The solidarity of the precariously employed

A papyrus from the Hermopolite nome in Egypt, dated to A. D. 117, written by a lady called Eudaimonis to her daughter Aline addresses a wide range of family matters, including some current worries over the family business (P. Brem. 63, transl. R. S. Bagnall – R. Cribiore):

Eudaimonis to her daughter Aline, greetings. Above all, I pray that you may give birth in good time, and that I shall receive news of a baby boy.

You sailed away on the 29th and on the next day I finished drawing down (?the wool). I at last got the material from the dyer on the 10th of Epeiph. I am working with your slave girls as far as possible. I cannot find girls who can work with me, for they are all working for their own mistresses. Our workers marched through all the city eager for more money.

Your sister Souerous gave birth. Teeus wrote me a letter thanking you so that I know, my lady, that my instructions will be valid, for she has left all her family to come with you. The little one sends you her greetings and is persevering with her studies. Rest assured that I shall not pay studious attention to God until I get my son back safe.

Why did you send me 20 drachmae in my difficult situation? I already have the vision of being naked when winter starts.

Farewell. Epeiph 22.

(Postscript): The wife of Eudemos has stuck by me and I am grateful to her for that.

(Address on back): To her daughter Aline.

In the second paragraph, Eudaimonis refers to the family weaving business, which she would appear to run on Aline’s behalf while she was on maternity leave (so to speak, if such a blatant anachronism can be permitted).

Things were not going too well for Eudaimonis during her stint as acting manager: she reports a highly disruptive walk-out, threatening the functioning of the entire operation, staged by her workforce to protest their wages publicly, visibly, and audibly for the entire city to witness.

Attempts on Eudaimonis’s side simply to replace her workers with ad-hoc cover failed: no one made themselves available – not an indication of good reputation or competitive pay in Eudaimonis’s and Aline’s business, but also, as has been speculated, consequence of the economic crisis caused by the Jewish-Roman (Kitos) War at the time.

It is unknown how this local event of industrial action was eventually resolved. It shows quite clearly, however, the importance of competitive pay – and the power that lies in unity when it comes to making a positive impact on the conditions offered by one’s employer.

About Peter Kruschwitz

Berliner. Classicist. Scatterbrain.
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