The sources for Coptic law are legal documents in Greek, Coptic, and Arabic. The reason for this is that several languages were in use in in this period, as is shown also by the fact that the Egyptian civil lawyers drafted Greek and Coptic documents at the same time, while Copts who demonstrably did not understand Greek nevertheless had a Greek will drawn up (Kenyon and Bell, I, 77). The Greek and Coptic formularies, however, also lived on in the Arabic documents drawn up for former Christians converted to Islam. This has been shown for the sale of immovable and residential property through investigations undertaken by Frantz-Murphy. Further comparison of documents will enlarge this picture.

The nature of the sources requires that the Coptic legal historian know the three languages mentioned or—if he or she is concerned only with the period before the conquest—Greek and Coptic only. This requirement was met by the two legal historians who have left fundamental works on Coptic law: A. A. SCHILLER, who also edited Coptic legal documents, and A. STEINWENTER. To date no legal historians have been able to continue their work in the field of Coptic law. It is therefore important to follow the path begun by Till and to translate Coptic documents that belong together into modern language groups and so make them accessible to legal historians who have either an inadequate knowledge of Coptic or none at all.

Till translated the Coptic contracts, security documents, marriage contracts (cf. also his essay on alimony claims), and letters of safe-conduct. The legal historian Liebesny has contributed an essay on the last group of documents. Till concerned himself with the Coptic parallel documents and expressed his views on the oath in Coptic legal documents and on the Coptic stipulation clause. Following the pattern of Kreller’s investigations into marriage law in the Greco-Egyptian papyrus documents, Till examined the statements of the Coptic documents on marriage law and presented all the published legal documents from Thebes to the legal historians for in a German translation. Schiller and Steinwenter assessed the material thus made available (cf. the literature mentioned in LAW, COPTIC). Till’s services are not diminished by the fact that since the appearance of his work, further documents of this group have become known and have enriched our knowledge. As an example we may refer to the group of marriage documents: the document called no. 3 by Till has since been edited afresh by Kahle (Vol. 2, pp. 566-71) as no. 152.

Two further Coptic marriage documents from al-Ashmunayn were edited in 1953 by Balogh and Kahle along with a document of divorce, and another in 1979 by MacCoull. Montevecchiput together the Greek marriage and divorce documents in 1936, and they were treated afresh in 1955 by Taubenschlag. Till’s 1948 work overlooked that published by Abbott (1941) on Arabic marriage contracts among the Copts, which included two tenth-century marriage documents of Copts who “belong to the lower clergy-families.”


  • Abbott, N. “Arabic Marriage Contracts Among Copts.” Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft 95 (1941):59-81.
  • Balogh, E., and P. E. Kahle. “Two Coptic Documents Relating to Marriage.” Aegyptus 33 (1953):331-40.
  • Frantz-Murphy, G. “A Comparison of the and Earlier Egyptian Contract Formularies, Part 1: The Arabic Contracts from Egypt (3d/9th-5th/11th Centuries).” of Near Eastern Studies 40 (1981):203-25.
  • Kahle,P.E. Bala’izah. Coptic Texts from Deirel-Bala’izahin Upper Egypt, 2 vols. London, 1954.
  • Kenyon, F. G., and H. I. Bell, eds. Greek Papyri in the Museum, 5 vols. London, 1893-1917.
  • Kreller, H. Erbrechtliche Untersuchungen auf Grund der graeco- aegyptischen Papyrusurkunden. Leipzig and Berlin, 1919.
  • Liebesny, H. “Rechtsgeschichtliche Bemerkungen zu den koptischen Schutzbriefen.” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Instituts für ägyptische Altertumskunde in Kairo 8 (1938): 127-14.
  • MacCoull, L. S. B. “Coptic Marriage-Contract.” In Actes du XVe Congrès international de papyrologie, Vol. 2. Brussels, 1979.
  • Montevecchi, O. “Ricerche di sociologia nei documenti dell’Egitto greco-romano II. I contratti di matrimonio e gli atti di divorzio.” Aegyptus 16 (1936):3-83.
  • Schiller, A. A. “Introduction.” In Koptische Rechtsurkunden des achten Jahrhunderts aus Djême (Theben), 2nd ed. Repr. Leipzig, 1971.
  • Steinwenter, A. Das Recht der kopteschen Urkunden. Munich, 1955. Taubenschlag, R. The Law of Greco-Roman in the Light of the Papyri 332 B.C.-640 A.D., 2nd ed., pp. 101ff. Warsaw, 1955.
  • Till,W.C.”Koptische Schutzbriefe, miteinem rechtsgeschichtlichen Beitragvon H. Liebesny.”Mitteilungen des deutschen Instituts fur ägyptische Altertumskunde in Kairo 8 (1938):71-146.
  • . “Zum Eid in den koptischen Rechtsurkunden.” Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde 76 (1940):74-79.
  • . “Die koptischen Eheverträge.” In Österreichische National Bibliothek, Festschrift Bick. Vienna, 1948.
  • . “Die koptische Stipulationsklausel.” Orientalia n.s. 19 (1950):81-87.
  • . “Koptische Parallelurkunden.” In Studi in onore di Vincenzo Arangio-Ruiz, Vol. 4. Naples, 1952.
  • . Erbrechtliche Untersuchungen auf Grund der koptischen Urkunden. Österreichische der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-historischeKlasse,Sitzungsberichte229.2. Vienna, 1954.
  • .”Diekoptischen Arbeitsvertrage.”Eos48,1[Symbolae Raphaeli Taubenschlag dedicatae] (1956):273-329.
  • .”Diekoptischen Bürgschaftsurkunden.”Bulletindela Société d’archéologie copte 14 (1958):165-226.
  • . Die koptischen Rechtsurkunden aus Theben (Übersetzung). Österreichische der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch- historische Klasse, Sitzungsberichte 224.3. Vienna, 1964.