Monday, May 29, 2023

Cleopatra appears to have coined the favorite term used frequently by Captain Picard.

 A single Greek word, ginesthoi, or "make it so," written at the bottom of a Ptolemaic papyrus may have been written by the Egyptian queen Cleopatra VII herself, says Dutch papyrologist Peter van Minnen of the University of Groningen.

The papyrus text, recycled for use in the construction of a cartonnage mummy case found by a German expedition at Abusir in 1904, appears to be a royal ordinance granting tax exemption to one Publius Canidius, an associate of Mark Antony's who would command his land army during the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C. The text reads as follows:

We have granted to Publius Canidius and his heirs the annual exportation of 10,000 artabas [300 tons] of wheat and the annual importation of 5,000 Coan amphoras [ca. 34,500 gallons] of wine without anyone exacting anything in taxes from him or any other expense whatsoever. ... Let it be written to those to whom it may concern, so that knowing it they can act accordingly.
Make it so!

"Written in an upright hand by a court scribe, the document was meant to be an internal note from Cleopatra to a high official charged with notifying other high officials in Alexandria," says van Minnen. "The personal nature of the communication is evident in the lack of any formal introduction of Cleopatra herself (she is not even mentioned by name) and the absence of a title after the name of the official to whom it was addressed (the name cannot be read)." The manuscript is not one of the copies received by the other officials, as there is no forwarding note attached to it and because it was executed in multiple hands. The text of the ordinance was written first, Cleopatra's written approval second, and the date of the document's receipt in Alexandria third.

According to Lorelei Corcoran of the University of Memphis, such documents would have been both written and signed by a court scribe, but given the nature of this particular papyrus, Cleopatra herself would have been the only one who would have the authority to approve such edicts.  The document itself is on display at the Agyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung in Berlin.


  1. There is an older known royal autograph. Asshurbanipal, King of Assyria, proudly kept a school boy practice note he inscribed as a young child to his father Esarhaddon in the royal library of Nineveh, where archeologists found it. The clay tablet is preserved in the British museum.