Malcolm Choat

in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Egypt

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780199571451
Published online November 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191750540 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Archaeology


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  • Archaeology of the Near East
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Coptic denotes both a written and a spoken stage of the Egyptian language. In scribal terms, it refers to the last written stage of the ancient Egyptian language, when the Egyptians finally gave up their predominantly phonographic and logographic systems in favour of the Greek alphabet. This article traces the development Coptic in the Roman period, navigating over several centuries and through various religious milieus, beginning with native Egyptian religion and ending with Christianity and its competitors. Christianity did not 'invent' Coptic; both the idea, and elements of the system, had long existed when Christians began to use Coptic in the third century. But it was Christianity that brought Coptic out of the cloistered environments in which it had been used by non-Christians, which eventually enabled native Egyptians in towns and villages across the province to write literary works, personal letters, and documents in their own language.

Keywords: Roman Egypt; Egyptian language; Coptic; written language; Christianity

Article.  6262 words. 

Subjects: Archaeology of the Near East ; Egyptian Archaeology

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