A city on the east bank of the Nile, about 25 miles (40 km) northwest of Luxor. It was already of some significance early on as the exit point of the desert routes to the Red Sea and to the quarries in the desert area. In the third century A.D. during the Palmyrene rebellion, the city fell into the hands of the Blemmyes and because of renewed resistance was besieged and destroyed by the emperor DIOCLETIAN in 292. However, the city soon recovered, although at first cities like Qus and Qina tried to take its place. Under JUSTINIAN, for a short time, it was called Justinianopolis (Kees, 1922, col. 1368), which may suggest the existence of a Chalcedonian community in the city. The city was known to be the seat of a bishop since the fifth century (Amélineau, 1893, p. 214). A bishop PHOIBAMMON from Coptos took part in the Council of EPHESUS in 431 (Munier, 1943, p. 14).
Of Christian buildings within the area of the old city, only slight traces of a church have been found, but all the same, it was a structure of large proportions. Contrary to normal tradition the basilica was oriented northwestward instead of northeastward, the width of the nave being roughly 31 feet (9.5 m). The sanctuary consisted of three rectangular rooms. Apparently, because of the absence of an apse, the building was not recognized as a church by Reinach (1910, p. 39). The central main room that here took the place of the apse was connected with the eastern side room by a large opening in the wall. In front of the entrance to this main room, a crypt constructed of fired bricks was found under the floor. The baptistery was accommodated in an annex on the east side of the basilica.
It contained an extraordinarily large octagonal pool with steps leading down into it on four sides—a rare feature in Egypt. In addition, it was surrounded by a massive ciborium supported on four large octagonal granite columns. The axle width of the columns amounted to 23 feet (7 m). The church was constructed largely of spoil material from demolished pagan temples. Consequently, it goes back at the earliest to the fifth century. To judge by the capitals used in the ciborium, the baptistery was actually constructed in the sixth century.
Remains of a small, somewhat older building were found under the western section of the basilica. This also appears to have a northward orientation but only its apse has survived.
- Amélineau, E. La Géographie de l’Egypte a l’époque copte, pp. 213-15. Paris, 1893.
- Fisher, H. G. “Koptos.” In Lexicon der Ägyptologie, Vol. 3, cols. 737-40. Wiesbaden, 1979.
- Kees, H. “Koptos.” In Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, Vol. 11, cols. 1367-69. Stuttgart, 1922. Munier, H. Recueil des listes épiscopales de l’église copte. Cairo, 1943.
- Reinach, A. J. “Deuxième rapport sur les fouilles de Koptos.” Bulletin de la Société française des fouilles archéologiques (1910):32-40.
- Weil, R. “Koptos.” Annales du Service des antiquités de l’Egypte 11 (1911): 131-34.