When you go on vacation, you want to make sure you get the best experience. If you’re rich enough, other people will do it for you. That was just as true in the past as it is today. Here’s a fragment of a letter that has survived on papyrus from the Ptolemaic period in Egypt about preparations for a tour of the Faiyum oasis.
A Roman senator, Lucius Memmius, was touring Egypt in the late second century BCE. Someone in Alexandria wanted to make sure that Memmius had a good trip, so instructions were sent on ahead to make sure everything was ready for the important guest.
From Hermias to Horos, greetings. Attached is a letter to Asclepiades. Make sure that these instructions are followed. Be well. Year 5, 17th of Xantikos, 17th of Meikheir (March 5, 112 BCE)
Lucius Memmius, a Roman senator who holds a position of great worth and honor, is making a grand expedition from the city [of Alexandria] to the Arsinoite nome to see the sights. See that he is properly welcomed, and take special care to see that lodgings are furnished along with landing places at the proper locations […] Make sure that the welcoming gifts listed below are ready to be handed over to him at the landing places, and that the furnishings for the lodgings, the usual morsels for Petesouchus and the crocodiles, the equipment for visiting the Labyrinth, the […] and the offerings and supplies for the household sacrifice are provided. In all respects, take the greatest care that everything should be prepared for his enjoyment, and be zealous […]P. Tebt. (Papyri from Tebtunis) 1.33
(My own translation)
It looks like Memmius’ itinerary included watching crocodiles being fed and visiting the Labyrinth, a sprawling ancient temple complex whose walls and passageways were famous in antiquity.
It’s also interesting to note that, although Hermias wanted to make sure that special care was taken for Memmius’ visit, Memmius was evidently following an established tourist route. Hermias does not need specify where lodgings should be prepared for him or what equipment is needed for visiting the Labyrinth. The crocodile feeding was apparently a customary spectacle. Asclepiades clearly knew what to do to receive an important visitor, Hermias just wanted to make sure he did it. Faiyum tourism was evidently an established practice at the time.
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