Applying social network analysis to names in Trismegistos People

Mark Depauw
KU Leuven
Yanne Broux
Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO)
KU Leuven

Project Blog

Abstract: Trismegistos ( started in 2005 as a platform to facilitate access to information about published papyrological texts in all possible languages and scripts from Graeco-Roman Egypt. The inclusion of Egyptian soon dissolved the disciplinary boundary with epigraphy, broadened the chronological window, which was eventually set to 800 BC – AD 800, and led to the inclusion of further languages such as Coptic, Aramaic and Arabic. In 2010 the idea grew to expand the geographical scope to include the Ancient World in general, and by 2012 the decision was taken to include so-called ‘unpublished’ texts for which information is available in online repositories. This means that Trismegistos increasingly wants to be a platform pointing to places where information can be found about all texts from antiquity, thus facilitating cross-cultural and cross-linguistic research. 

Apart from texts, since 2008 Trismegistos also intensively deals with places and people. Building on open access to the full text in repositories, we have developed Named Entity Recognition to create lists of toponyms and anthroponyms that occur in our sources. Starting out with Greek papyri, where Trismegistos could build on the Prosopographia Ptolemaica (a Who’s Who of Ptolemaic Egypt), we distilled over 375,000 Greek, Egyptian and Latin names from the full text of some 50,000 documents found in the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri. 

We have recently also started to explore Social Network Analysis [SNA]. The combination of a dynamic digital platform with the visualization of relations between entities (people, places, texts, …) permitted by SNA is in itself already a major step forward, and can be supplemented with quantitative analysis of ancient data such as personal names. Just like today, these were in Roman Egypt often related to status and thus a strategic tool for the local elite to differentiate themselves from ordinary Egyptians. To emphasize their Greek identity, they generally chose Greek names. Assessing the value attached to a name is not always easy though. In Trismegistos, we classify names according to their linguistic origin (based on their morphology and etymology). Yet some Egyptian names, e.g. Thoonis and Amois, appear frequently in elite families with predominantly Greek names, suggesting that these were not associated with low status. An alternative classification, based on the socio-cultural connotation of a name, would therefore be more useful when studying names in relation to identity. So-called ‘hybrid’ names, combining Greek and Egyptian elements, like Hermanoubion (based on the Greek god Hermes, the Egyptian god Anoubis, and supplemented with the Greek ending –ion) are also typical of the Roman period, yet it is not clear where they were situated socially. Approaching names as a network, linked by their co-occurrence in the same families (fig. 1), allows us to evaluate how names situated in the “wrong” component, such as Esoeris and Isis, or in the “grey area” between two components, like Totoes and Horos, were perceived by contemporaries. This can also help us solve names of unknown origin: e.g. Anek and Koulo, both situated in the Egyptian component, are probably Egyptian in origin.

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