Qus

QUS

A town known in the era of the pharaohs as Ksa or Ksi. From the Greek period onward (third century B.C.) it was known as Apollinopolis Parva. It evolved by taking advantage of the activities of QIFT, which the Greek kings had made the starting point for roads linking the Nile Valley and the ports on the Red Sea. But above all it was at that time a port on the Nile where the agricultural products of its environment were loaded. From the end of the third century A.D., its official name was changed to Diocletianopolis.

No date can be fixed as regards the beginning of Christianity there. The SYNAXARION for 7 Tut commemorates a family of six, martyred at Alexandria but coming from the neighborhood of the town, where they confessed their faith and because of them a crowd of people believed. It was the seat of a bishop at least from the fifth century. In about the sixth century, the city was called by its current name, Qus. The ARAB CONQUEST OF EGYPT does not seem to have involved the settlement of a numerous Muslim community. Soon to be more important than Qift, which remained the administrative capital, Qus, which had basically a Christian population, no longer had any official role.

When the Fatimids had established their power in Egypt, one of their first concerns was to attract again, by way of the Nile, the major trade of the Indian Ocean toward the Mediterranean; they hoped to divert this commerce from the routes it was then using through Abbasid territory. The ports were again employed.

‘Aydhab, situated at the outlet of the region of the gold mines in the Wadi al-‘Allaqi, south of Aswan, became a busy anchorage. All the towns of Upper Egypt, and Qus in particular, found new prosperity.

With the serious crises of the caliphate after 1067, the town was called upon to play a special role. The southern part of the Upper Sa‘id—and above all the Aswan region, toward which the caliph’s black troops retreated when they were expelled from Cairo—was for nearly a decade ill-controlled by the authorities. The turbulence of the Arab tribes, which had abandoned their obedience to the caliph, also increased the insecurity. The Qus region seems to have been less troubled. It was thus natural that the ‘Aydhab caravan route, which until then had joined the Nile at Aswan, was diverted to Qus. The superior officer entrusted with the maintenance of order in the Upper Sa‘id established himself at Qus during the last quarter of the eleventh century. The town then became the administrative center of the entire Upper Sa‘id.

A mint was established there in 1122, and in the second century of rule, the forces at the disposal of the governors of Upper Sa‘id made Qus into the most important station after the vizierate, a position that conferred de facto mastery of the state. It is probable that the Shi‘ite caliphate had more readily chosen Qus as the new capital of Upper Sa‘id because the Muslims (among whom Sunnism was still the majority faith) were small in number and the greater part of the population was Christian.

If the development of trading activities, which periodically enlivened the town during the commercial season, contributed to the enrichment of the Christian community, the benefits for its services to the authorities gave the Christian community its strength. It was probably during this period that the dozen churches of Qus and its environs were built or rebuilt. These are listed in the description of the churches of Egypt that was compiled under the Ayyubids at the beginning of the thirteenth century.

There Qus is not separated from what is then called “the west of Qus,” that is, the part on the west (opposite) bank of the Nile between Naqadah and Qamulah, and it seems that the preparation of the last recension of the SYNAXARION of Upper Egypt was made in one of the monasteries to the west of Qus in the twelfth century or at the beginning of the thirteenth.

The Christian community of Qus must have seen its riches and power grow. We may suppose that Christian families from other centers in the valley came to swell their ranks. From the end of the eleventh century, the bishop of Qus made efforts to have it accepted that in the church he had precedence over the other bishops in the region. When subsequently around 1160, Shawar, the Muslim governor of the town, proposed to seize the vizierate by force, he thought it wise to conciliate the local Christian community by making a vow to Saint George in his church of al-‘Abbasah at the gates of the town. Yaqut, who produced his dictionary between 1215 and 1224, stated after spelling the name of the town, “it is a Coptic town.”

However, one could foresee that this situation would not last. A consequence of the choice of Qus as a regional center was the establishment in the town of a qadi (magistrate) of the Upper Sa‘id. And the advancement of Qus had also attracted many Muslim families, some very wealthy, who had left localities like Aswan or Isna to come and live there. The arrival of these Muslims also contributed to urban development. As was often the case at that period, the town must have had a somewhat casual and disorganized appearance due to built-up agglomerations—doubtless in part along the access roads—scattered around the old Christian center, which officially continued to be known as “the town.” Significantly, the qadi lived “outside the town.” The basic activities relating to the handling of goods arriving by road and leaving by the Nile also took place “outside the town.”

The residence of the governors must have been on the outskirts of “the town,” not far from the Jami‘ al-‘Amri; it faced on a maydan (hippodrome or parade ground for the cavalry garrison), a feature characteristic of an age in which a foreign unit of horse troops (increasingly of Turkish origin, and increasingly more dominant) put its stamp on the urban landscape. The presence of these representatives of the Muslim state also favored Islamization. The governors of the Ayyubid period increasingly surrounded themselves with educated Muslims, especially poets. Their official productions, being well received, could only strengthen the hitherto perhaps imperfect Arabic of the population and reinforce the power of attraction of the Muslim environment. Conversions to Islam took place.

Moreover, Qus was not just an important spot on the main Indian Ocean trade route but also a staging-post on the way now favored by Muslim pilgrims to the who wished to avoid the Crusaders’ territories established in Palestine at the end of the eleventh century. Until the reconquest of Jerusalem by Salah al-Din a century later, there was no other route, and consequently, pilgrims made use of it for a long time thereafter. Some of them, especially the Maghribins (those from North Africa), having gone through the town, returned to settle there. Thus gradually a coherent Muslim environment came into being.

In 1210 Qus had its first madrasah (Islamic college). One can well imagine that during the second half of the century, under the first Mamluks, the Christian community to be dominant, if not numerically then at least socially. In a town of indefinite limits, straggling between gardens, the old Christian center around the Church of Saint Stephen was for the Muslims of Qus just the “Harat al-Nasara.” (The term harah seems to have meant a distinct center of population but not a closed quarter, i.e., one of several similar sections of the agglomeration.)

The two communities in the town, one expanding and the other on the defensive, came into confrontation toward the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth century. The situation especially lent itself to the confrontation at Qus, though it cannot be separated from the more general Egyptian context. At Qus, as elsewhere, the dominant class, that is, the and the amirs, employed Christian secretaries who worked in the service of the diwan and saw to the collection of the fiscal revenues. Some elements of the taxes (e.g., those collected by the himself in the whole of the northwestern part of the province of Qus) were levied on a peasantry that was still in large measure Christian. In others, many conversions to Islam had occurred, and the Christian secretaries found themselves in a delicate situation when they had to show strictness against Muslims.

The town Muslims in particular accused them of showing bias in the exercise of their office, especially since some of the Christian secretaries reached high financial positions in the capital, from which they could intervene. The Muslim community, however, was also represented at Cairo, where from 1295 to 1302 a Muslim from Qus took on the responsibilities of the Grand Qadi. Consequently, local incidents were magnified in both directions as a result of external pressures. Often the Christian secretaries, backed by the Mamluk authorities (and therefore implicated with them), won the day.

Toward the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth century, during the period between the two great sultanates of Qalawun and al-Nasir Muhammad, and perhaps because power was so bitterly disputed among the amirs, the Muslim civil population became more insistent on exacting from the sultans and amirs a minimal favor from the Christian secretaries, namely, their forced conversion, and, by extension, stricter respect for the laws of Islam in an Islamic state. This was a show of opposition to the Mamluk authorities, who were ill tolerated, and a genuine religious demand.

In 1300 most of the had been closed for a year. It seems that the Christian community of Qus resolved to resist, gradually reopening the churches when it was possible to do so, sometimes with unwise demonstrations. They affirmed their exclusive presence in those parts of the city that they occupied, particularly in the Christian sector. To do this it was necessary on occasion to remove the Muslim places of worship that had been built among Christian dwellings.

In 1307 an operation of this kind engendered a violent reaction from the Muslim population; thirteen Christian places of worship were attacked and destroyed in a single morning. The repressive action taken by the Mamluk authorities was severe, and similar events did not recur till the great crisis of 1321, which went beyond the town of Qus in its scope.

Then six churches were again devastated, which indicates that in the interval at least a partial reconstruction had taken place. No later incidents are known. In fact, the general administrative development of the Muslim state under al-Malik al-Nasir Muhammad does not seem to have lessened the role of the Christian, or superficially converted, secretaries in the state. Quite the contrary. This is doubtless the period when of Qus referred to the ignorance of his coreligionists of their own language, and drew up in Arabic his grammar of the Coptic language. This is an indication of a decline in the knowledge of Coptic; it is also a sign that the Christians nevertheless had a place in the administrative structures of the Arab-Muslim state.

At Qus the destructive acts of 1307 and 1321 doubtless damaged the integrity of the Christian community, but they did not succeed in turning it into Muslim territory, which appears to have been one of the purposes for destroying churches. As to violence, which in general terms was hard on the Christians, we cannot say how the relationship between the two communities would have developed in the second part of the century had Qus remained a center of attraction for the Muslims of Upper Egypt.

In fact, the position of Qus gradually changed during the second half of the fourteenth century, as the town was no longer the most suitable spot in the upper valley to station troops for the maintenance of order (and in particular to control the bedouin tribesmen).

The center of control, whatever kind it might be, now had to be located in the north at Asyut or, later, at Jirja, because of the establishment of routes from the West to Sudanese and of the disequilibrium this had caused in the bedouin world. This disturbance of the equilibrium, moreover, in part occasioned the disorders of 1365-1366 in the eastern desert and the closure of the ‘Aydhab route. Gradually after that date, and after a serious drought suffered by the town and its region in 1374-1375, the spice trade to pass through Qus. The plague of 1405-1406, which, according to al-MAQRIZI, claimed 17,000 victims at Qus, doubtless cleared out a good part of its population, and there was no longer anything to encourage people to come and settle.

The governor of Qus was of only secondary importance under the Circassian Mamluks. As the structures of the Muslim state no longer operated to the advantage of the town, the Muslim community was affected by departures or by the absence of new settlements to fill the gaps made by the epidemics. Symbolic of this eclipse was the transfer of the qadi to Qina after the Ottoman occupation. The importance of the Christian community, therefore, began to increase in the town. This increase owed less to the exercise of fiscal service that governmental prohibitions sometimes called in question against the Christians than to the traditional activities of Qus, particularly textile craftsmanship and the export of its products to the upper valley of the Nile and probably to Ethiopia.

We may suppose that relations between the Christian community of Qus and the Christians of Ethiopia, who were at the time feared by the Mamluk state, were not purely commercial. In 1430 a governor of Qus left to take service with the negus. When the dilapidated urban environs of the medieval period gradually fell into ruins, and especially in the seventeenth century, it was initially the peripheral Muslim part of the town that was affected. The Christian center around the Church of Saint Stephen, even if penetrated little by little by the Muslims, survived.

At the time of the French expedition at the end of the eighteenth century, in a town of less than 5,000 inhabitants, the proportion of Christians appeared to be significant.

The proportion declined during the nineteenth century, when Qus again saw its population growing because of the rural exodus from the Islamized parts of the countryside. Some Coptic Christians became Protestants. Modern education made it possible for many to leave Qus. But the situation of the Christian community of Qus, which is no longer capital of the Upper Sa‘id, no longer differs in any way from that of the other Christians of Upper Egypt.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Crum, W. E. from the Collection of the Egypt Exploration Fund, the Cairo Museum and Others, pp. 45 and 73. London, 1902.
  • . The Monastery of Epiphanius at Thebes, Vol. 2, pp. 187, 224, 271. New York, 1926.
  • Garcin, J.-C. Un Centre musulman de la Haute- médiévale: Qus. Cairo, 1976.
  • Gril, D. “Une Emeute anti-chrétienne a Qus au début du VIII/XIV siècles.” Annales islamologiques 16 (1980):241-74.
  • Maspero, J., and G. Wiet. Matériaux pour servir à la géographie de l’Egypte, pp. 155ff. Cairo, 1919.
  • Munier, H. Recueil des listes épiscopales de l’église Copte, pp. 14 and 62. Cairo, 1943.
  • Revillout, E. “Textes coptes extraits de la correspondance de Saint Pisenthius.” Revue égyptologique, 9 (1900):142-52 and 154.

JEAN-CLAUDE GARCIN