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Tracking Papyrus and Parchment Paths: An Archaeological Atlas of Coptic Literature. Literary Texts in their Geographical Context: Production, Copying, Usage, Dissemination and Storage

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PAThs (Tracking Papyrus and Parchment Paths: An Archaeological Atlas of Coptic Literature.Literary Texts in their Geographical Context: Production, Copying, Usage, Dissemination and Storage)

Reporting period: 2018-05-01 to 2019-10-31

The “PAThs” project (complete title: “Tracking Papyrus and Parchment Paths: An Archaeological Atlas of Coptic Literature. Literary Texts in Their Original Context. Production, Copying, Usage, Dissemination and Storage”) aims at providing an in-depth diachronic understanding and effective representation of the geography of Coptic literary production, and in particular of the corpus of literary writings, almost exclusively of religious content, produced in Egypt between the 3rd and the 13th centuries in the Coptic language.

“PAThs” takes an original and multidisciplinary approach combining, for the first time in Coptic Studies, philology, codicology, palaeography, archaeology, archaeometry, and digital humanities, in order to explore the process of production, copying, usage, dissemination, and storage of Coptic works in relation to the concrete geographical contexts of origin of both the texts themselves and their related writing supports. By analysing texts and contents, paratexts (titles and scribal subscriptions) and linguistic layers (style and dialects), the literary products will be strictly related not only to the places where they have been copied, but also to the single intellectual milieus responsible for their creation. In this way, cultural orientations and literary tastes in specific areas of Egypt are singled out, while changes in the manufacture of codices emerge, in a manuscript tradition that stands as the oldest witness of the use of codex.

By taking into account a large corpus of works (c.1,100) manuscripts (c. 6,500), titles (c. 700), colophons or scribal subscriptions (c. 180), and archaeological sites (c. 550), and interrelating them, the ultimate aim of “PAThs” is to produce a new state-of-the-art of Coptic Studies, in which literature will no longer be considered a cultural phenomenon independent of its material context, and which will get beyond the traditionally narrow disciplinary subdivisions (especially in the fields of philology and archaeology) that have typified Coptic Studies until now.

An exhaustive digital Archaeological Atlas of Coptic Literature—that is already online (—represents the main scientific product of the project and, at the same time, a new comprehensive perspective on the spread and development of Coptic literature and manuscript culture. This versatile tool allows detailed and focused research and correlation of chronological, regional and thematic data. It also illustrates the relationship between settlements uncovered by the archaeological and topographical investigations and intellectual activity revealed in manuscripts.

More information at:;
If the digital Archaeological Atlas of Coptic Literature is the main product of “PAThs”, the project also aims at creating a series of new scientific tools that have the ambition to become pivotal for Coptic Studies, and more in general for the comprehension of Late Antique Egypt:

• Complete classification of the Coptic manuscript tradition, by means of the attribution of stable identifiers for each manuscript or codicological unit (6,200 items; Such a classification can be progressively expanded as new manuscripts are discovered.
• Elaboration of a protocol of detailed (digital) codicological description applied to the collected manuscripts or codicological units (to be progressively expanded;
• Complete classification of Coptic literature, by means of the attribution of a Clavis Coptica (CC) entry for each work (1,245 items;
• Complete classification of Coptic authors, with a brief annotated cultural profile (113 items;
• Complete census of the relevant places, including sites where individual manuscripts or entire ‘collections’ have been found; major Late Antique and Medieval archaeological sites; other places of political, religious, and cultural significance (358 items, to be progressively expanded;
• Elaboration of an accurate form of description of the classified places (
• Census, edition, and translation of Coptic titles (700 items;
• Census, edition, and translation of Coptic colophons (146;
• Description of Coptic bookbindings.
• Archaeometric analysis of the inks of a selected corpus of Coptic manuscripts preserved in different collections.
• Marking up, in XML version, of a selected corpus of hagiographic and homiletic texts, available for download at PAThs’ official GitHub repository ( and are released with MIT License.
The Archaeological Atlas of Coptic Literature is in itself an innovation, since nothing similar previously existed.
Even though geography based platforms (GIS) have been in use for a long time in the archaeological field for collecting, organising and sometimes also publishing data, they have only been sporadically used in literary and linguistic studies and certainly never in Coptic Studies.
In this respect, the construction of a digital Archaeological Atlas of Late Antique and Early Mediaeval Egypt does not only represent a powerful research tool for the specialists, but, thanks to its user-friendly structure, it will be also a resource for non-specialists interested in knowing more about Egypt.

Another meaningful achievement of “PAThs”, that filled a gap, is the elaboration of a detailed protocol of codicological description. This takes into account the most recent theoretical and terminological achievements of Greek and Latin codicology, but is of course targeted at the specific features of Coptic manuscripts.

Last but not least, thanks to the collaboration with the CSMC (Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures), Hamburg, and the BAM (Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und Prüfung), Berlin, we have focused on the archaeometric analysis of Coptic inks, pigments, and dyes.

In order to make “PAThs” a long-lasting project, “PAThs” has already established an effective collaboration and exchange of metadata with many projects:

Before the end of the project the following results are expected:

- Improvement of the structure of the “PAThs” database and continuation of the data entry
- Improvement of the geographical representation of the Atlas (GIS) and of the possible search options
- Continuation of the description of the places related to Coptic manuscripts
- Continuation of the detailed description of codicological units
- Continuation of the classification of manuscripts and literary texts
- Creation of a complete archive of names of copyists, commissioners, donors, institutions and places involved in the production of manuscripts
- Reconstruction of the cultural and economic relationships, which linked scribes and manuscripts makers to different monasteries, but also private citizens to patrons
- Continuation of the dissemination