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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Science: New insights into the role of Coptic monasteries in the economy of late antique Egypt [Report] | Infosurhoy

http://infosurhoy.com/cocoon/saii/xhtml/en_GB/science/science-new-insights-into-the-role-of-coptic-monasteries-in-the-economy-of-late-antique-egypt-report/
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Science: New insights into the role of Coptic monasteries in the economy of late antique Egypt
[Report]

By Marta Subat <http://infosurhoy.com/cocoon/saii/xhtml/en_GB/author/marta-subat/> on September 26,
2018 Science <http://infosurhoy.com/science/>

Greater insight into the economy of late antique Egypt (fifth to eighth centuries AD) has been
revealed by an EU project which examined the evidence of Coptic monastic sources from the Nile valley.

Monasteries have been a significant part of the Egyptian landscape since the beginnings of
Christianity in the country, with records made primarily in the Coptic language. Although there are
still many extant monasteries, and their significance within past power structures is known, not
much research has been carried out into their impact on the Egyptian administrative and economic
framework of prior times.

Their role in these areas has been overlooked largely because the primary sources have either been
difficult to access or have not attracted enough interest. "The material can only be read by
specialists studying Coptic, and they are often more interested in religious or literary texts,
rather than administrative documents," explains MONASPOWER's lead researcher Dr. Jennifer Cromwell.

*Gathering the evidence*

MONASPOWER set out to study the economic position of Coptic monasteries during late antique Egypt
based on the neglected evidence from two sources: the monastery of Apa Thomas at Wadi Sarga and the
corpus of non-literary Coptic texts in the collection of the University of Copenhagen.

"I wanted to provide material that would enable a more realistic understanding of the economy of
late antique Egypt (the fifth to eighth centuries) by focusing on the evidence from Coptic sources
from monasteries in the Nile valley," says Marie-Curie Fellow Dr. Cromwell. Letters, legal
documents, accounts, lists, receipts, of the type considered by the project, provide evidence about
the reality of day-to-day life. "They give us an insight into personal relationships, disputes,
food, property, wealth, health – the good and the bad of actual life."

To build up a clearer picture, Dr. Cromwell benefitted from the documents found during the
excavations of the Wadi Sarga monastery in central Egypt, in 1913/14. A few hundred short texts were
published in 1922, but many more were not. One of the project's goals was to publish and study the
entire corpus.

Ceramic wares from the site, along with textile fragments, terracotta figures and wooden, metal and
bone objects were also brought back and now form part of the British Museum's collection. This
archaeological record complemented the textual record, to produce a better understanding of life at
the monastery. "Combining specialist skills from a range of individuals working on this material was
one of the goals. It highlights the need for collaborative effort in order not to neglect
potentially vital information," says Dr. Cromwell.


MONASPOWER also drew on the unpublished papyrus documents in the Papyrus Carlsberg Collection, in
Copenhagen. As a result of the project, hundreds of unpublished Coptic documents have been
translated and are currently being submitted to open access journals for publication.

*An unprecedented focus*

Dr. Cromwell is happy to acknowledge that by presenting a holistic study of the economic reality of
Coptic monasteries, her findings can now be used in wider studies of the economy of the antique
Mediterranean world. The project has also produced a volume on monastic economies in Egypt, Jordan,
and Palestine. Currently under review, it is the first effort to examine these geographic areas
collectively through this lens.

MONASPOWER also brought together a diverse group of specialists across a range of disciplines, for
the first time. "The project's multidisciplinary approach generates new perspectives on the topic
and brings to the fore material that is often overlooked by historians – archaeology (including
theoretical approaches), art history, palaeobotany (the study of ancient floral remains), Greek
texts, Coptic texts, literary and non-literary approaches," says Dr. Cromwell.

The scholars contributing to the volume on monastic economies, themselves came from a wide variety
of backgrounds, both in terms of nationalities (across Europe, the US, Egypt, and Israel), as well
as career stage (doctoral students, early career researchers, and professors).

MONASPOWER has helped to reveal the extent to which Coptic monasteries contributed to the economy of
late antique Egypt; underlining the fact that monasteries should not be considered solely as
spiritual institutions reflecting specific forms of religious experience. Dr. Cromwell explains, "In
future studies of social and economic life in Egypt, the evidence from monasteries cannot be
overlooked, doing so omits part of the picture and generates a skewed image of the ancient world."

Greater insight into the economy of late antique Egypt (fifth to eighth centuries AD) has been
revealed by an EU project which examined the evidence of Coptic monastic sources from the Nile valley.

Monasteries have been a significant part of the Egyptian landscape since the beginnings of
Christianity in the country, with records made primarily in the Coptic language. Although there are
still many extant monasteries, and their significance within past power structures is known, not
much research has been carried out into their impact on the Egyptian administrative and economic
framework of prior times.

Their role in these areas has been overlooked largely because the primary sources have either been
difficult to access or have not attracted enough interest. "The material can only be read by
specialists studying Coptic, and they are often more interested in religious or literary texts,
rather than administrative documents," explains MONASPOWER's lead researcher Dr. Jennifer Cromwell.

*Gathering the evidence*

MONASPOWER set out to study the economic position of Coptic monasteries during late antique Egypt
based on the neglected evidence from two sources: the monastery of Apa Thomas at Wadi Sarga and the
corpus of non-literary Coptic texts in the collection of the University of Copenhagen.

"I wanted to provide material that would enable a more realistic understanding of the economy of
late antique Egypt (the fifth to eighth centuries) by focusing on the evidence from Coptic sources
from monasteries in the Nile valley," says Marie-Curie Fellow Dr. Cromwell. Letters, legal
documents, accounts, lists, receipts, of the type considered by the project, provide evidence about
the reality of day-to-day life. "They give us an insight into personal relationships, disputes,
food, property, wealth, health – the good and the bad of actual life."

To build up a clearer picture, Dr. Cromwell benefitted from the documents found during the
excavations of the Wadi Sarga monastery in central Egypt, in 1913/14. A few hundred short texts were
published in 1922, but many more were not. One of the project's goals was to publish and study the
entire corpus.

Ceramic wares from the site, along with textile fragments, terracotta figures and wooden, metal and
bone objects were also brought back and now form part of the British Museum's collection. This
archaeological record complemented the textual record, to produce a better understanding of life at
the monastery. "Combining specialist skills from a range of individuals working on this material was
one of the goals. It highlights the need for collaborative effort in order not to neglect
potentially vital information," says Dr. Cromwell.

MONASPOWER also drew on the unpublished papyrus documents in the Papyrus Carlsberg Collection, in
Copenhagen. As a result of the project, hundreds of unpublished Coptic documents have been
translated and are currently being submitted to open access journals for publication.

*An unprecedented focus*

Dr. Cromwell is happy to acknowledge that by presenting a holistic study of the economic reality of
Coptic monasteries, her findings can now be used in wider studies of the economy of the antique
Mediterranean world. The project has also produced a volume on monastic economies in Egypt, Jordan,
and Palestine. Currently under review, it is the first effort to examine these geographic areas
collectively through this lens.

MONASPOWER also brought together a diverse group of specialists across a range of disciplines, for
the first time. "The project's multidisciplinary approach generates new perspectives on the topic
and brings to the fore material that is often overlooked by historians – archaeology (including
theoretical approaches), art history, palaeobotany (the study of ancient floral remains), Greek
texts, Coptic texts, literary and non-literary approaches," says Dr. Cromwell.

The scholars contributing to the volume on monastic economies, themselves came from a wide variety
of backgrounds, both in terms of nationalities (across Europe, the US, Egypt, and Israel), as well
as career stage (doctoral students, early career researchers, and professors).

MONASPOWER has helped to reveal the extent to which Coptic monasteries contributed to the economy of
late antique Egypt; underlining the fact that monasteries should not be considered solely as
spiritual institutions reflecting specific forms of religious experience. Dr. Cromwell explains, "In
future studies of social and economic life in Egypt, the evidence from monasteries cannot be
overlooked, doing so omits part of the picture and generates a skewed image of the ancient world."


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