1902 Encyclopedia > Copts


COPTS, the name given to the descendants of the native inhabitants of Egypt after the Mahometan conquest, supposed by some to be descended from the ancient Egyptians or else from the mixed race which inhabited the country under the Roman empire. They are Christians, and are said to comprise less than one fourteenth of the whole population. Although numerous, their numbers continue to dwindle, and they are being gradually, by marriage or conversion, absorbed in the Mussulman population of the country. Their name Kubt, or Kubti, is supposed to be derived either from ^Egyptos or Egypt, or else from the town of Coptos, or even Iakobitai. Although scarcely distinguishable from the other inhabitants, they are said to have large and elongated black eyes, high cheek-bones, the lobe of the ear high, the nose straight and spread at the end, black and curly hair, thick and spread lips, and large chin. In height they are rather under the middle size ; they have in general little embonpoint, slender limbs, and pale or bronze complexion, and a sullen expression ; but they differ considerably, those who have embraced Roman Catholicism resembling more Greeks or Syrians, while the others of the Said retain their primitive type. Their dress is like that of the Mahometans, except that their turban is of a black-greyish or light-brown colour, and they often wear a black coat or gown over their other dress. In their general customs they follow the rules of the other inhabi-tants ; the women veil their faces, both in public and at home when male visitors are present. In religion they are followers of the Eutychian heresy or Jacobite sect, so called from Jacobus Baradaeus, a Syrian, who propagated the doctrine; and in 1840 there were 150,000 of this sect, while 5000 were said to be Roman Catholics, and as many of the Greek faith. The Jacobites are monophysites and monothelites. They have altogether about 130 churches or convents. Their religious orders are a patriarch, a metropolitan of the Abyssinians, bishops, arch-priests, priests, deacons, and monks. The " patriarch," called " of Alexandria," resides at Cairo, and is generally chosen by lot out of eight or nine monks of the convent of St Antony in the eastern desert designated as capable of filling the office, but he may be appointed by his predecessor. The metro-politan is appointed by the patriarch, and the twelve bishops are selected by preference from the monks. They generally baptize their children within the year, and some circumcise them about eight years of age; this rite was evidently handed down by their ancestors, as it is represented in Egyptian sculptures of the Pharaonic period. In their schools the Coptic language is taught imperfectly. In their prayers appear to be many repetitions, and they pray in this manner riding or walking. Their churches are divided into five compartments, the most important of which is the chancel (heyhel). They observe many fasts and festivals, and some perform pilgrimages to Jerusalem. They also abstain from parts of the flesh of the pig and camel, and from that of animals which have been strangled and from blood. They do not perform military service. In their habits arid customs they follow those of the other populations of Egypt; they rarely intermarry with any other sect; in their marriages they employ a go-between valcel, and two-thirds of the dowry is settled upon the wife during her life. The marriages take place on Saturday night, and the festivities sometimes are kept up for eight days. At these a singular custom prevails of attaching two cascabels to the wings of two pigeons, whereby the birds fly about till tlieyare giddy, and then placing them in two hollow balls of sugar, each set on a dish ; the balls are afterwards broken and tho pigeons fly about the room. The preparations for the marriage consist of ablution, a procession of the bride covered with a shawl, attended by musicians, to the house of the bridegroom, stepping over the blood of a slaughtered lamb at the door, the crowning of the bride and bridegroom, and subsequent entertainments, much abridged or even omitted when a widow is married. The etiquette is not to leave the house for a year to pay visits. Divorces are only given for adultery on the part of the wife. The Copts arc exceedingly bigoted, prone to be con-verted to Islamism, sullen, as Ammianus Marcellmus describes the Egyptians, false, faithless, and deceitful, but extremely useful as secretaries and accountants and skilful workmen. In their funeral ceremonies they follow Mussulman customs, but pay special visits on two days of the year to the sepulchres, and give away a slaughtered bullock and other viands. Both in their physical type and in some of their ceremonies they retain a resemblance to their ancestors, the ancient Egyptians.
Seventy years after their conquest by the Mahometans, 640, unsuccessful in revolt, they suffered the persecution of their masters. The monks were branded in the hand, civilians oppressed with heavy taxation, churches demo-lished, pictures and crosses destroyed, 722-23. A few years later all Copts were so branded. Degrading dresses were imposed upon them, 849-50. Later, under El Hakim, 997, they were compelled to wear heavy crosses and black turbans as an ignominious distinction ; churches were destroyed, and many of the Copts converted. In 1301, the blue turban was introduced, but many Copts preferred a change of religion to the adoption of this head-dress. In 1321 a dreadful religious strife, attended by the destruc-tion of churches and mosques and great loss of life,, raged at Cairo between the Copts and the Mohametans ; but in 1354-55 great numbers embraced Islamism, and they appear to have gradually declined.
The language of the Copts, or so-called Coptic, is that of the last stage of ancient Egyptian civilization, and that in use at the time of the Romans. In the course of centuries the old Egyptian rapidly changed, especially at the time of the 19th dynasty, when foreign conquests and high civiliza-tion had introduced into it a number of Semitic words, principally of the Aramaean family. This continued till the time of the 26th dynasty, or about the 7th century B.C., when the old forms had almost died out, and not only a great number of new words but also a difference of struc-ture appeared in the Egyptian, which approached more nearly to the modern Coptic. This continued till the Ptolemies, under whose government a fresh infusion of words (many of them Greek) considerably altered the language, as they displaced the ancient words, and some new grammatical forms appeared ; a considerable difference took place in the prefixes and affixes at that period. After the conversion of Egypt to Christianity the old demotic alphabet fell into disuse, and another was sub-stituted—twenty-four letters of the Greek alphabet, to which were added seven others, supposed to be borrowed from the older demotic to represent sounds not found in the Greek. The language was written in this character from the end of the 4th or beginning of the 5th century, in all works relating to Christianity, and in this con-dition has been handed down to the present day in three different dialects, called the Sahidic or that of Upper Egypt, the Memphitic or that spoken in the neighbourhood of Memphis, and the Bashmuric or dialect of the Lake Menzaleh and its environs. Great difference of opinion has prevailed as to the relative antiquity of these dialects, some considering the Memphitic and others the Sahidic to be the most ancient. The Sahidic is softer than the Memphitic, has none of the harder aspirations, and is more intermixed with Greek. It chiefly differs, however, in construction and the use of vowels. The Bashmuric is intermediate between the two, but is softer than the Memphitic, and one great peculiarity is the use of I for r, which last letter was not known to the ancient Egyptians. The Coptic or Egyptian was in use at the 9th century, but had ceased to be intelligible in Middle Egypt in the 12th. It survived, however, as a spoken dialect till the 17th, an old man who spoke it having died only in 1633. In the Coptic Church, however, it is still in use for the religious services, and is read, although not understood except by an Arabic interpretation or glossary. It is partly studied by the Copts, and an attempt to revive the ancient language was made by the missionary Lieder at Cairo, who founded schools within the last half century. The discovery of the mode of reading hieroglyphs has rehabilitated the Coptic language, and there is no doubt that it is essentially the same as the Egyptian of the time of the Pyramids, and has retained many words of that and succeeding epochs. Like the Egyptian it is intermediate between the Aryan and Semitic languages in its copia verborum, and partly resembles the Semitic in its construction, in which, however, it is more closely allied to the African languages than the older Egyptian, while it differs greatly in the copia verborum from them. The Psalms and some other portions of the Scriptures had been translated into Coptic as early as Pachomius, 303, and from that time a succession of works, chiefly religious, were compiled in it. The com mencement of the knowledge of Coptic in modern Europe is due to Kircher, who published his Prodromus Coptus in 1636. He was followed by Blumberg, who compiled a grammar, called Fundamenta Linguae Copticce, in 1716. A Copt, named Tuki, bishop of Arsinoe, gave out another, the Rudimento, Linguce Copticce, in 1778, in Arabic and Latin, out still in a very uncritical condition. Scholz's grammar, edited by Woide in the same year, was a remarkable work for the time : in 1783 Calusius published another grammar; but these chiefly related to the Memphitic dialect, the Sahidic being imperfectly known, and the Bashmuric quite unknown,—the first grammar of the three dialects being that of Tattam in 1830. Another more critical grammar, prepared by Champollion, was edited by Rosellini and (Jngarelli, and another by Peyron in 1841, which was succeeded by the work of Schwartze in 1847. The litera-ture chiefly consists of religious works,—the Pentateuch, Psalms, Kings, minor prophets, and book of Daniel, existing in Coptic, and few fragments in Sahidic of the book of Chronicles, and several unedited portions in that dialect. Besides these several of the apocryphal gospels and some Gnostic works, as the Pistis Sophia, are found in the same language; the Acts of the Apostles, sermons, homilies, martyrologies, and many liturgical compositions, and Acts of Councils occur. A great mine of this literature is found in the Catalogus Codicum Copticorum Manuscrivloruni in Museo Bwgiano, 4to, Roma?, 1810, and other sources. A great number of fragmentary inscriptions on calcareous stone or pottery, chiefly found at Elephantine, exist in the different museums of Europe. Altogether the Coptic literature is not interesting to general students beyond tho relation it bears to the ancient Egyptian and its connec-tion with exegetical theology.
Clot-Bey, Apercu general sur VEgypte (Paris, 1840, p. 158, 243) ;
Lane, The Modem Egyptians (8vo, Lond, 1860, p. 529) ; Peyron,
Granimcdica linguce Copticce introductio, 1841; Qnatremere, La
langue et la literature de I'Ugyptc, 1808 ; Prichard, Physical
History of Mankind, Lond. 1875, p. 202, foil. (S.B.)

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