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Jug from Wadi Sarga - History
British Museum, Bloomsbury, London WC1
Excavated 1913-14, R. Campbell Thompson Byzantine Rsearch Fund
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Byzantine Egypt and the Coptic period, an introduction
Egypt’s dry climate has preserved a range and abundance of architecture, sculpture, artifacts and texts unparalleled in other parts of the Byzantine world. The survival of large numbers of documents, such as contracts, petitions, tax receipts and letters, provide insight into everyday experiences of elites and non-elites, men and women.
The British Museum collection reveals aspects of the visual, social, religious, administrative, and economic lives of Egypt’s inhabitants at the time when they became predominantly Christian.
In the course of the fourth and fifth centuries C.E., Christians transformed the architectural landscape of pharaonic Egypt by building monumental churches, martyrs’ shrines, and monasteries, often converting ancient temples, shrines, and tombs for new purposes. Pilgrims from around the empire flocked to Egypt to visit sites mentioned in the Bible or associated with saints. Coptic, the Egyptian language written in a modified Greek script, flourished as a vehicle to translate the Bible and, later, to compose an original Egyptian Christian literature.
At the same time, individuals and communities continued to engage in many traditional Egyptian and Hellenistic practices. The elite dead were buried in mummiform, swathed in textiles decorated with motifs from classical mythology. Greek literature (for example, Homer and Menander) continued to be copied and read, and Greek poetry and philosophy flourished into the sixth century.
The Persian occupation (619) and, later, the Arab conquest of Egypt (642) increasingly isolated the province from the rest of the Byzantine Empire. From the ninth century Arabic began to replace Coptic and Christians increasingly converted to Islam.
Today Egypt is home to a sizable Christian population known as Copts, a term deriving from the Arabic transliteration of the Greek word for Egyptian (Aigyptios).
Polychrome tapestry band from linen garment decorated with representations of saints on red ground, Coptic period, 7th–8th century, Egypt, 90 x 12 cm (© The Trustees of the British Museum)
The Coptic period
The term ‘Coptic period’ is a very approximate one it may be thought of as running from the third century until around the time of the visible decline of Christianity in the ninth century. It is roughly equivalent to the Byzantine period elsewhere in the Mediterranean world.
Christianity arrived in Egypt from Judea. It probably first came into Alexandria, which was both an intellectual centre and the home of a large Jewish community. Christianity was heavily persecuted in the third century AD, but was widely accepted by the end of the fourth century. After this time, the number of monastic settlements increased. It was at this time that many ancient rock cut tombs were inhabited and adapted by Christian monks.
The term ‘Coptic’ can also be applied to the art and language of the Christian period in Egypt. The churches of the period were often highly decorated with murals showing saints and local bishops. The church buildings were also carved with floral and leafy motifs, sometimes combined with birds and animals. Similar motifs appeared on pottery of the period. The Coptic language was used for inscriptions including monastic accounts, extracts of the Bible, liturgy and psalms, and the lives of great saints and bishops.
Limestone gravestone, Coptic period, 8th century, possibly from Thebes, Egypt, 134 x 48.8 cm (© The Trustees of the British Museum)
Coptic gravestones vary widely in size, and this is one of the larger ones. It is decorated with the Coptic cross at the top, and with various scrolls and foliate patterns. The bird in the centre is a dove, a common image on such stelae. To the Copts the dove and the foliage were symbols of paradise. Above the dove is a short inscription, which reads, ‘Young Mary: she entered into rest on the 10th day of [the month of] Tobe’ (probably January).
Painted wooden lion’s head, Early Coptic period, 7th-10th centuries, from Qasr Ibrim, Nubia, 22.5 x 1.5 cm (© The Trustees of the British Museum)
An architectural element from an early Christian Church
Churches and other religious buildings were highly decorated in the Coptic period. The walls were painted with pictures of bishops and saints, and architectural elements were often carved with floral and faunal motifs. Pillars and friezes were often made of stone, but this example is unusual in that it is of wood. This lion’s head, although schematized is still quite recognizable. It is carved in much higher raised relief than the leaves below, making it stand out. The curly leaves are characteristic of the floral motifs common in Coptic art. They are very similar to the acanthus leaves that appear in earlier Roman art, particularly those decorating the capitals of Corinthian columns. The basic color of the lion is reddish brown, with details picked out in yellow and black. The yellow mane can be easily identified, curving around the face from ear to ear. In both pharaonic and Coptic times, black paint was usually derived from charcoal, and yellow and brown from forms of ochre.
The lower edge of the piece of wood is heavily burnt, suggesting that the rest of the object, and perhaps the entire building, was destroyed by fire.
Coptic ostrakon, Early Islamic period, perhaps 7th or 8th century, possibly from Thebes, Egypt, 13.2 x 10 cm (© The Trustees of the British Museum)
Pottery sherd with the openings of several verses from the Psalms
People often used broken pieces of pottery or stone as a convenient surface for recording information or even doodling. These pieces are called ostraka. Written material of the Coptic period often had a religious theme, including extracts from the Bible, church sermons and tales of martyrdom. Ostraka were also used to record aspects of the day to day running of monasteries, such as the delivery of foodstuffs. The broken sherds are often from vessels used for the transport of products, including olive oil and wine.
The Coptic script was widely used in Egypt from the late third century until the Arab conquest in the seventh century. It developed when the use of hieroglyphic and associated handwritten scripts died out when Egypt became a Christian country. Coptic is still the official language of the Christian Church in Egypt, known as the Coptic Church. It is a direct descendent of the language written in hieroglyphs, using Greek characters to record the consonants and vowels of the ancient Egyptian language. Jean-François Champollion’s knowledge of Coptic was essential to his decipherment of the hieroglyphic script using the inscriptions on the Rosetta Stone.
Sock Discovery Reveals Colorful Fashion Sense of Ancient Egyptian Children
One person’s trash is another person’s archaeological treasure. That’s long been the case, but it’s taken in a new direction by the recent analysis of an Egyptian stripy sock that was found in what was at the time a rubbish dump in Antinooupolis in Roman-era Egypt.
British Museum scientists developed a special imaging to help them discover how Egyptians used dyes on a child’s sock, radiocarbon dated to about 300 A.D. Not wanting to destroy the sock with invasive scanning, they “utilized multispectral imaging, which only needs to scan the surface of artifacts to test for pigments.”
The researchers believe the sock was made for the left foot of a child, showing separation between the big toe and four other toes. It used different colors of wool yarn.
Many Egyptian socks found have a similar style: made of wool, bright color, with a section between the first two digits in order to wear with sandals.
According to the Smithsonian, the sock was “Fished out of a landfill during the 1913-1914 excavation of the Egyptian city of Antinooupolis led by English papyrologist John de Monins Johnson on behalf the Egypt Exploration Fund.”
No one analyzed the sock until recently.
Socks have existed since the Stone Age, but the ancient Egyptians are thought to be responsible for the first knitted socks.
The recovered child’s sock was described in the journal PLOS One: “Each toe is made separately from dark green wool (10 rows). The two toes are then joined and worked in bands of the following colours: orange (4 rows), purple (4 rows), bluish-green (4 rows), dark red (6 rows), green (2 rows).”
“A welt across the instep marks where the loops are worked in the round. The top edge is continuous and curls over a loose thread of red wool forms part of a tie or tassel at the center front.”
The sock was one of four ancient textiles examined, each selected from the British Museum “for their historical/archaeological importance.” Besides the stripy sock were fragments of textiles from Wadi Sarga. These objects are all held at the museum’s Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan.
The earliest known surviving pair of socks, created by naalbinding. Dating from 300 AD to 500 AD, these were excavated from Oxyrhynchus on the Nile in Egypt. The split toes were designed for use with sandals. On display in the Victoria and Albert museum, reference 2085&A-1900. Photo by David Jackson CC BY-SA 2.0 uk
Dr. Joanne Dyer, a scientist in the museum’s department of scientific research who developed the approach, told The Guardian: “It was exciting to find that the different coloured stripes found on the child’s sock were created using a combination of just three natural dyes.”
The imaging process is a cheaper, less time-consuming, and less destructive way of studying ancient textiles, she explained in the interview. “Previously, you would have to take a small piece of the material, from different areas.
And this sock is from 300 AD. It’s tiny, it’s fragile, and you would have to physically destroy part of this object. Whereas with both the [multispectral] imaging, and other techniques, you have a very good preliminary indication of what these could be.”
12th century cotton sock, found in Egypt.
The 3rd century AD was a time of tumultuous change in Egypt. Roman influence had peaked.
Ongoing economic change was seen in the growth of agriculture and the increasing concentration of wealth and culture in cities, not only Alexandria but also Antinoopolis in the Nile valley.
Christianity was spreading, in an interesting form. “Christian hermits in the Egyptian desert began a new style of communal living, later known as monasticism,” according to the Met Museum.
History of the collection
Objects from Ancient Egypt have formed part of the collection of the British Museum since its beginning. About 150 items from Hans Sloane's original collection were from Egypt.
Today the collection includes more than 100,000 objects, including a large collection of sculpture dating back to 10,000 BC.
European interest in Egypt began to grow after Napoleon Bonaparte invaded in 1798, and his scholars recorded information about the country.
When the British defeated the French in Egypt in 1801, a number of antiquities were ceded in the treaty. In 1802, they were presented to the Museum in the name of George III. The most famous of these was the Rosetta Stone.
Egypt then came under the control of Mohammed Ali, who was determined to welcome foreigners into the country. As a result, foreign consuls began to form collections of antiquities.
Henry Salt, Britain's consul, created a large collection with his agent Belzoni, who was responsible for the removal of the colossal bust of Ramesses II, known as the 'Younger Memnon', presented to the British Museum in 1817.
Salt's two collections formed the core of the department’s holdings and in the 1830s many other important collections of papyri and antiquities were acquired. By 1866 the collection consisted of around 10,000 objects.
Collection and acquisition
Antiquities from controlled excavations started to come to the Museum in the late 19th century as a result of the work of the Egypt Exploration Fund (now Society).
The efforts of EA Wallis Budge (Keeper, 1894–1924) were another major source of antiquities. Budge regularly visited Egypt and built up a wide-ranging collection of papyri and funerary material. When he retired, the collection contained about 57,000 objects.
In the following years there were more limited programmes of excavation and today antiquities are no longer exported from Egypt, although the work of research and study on the collection continues, including archaeological fieldwork in Egypt and Sudan.
In recognition for the British Museum's involvement in salvage excavations around the Fourth Cataract in Sudan, the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums has donated collections of study material from sites in the area.
Multispectral Imaging & the Study of Archeological Textiles
Multi-analytical approaches, combining the use of non-invasive and micro-invasive techniques, are increasingly being applied to the study of historical and archaeological textile collections, with particular attention to the technology of textile production, dye stuff sources and dyeing practices. By contrast, although the use of multispectral imaging (MSI) techniques is well-established in the study of polychrome surfaces, these have only been sparingly, and often unsystematically, applied to the investigation of textiles. This work summarises some of the research recently undertaken at the British Museum that applied MSI techniques to the investigation of two groups of archaeological textiles from the British Museum’s collections: Some examples of Late Antique (c. 250-800 AD) textiles from Antinoupolis and Wadi Sarga, Egypt, and a series of textile fragments from Dunhuang,China, dated from the late 7th to the early 10th century (Tang to Five Dynasties period). The aim is to show how this non-invasive, relatively inexpensive, portable methodology can be used to map the photoluminescence and reflective characteristics of textiles under different wavelengths of light. Standardised acquisition and post-processing methods were applied to produce a series of images that provided preliminary indications of the colourants used and their spatial distribution. To assess the potential and limitations of relating multispectral data to chemical properties, the information derived from these images was compared to the more detailed information provided by complementary non-invasive techniques, such as fibre optic reflectance spectroscopy (FORS), and micro-invasive approaches, such as high-performance liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (HPLC-MS). Two salient points emerge: MSI techniques show a high degree of potential for the investigation of textiles in museum/historic collections, particularly as part of a protocol combining digital microscopy, FORS, SEM-EDX and HPLC-MS. Secondly, that within this protocol, MSI is an excellent aid in planning more targeted and effective sampling strategies and facilitates comparisons between objects.
Wadi Sarga: Coptic and Greek Texts from the Excavations Undertaken by the Byzantine Research Account
This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most impor This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most important libraries around the world), and other notations in the work.
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Egyptian antiquities have formed part of the British Museum collection ever since its foundation in 1753 after receiving 160 Egyptian objects  from Sir Hans Sloane. After the defeat of the French forces under Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, the Egyptian antiquities collected were confiscated by the British army and presented to the British Museum in 1803. These works, which included the famed Rosetta Stone, were the first important group of large sculptures to be acquired by the Museum. Thereafter, the UK appointed Henry Salt as consul in Egypt who amassed a huge collection of antiquities, some of which were assembled and transported with great ingenuity by the famous Italian explorer Giovanni Belzoni. Most of the antiquities Salt collected were purchased by the British Museum and the Musée du Louvre.
By 1866 the collection consisted of some 10,000 objects. Antiquities from excavations started to come to the museum in the latter part of the 19th century as a result of the work of the Egypt Exploration Fund under the efforts of E.A. Wallis Budge. Over the years more than 11,000 objects came from this source, including pieces from Amarna, Bubastis and Deir el-Bahari. Other organisations and individuals also excavated and donated objects to the British Museum, including Flinders Petrie's Egypt Research Account and the British School of Archaeology in Egypt, as well as the Oxford University Expedition to Kawa and Faras in Sudan.
Active support by the museum for excavations in Egypt continued to result in important acquisitions throughout the 20th century until changes in antiquities laws in Egypt led to the suspension of policies allowing finds to be exported, although divisions still continue in Sudan. The British Museum conducted its own excavations in Egypt where it received divisions of finds, including Asyut (1907), Mostagedda and Matmar (1920s), Ashmunein (1980s) and sites in Sudan such as Soba, Kawa and the Northern Dongola Reach (1990s). The size of the Egyptian collections now stand at over 110,000 objects. 
In autumn 2001 the eight million objects forming the Museum's permanent collection were further expanded by the addition of six million objects from the Wendorf Collection of Egyptian and Sudanese Prehistory.  These were donated by Professor Fred Wendorf of Southern Methodist University in Texas, and comprise the entire collection of artefacts and environmental remains from his excavations at Prehistoric sites in the Sahara Desert between 1963 and 1997. Other fieldwork collections have recently come from Dietrich and Rosemarie Klemm (University of Munich) and William Adams (University of Kentucky).
The seven permanent Egyptian galleries at the British Museum, which include its largest exhibition space (Room 4, for monumental sculpture), can display only 4% of its Egyptian holdings. The second-floor galleries have a selection of the museum's collection of 140 mummies and coffins, the largest outside Cairo. A high proportion of the collection comes from tombs or contexts associated with the cult of the dead, and it is these pieces, in particular the mummies, that remain among the most eagerly sought after exhibits by visitors to the museum.
The Greek text of this codex is a representative of the Alexandrian text-type. Aland placed it in Category II because of its date. 
It is currently housed at the British Library (Inv. 2241) in London.  
- ^ abAland, Kurt Aland, Barbara (1995). The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism. Erroll F. Rhodes (trans.). Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 98. ISBN978-0-8028-4098-1 .
- "Liste Handschriften". Münster: Institute for New Testament Textual Research . Retrieved 26 August 2011 .
- W. E. Crum, and H. I. Bell, Coptica III, Wadi Sarga: Coptic and Greek Texts from the Excavations Undertaken by the Byzantine Research Account, (Copenhagen, 1922), pp. 43–51. , The Papyrus Fragments of the Greek New Testament, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, 1936, pp. 292–295.
This article about a papyrus or papyrology is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.
My Favourite Medieval Things, part I
A while ago one of our team members, Ed Hayes, asked us an interesting question concerning material culture from the medieval Middle East. In order to prepare a lecture for undergraduate students, he wanted us to come up with our “top ten material sources relating to the Middle East between 600-1500.” There are a plethora of anthologies aimed at undergraduates which collect literary texts relating to the early Islamic middle east. But there is a gap in the market for an anthology that brings together carefully curated classroom-ready material-culture sources for introductory courses on early Islamic history.
When we put our heads together, this simple appeal for some convenient teaching materials turned out to be not simple at all! As researchers do, we immediately started sharing the links of digitized collections, but that was not really the point, of course! We all know there is plenty out there. When we read books on material culture, or visit the websites of museums, libraries and research projects we find a variety of useful repositories. (We made a collection of these on our Material Sources website.) The problem is that these all seem to work on the assumption that the users more or less know what they are looking for. But how can we inspire students or others who are new to the field to understand WHY broken glasses, torn textiles, or half-decayed pieces of papyrus are interesting and important? Or why, what seem to be ‘standard texts’ on buildings or objects, might in fact tell us much more than we see when we initially read them. Why, in other words, material objects – whether beautifully preserved or heavily damaged – are just as important as literary texts, and why they should in fact be studied alongside one another, much more than is the case now. Even though our team members use material sources on a daily basis, we often forget to really tell their stories! We assume that others will see the value and awkward beauty of these pieces, but do they?
So, we decided to make a little round and ask everyone on the team to tell a short story about (one of) their “favorite medieval things.” If we manage to inspire you, please share your stories and inspire us in turn. We will start with two objects, but already have others waiting in line.
A bone fragment (7.5 x 6 cm), inscribed with black ink. It was found in the excavations of the monastery of Apa Thomas in Wadi Sarga , in the middle of Egypt, ca. 25 km south of modern Asyut. The fragment is held at the British Museum and will be published by Jennifer Cromwell.
Bone fragments used as writing material are very rare among the thousands of surviving documents of daily life in medieval Egypt. Most often papyrus, ceramic or limestone shards, and later paper are used. In this case, the scribe decided to write just one line, a Coptic standard expression used to begin letters: “Before all things (I greet you)”. Only the first words are visible, as the bone fragment has broken off. We see people practicing their penmanship, and letter writing in particular, more often in the documentary evidence. In fact, such a letter writing exercise from the same monastery as our bone fragment but written on a piece of ceramic, has been edited by Jennifer Cromwell.  Why our scribe (a monk?) decided to use the bone for his exercise we don’t know, it might be what he had on hand at that moment. However, it might be telling that he didn’t write more than one line, although there was still space on the fragment: did it turn out to be too difficult, did he give up? Yes, this bone fragment provokes more questions than it provides answers. But it lets us look through the tiniest crack into the life of its scribe. Asking those questions and peering through those cracks are among my favourite things about studying daily life documents of medieval people.
 “A Coptic Epistolary Exercise from Wadi Sarga”, The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 99 (2013) 272-275.
Coronation robe of Roger II (r. 1130-1154), Norman king of Sicily. Made in Sicily for the Christian Norman king Roger II (a couple of years after the coronation, in ca. 1134) by an “Arab” craftsman. It is made of beautiful red silk covered with gold, blue, red and white silk embroidery, decorated with precious stones, including garnets, rubies and sapphires, pearls, glass and enamel. Its visual decoration carries strong symbolism referring to the conquest and establishment of Christian Norman rule over Muslim Sicily – the imagery of a lion, symbol of Norman kings, attacking a camel, symbol of the Arab-Muslim rulers – but also representing the fusion of Arab-Greek/Norman, Christian-Muslim culture in Norman Sicily. A decorative rim of embroidered Arabic writing (tirāẓ) is used to a very successful aesthetic effect. The inscription reads: “This belongs to the articles worked in the royal workshop, (which has) flourished with fortune and honour, with industry and perfection, with might and merit, with (his) sanction and (his) prosperity, with magnanimity and majesty, with renown and beauty and the felicitous days and nights without cease or change, with honour and solicitude, with protection and defence, with success and certainty, with triumph and industry. In the (capital) city of Sicily in the year 528.” The date follows the Muslim hijra calendar, referring to the year 1133/1134. Despite its obvious references to its Arab-Muslim background the mantle was valued highly by later rulers – its current lining was added in the early 16 th century. In fact several of Roger’s successors commissioned similar robes with Arabic calligraphic decorations and his own cloak continued in use as the adjustments from later periods show.
The mantle shows how intertwined and interdependent Mediterranean nations/rulers/dynasties/cultures were despite military opposition and perceived incompatibility. Roger II might have been unusual in his appreciation of knowledge and practice from his Arab-Islamic subjects and neighbours. However, such shared practices across perceived religious and political borders of daily life practices but also, as in this mantle, of powerful royal symbolism show that sharing and exchanging of practice was more common, went on despite contradictions and oppositions in other domains, and is a lot more complicated than we might think at first sight.