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In the shadows of the pyramids…

Today we will take you back in time…
*impatient reader shouting at his computer*
Yeah, duh! This is a blog about ancient networks! Douche! Now bring on those exotic Egyptians and six-packed Spartans!
There. Now stop complaining
What we actually mean is that today we’ll talk about the very first network study we did, the first case study we tinkered with to get familiar with different SNA concepts and processes and which we presented at our very first Sunbelt conference in Hamburg in 2013. Yes, you see, no need to worry. You’ll get there. Only a year ago we were SNA virgins too, eager to have our cherry plucked… am I taking this too far?
Anywho, we started out with the archive of Zenon. Who is this Zenon fellow, you ask, and why were you drawn to his particular archive? Because he is the HERO of every papyrologist, I tell you. If there were a papyrology high school, Zenon’s poster would be tacked to every locker door, he’d flash a perhaps not so perfectly white and maybe even slightly lacunose smile from every smartphone background, and bitch fights would break out every other lunch break over who gets to dip his smooth flowing pen into their ink palette (and I mean this in the most literal of senses. We are not a gang of mummiphilous pervs).
Zenon’s archive was found somewhere around the beginning of the 20th century during illegal excavations (I was going to say that our field bears an uncanny resemblance to Tomb Raider, but sadly this would be an outright lie. We don’t dangle from large bungee cords in silk pajamas in ballroom-size hallways either. We go to bed in flannels at 8.30 PM after a cup of cocoa and leave the light on in the hallway. Nightly toe-stubbing is rather bothersome, you know). It consists of more than 1,800 texts, providing a wealth of info on the Ptolemaic state, its organization and what else, and, what makes it especially interesting for us is that these texts mention thousands of people, so there’s plenty of data to distill networks from.
Mr. Z was originally from Kaunos, situated in the beach resort mecca that is today called Turkey. He left his homeland for the brave new world that was Ptolemaic Egypt at the time (and that time was around the middle of the third century BC) and became the private secretary of the very distinguished Apollonios, who was the king’s finance minister (the king being Ptolemy II, obviously). As a finance minister, Apollonios was very high up the proverbial ladder, and since in those days political bribes were not yet as frowned upon as they are today, he received an enormous estate the size of some 2,630 soccer fields somewhere in a fancy new land development allotment near Philadelpheia in the Egyptian countryside.
 
Egypt and the Fayum
 
True to his style, Mr. Z traveled much during the early period recorded in the archive, acting as Apollonios’ business representative in Syria. But then war broke out (nothing ever really changes, huh), and so he opted for a more sedentary and less life-threatening career path. He stayed in Alexandria, Apollonios’ main residence, for a while, but soon the call of the idyllic countryside beckoned. He moved to Philadelpheia and took on the management of Apollonios’ modest retreat.
 Despite the massive amount of documents preserved thanks to his meticulous recordkeeping, we know very little of Mr. Z’s personal life. He had two brothers, who had also come to Egypt at one point, and we hear of his father back in Kaunos here and there, but that’s about it when it comes to his family. No signs of marriage, which has sparked the unspoken yet persistent rumor that he may have been gay. His devotion to Apollonios is indeed remarkable… We could conjure a saucy, albeit highly hypothetical paper from this, for sure. ‘Fifty shades of grey in the shadows of the pyramids’…
Zenon entered the courtyard and lowered the sack of donkey droppings (don’t get me started on the benefits of donkey droppings) from his broad, muscular shoulders and started to wipe the sweat and dust from his arms. He caught Apollonios’ eye, who was glancing at him from under the canopy in the far corner. Oh how Zenon longed for that blond-haired, blue-eyed hunk of perfection. A slave came running to Zenon from under the canopy. “The master shall attend the gymnasial banquet this evening, but his chariot still needs cleaning after his spin through the dusty desert this morning.” “I’m on it”, Zenon answered. While some slaves pulled the chariot out into the courtyard, he hauled a bucket from the well, mixed in plenty of oils and alkaline salts, and started scrubbing. Pretty soon, he was dripping from head to toe. When he started wiping the soap from his perfectly sculptured six pack (there you go, ok he’s not a Spartan, but still…), Apollonios got up, walked right past him and disappeared into the stables. Was that a twinkle in those sky-blue eyes?
Hmm… Am I digressing?
 
The whole archive
Anywho, we started out by making a network of the whole archive, that is, every single person mentioned in it. The result was the massive squiggly spaghetti monster that bucks up our blog background here. Although it’s a stunningly blobful masterpiece, we have to admit it has no real practical use.
   To design more meaningful spaghetti monsters, we decided to crop our data in two ways: we limited ourselves to letters, since they most obviously attest to direct relationships between individuals, and we split the archive up into three time frames, each corresponding to a different step in Zenon’s career, for a longitudinal analysis.
    To be honest, this paper was a bit of a mess actually. We finished our graphs before we left for Hamburg, and were planning on writing a spectacular interpretation during our first days there, but then we realized we had forgotten our notes, and so we weren’t quite sure what everything meant anymore… This resulted in a frantic last-minute midnight improv session during which we reconstructed Zenon’s career on the basis of a couple of colorful spaghetti monsters. Boy were we glad that no one there knew Zenon…
   So this is actually the story of how NOT to use SNA. Everything that follows is probably complete and utter poppycock, but somehow, people seemed to buy it then. We rewarded ourselves with way to much alcohol when it was over, resulting in a major hangover the next day and a pledge never to take it that far again (the improv, not the alcohol. Gone way overboard together in that area since then).
 
So there you go, here are the notes of our very first SNA-related talk:
 
261-256 BC

 

261-256 BC (without Zenon): 79% of the edges are still there
 
The first group consists of letters written between 261 till 256 BC. During this period Zenon traveled through Syria and Palenstine, and when in Egypt he resided in Alexandria, close to Apollonios. There are also some letters that can be ascribed to Panakestor, the first manager of Apollonios’ Philadelpheian estate.
The two nodes in the middle of this graph are Zenon and Apollonios. They have the highest degree and betweenness (indicated in pink), which comes as no surprise. Some other nodes attract our attention as well. The ones in the upper left part of the graph are centered around Panakestor, the first manager of Apollonios’ estate in Philadelpheia. The small pink node in the upper center is Krotos, an important agent of Zenon and Apollonios, first in Palestine and later on also in Egypt.
Now when we take a look at the graph when Zenon, our main protagonist, is excluded, we see that the network has not changed drastically. 79% of the relationships are still there. So although it seems that Zenon is the key figure when scanning the documents, when looking at this part of the archive from a network perspective, it is clear that Apollonios is still closely involved with and supervises his businesses both abroad as well as in Philadelpheia. 
 
256-248 BC (the pretty version)

 

256-248 BC (the slightly more useful version)
The second time frame represents the biggest chunk of our texts, which belong to the group of the estate of Apollonios, where Zenon settled down as its manager between 256-248 BC. As you can see, this is a more complicated network. In contrast to the network representing the previous period, Zenon is now the central figure.
In this graph, we have filtered the network according to the nodes’ degrees. Some of the people we encountered in the network of the previous period reappear here as well. They obviously still have a high degree, but are not closely linked to Zenon himself. They are situated in Alexandria, near Apollonios (mainly indicated by blue lines), and are therefore of minor importance for Zenon’s business in Philadelpheia. New agents appear in this network, however, who appear to be of great importance for Zenon, as they have a high betweenness centrality. When looking at their backgrounds, they appear to be local government officials. So although his affairs in Philadelpheia are of a private nature, namely managing Apollonios’ estate, he relied heavily on officials to get things done.
 
247-243 BC
Our third network consists of letters belonging to Eukles, Zenon’s successor as the manager of the estate (247-243 BC). At the same time, Zenon managed his own businesses and these are also present in this group. Here, a clear dichotomy appears between Zenon’s private affairs and the affairs of the estate, although some important ties still remain. This can indicate two things, namely that Zenon profited from his business contacts during the previous period to make some profit for himself, or that he still meddled in the affairs of the estate during this period. In reality, it was probably a bit of both, something we still have to check in the letters themselves.

 

 

 

 

 


Which we obviously haven’t done. We’ve moved on to other, more meaningful studies since then, which we’ll get to here when the time is right. But Zenon will always be our first SNA love. And now back to that bucket of soapy water…

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