soknopaiou Nesos (Dimeh), a village in the Fayum region located on the northern shore of Lake Moeris. An example of such a receipt is this papyrus dated to 29 March 188, which confirms that a certain Horion paid the required tax, though the total amount is not stated. From what these receipts tell us, it appears that the sacrifice of the calf would usually take place on the same day as when the payment was made.
- Article by:
- Cillian O’Hogan
- Papyri, The makers of Greek manuscripts
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