Notaries in Ancient Egypt, 2750 BC
The first notaries were the notaries in Ancient Egypt. By recording official transactions, they played a key role in the development of government, commerce and organized society.
Scribes were a part of the ancient Egyptian bureaucracy, recording personal letters, official proclamations, tax records, written communications, and other documents.
Scribes were considered part of the royal court and did not have to engage in manual labor, pay tax or join the military.
The closing phrase used in ancient letters, “May you be well when you hear this,” implies that scribes also read communications aloud to people. Many people were illiterate, so the notaries in Ancient Egypt were highly valuable in documenting history.
Papyrus was one media used for record-keeping, but does not have a long life, except under ideal conditions. Reed brushes and pens, dipped in ink, were used for writing.
The successful Egyptian society had laws, but archaeologists have not found any national law code, similar to the Code of Hammurabi of Babylon. Decrees were made by the pharaoh (king), who was considered a god.
Egyptian courts were judicial and also served as notary agencies. Important documents could be formally recorded by court scribes on behalf of illiterate people.
Notaries in Ancient Egypt sealed official documents with a cartouche, and were held in high status. Since they read all documents, they were well aware of important transactions and communications in their region.
Photo credit: King Tut ring with cartouche, “Egypte louvre 148”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Greek Notaries in Ancient Egypt
In 333 BC, Alexander the Great invaded Egypt, bringing a Greek government into power for a thousand years, until the Arab invasion in 640 AD. The Macedonian dynasty of the Ptolemies, ruled from the Greek city of Alexandria, until 30 BC, when the Romans gained control.
The English name Egypt is derived from the ancient Greek word for the country, Aígyptos. Pharaoh comes from the Greek word pharaô, from the ancient Egyptian word for Great House or palace of the king.
Some Egyptian scribes took Greek names and learned to write Greek. There were Greek notaries and Egyptian notaries during the Ptolemy reign. The Rosetta Stone, issued in 196 BC, contains a decree by Ptolemy V, written in Egyptian hieroglyphs, demotic script and Greek.
Temples were not only religious institutions, but also performed economic and administrative functions. There was no separation of church and state. Temples were part of the state organization.
Dates found in notarial contracts and tax receipts help to reconstruct events. Law and governance served to provide legitimacy and to extract taxes. The Ptolemy reign codified and clarified Pharaonic law, which applied to native Egyptians. Greeks fell under a form of Greek law, and cities, strongholds of the immigrant nobility and royalty, fell under royal law.
Early Ptolemaic contracts required sixteen witnesses, and often required that witnesses transcribe a copy of the contract. More witnesses and more copies made it easier to tax transactions. Earlier Egyptian contracts required four to eight witnesses.
The people grew tired of these excessive witness measures. In 200 BC, the witness copy procedure was abandoned, due to the rise of state notaries. Contracts were required to be notarized, aiding the taxation on the transaction.
Recording of contracts had a long history, back to Pharaonic times. Copies of important documents were deposited into state archives. On certain Greek contracts and other documents, red stamps were used to acknowledge receipt for recording.
Notaries, agoranomoi in Greek, are evidenced by documents issued from the nomarchy (regional government) of Pathyris and its capital, Krokodilopolis.
Notaries in Ancient Egypt evolved as Egypt was invaded by Persians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs. Their records are useful in preserving history.