Coptic chronological framework

Coptic documentary papyri from the fourth century AD

During this century Egypt turned Christian. Most of the earliest Coptic documentary papyri come from a monastic or ecclesiastical context and are private letters rather than contracts. The earliest Coptic literary papyrus in the Duke papyrus collection, P.Duk.inv. 438, is a different matter.

Coptic documentary papyri from the fifth or sixth century AD

In AD 451 the church council held at Chalcedon decided on a particular form of Christology. The churches in Egypt in the person of the patriarch of Alexandria declined to follow the decision and from then on the Egyptian church went its separate way. It is now known as the Coptic church, but at the time most of its leaders were Greek or bilingual. In documentary papyri little can be noticed of the ecclesiastical developments. In addition to private letters we find the first contracts and other documents.

Coptic documentary papyri from the seventh or eighth century AD

Most of the Coptic documentary papyri are from this period. Coptic by and large replaced Greek for most ordinary types of texts except those from the administration, which adopted Arabic in the eighth century AD.

Coptic documentary papyri from the ninth or tenth century AD

By now the main language to document everyday affairs had become Arabic, but here and there the use of Coptic persisted.

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Last updated by Suzanne Corr on 5/10/95