Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.


(kŏpts), the native Christian minority of Egypt; estimates of the number of Copts in Egypt range from 5% to 17% of the population. Copts are not ethnically distinct from other Egyptians; they are a cultural remnant, i.e., the Christians who have not been converted to Islam in the 14 centuries since the Muslim invasion. The Coptic language, now extinct, was the form of the ancient Egyptian languageEgyptian language,
extinct language of ancient Egypt, a member of the Afroasiatic family of languages (see Afroasiatic languages). The development of ancient Egyptian is usually divided into four periods: (1) Old Egyptian, spoken and written in Egypt during the IV to VI
..... Click the link for more information.
 spoken in early Christian times; by the 12th cent. it was superseded by Arabic.

Most Copts belong to the Coptic Church, an autonomous Christian sect that officially adheres to MonophysitismMonophysitism
[Gr.,=belief in a single nature], a heresy of the 5th and 6th cent., which grew out of a reaction against Nestorianism. It was anticipated by Apollinarianism and was continuous with the principles of Eutyches, whose doctrine had been rejected in 451 at Chalcedon
..... Click the link for more information.
, which was declared (451) a heresy by the Council of Chalcedon. The church is in communion with the Jacobite ChurchJacobite Church
, officially Syrian Orthodox Church, Christian church of Syria, Iraq, and India, recognizing the Syrian Orthodox patriarch of Antioch as its spiritual head, regarded by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox as heretical. It was founded (6th cent.
..... Click the link for more information.
 (also Monophysite). The Ethiopian Orthodox Church was long part of the Coptic Church, but changes in the mid-20th cent. led to autonomy for the former in 1959 when an independent Ethiopian patriarch was consecrated. In rites and customs the Coptic Church resembles other Eastern churches; however, Copts circumcise their infants before baptism and observe certain Mosaic dietary laws. Coptic, Greek, and Arabic languages are all used ceremonially. The chief bishop, the patriarch of Alexandria, is in direct succession to the 5th-century patriarchs who embraced Monophysitism; he is entitled pope. The current pope, Tawadros II, was enthroned in 2012.

Among the Copts a small minority are in communion with the Roman Catholic pope; these "Catholic Copts" have their own organization and churches but share the rites and practices of the Coptic Church. This community began to develop in the 18th cent. Protestant missionaries have established some Coptic congregations. Besides Copts there are Orthodox communities in Egypt, mainly Greek and Syrian; the Orthodox patriarch of Alexandria traces his succession to the Catholic patriarchs of the 5th cent. There are also many Catholic Syrians, mainly Melchites and Maronites. In recent decades, Copts have been the object of attacks by Muslim fundamentalists and extremists in Egypt, especially in the years since the overthrow in 2013 of President MorsiMorsi, Mohamed
, 1951–2019, Egyptian engineer and political leader, grad. Cairo Univ. (B.A. 1975. M.A. 1978), Univ. of Southern California (Ph.D. 1982). He taught engineering at California State Univ., Northridge, and after returning to Egypt in 1985, at Zagazig Univ.
..... Click the link for more information.
, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, by the military.


See D. Attwater, The Christian Churches of the East (2 vol., 1947–48); E. Wakin, A Lonely Minority: The Story of Egypt's Copts (1963); M. Kāmil, Coptic Egypt (1968); O. F. A. Meindarus, Christian Egypt: Faith and Life (1970).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



Egyptians who profess Christianity.

The Copts live chiefly in the cities of the Arab Republic of Egypt (such as Asyut, Akhmim, and Cairo); there are also small communities of Copts in the Sudan, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait. Population, more than 2 million (mid-1960’s, esti-mate). The Copts speak Arabic (the Coptic language, widely spoken in the past, has been preserved only as a liturgical language). The majority of the Copts belong to the Monophysite Coptic Church, which was widespread in Egypt from the fifth century to the Arab conquest (639–642). The Muslim conquerors achieved the Islamization of the local population through various administrative and economic measures—lands owned by monasteries were given to mosques and non-Muslims were subject to higher taxes (on land, for example). As a result, Christianity survived only among some of the town dwellers who were free from land taxes.

Coptic Christianity acquired certain Islamic traits: the Copts pray facing the East, they take off their shoes at the entrance to a church but do not remove their head coverings, and so forth. The Coptic Church has its own churches, monasteries, and schools and is headed by a patriarch. The Copts have their own special calendar, which begins with Aug. 29, 284. The Copts (traditionally) work as servants, artisans, merchants, and laborers; a small number are peasants.


From the fourth to the seventh centuries, before the Arab conquest, the Copts created a distinctive art, which had absorbed the cultural heritage of ancient Egypt and antiquity. Architecture is represented by basilicas (at the White, Red, and Bawit monasteries), domed sepulchres (in al-Bagalat), and two- to four-story dwellings. Imitative art is represented by stone and wood reliefs, paintings, miniatures, and wax painting on boards; decorative and applied art is represented by wood and bone carving and highly artistic fabrics. The realistic images of fourthand early fifth-century Coptic art, which were genre works or were borrowed from Hellenic mythology, were replaced in the fifth and sixth centuries by conventional pictures on Christian subjects; motifs of Near Eastern art (including lion hunting scenes) became widespread in the late sixth and early seventh centuries.


Bok, V. G. Materialy po arkheologii khristianskogo Egipta. St. Petersburg, 1901.
Mat’e, M., and K. Liapunova. Khudozhestvennye tkani Koptskogo Egipta. Moscow-Leningrad, 1951.
Koptskie tkani: Sobranie Gos. muzeia izobrazitel’nykh iskusstv im. A. S. Pushkina.: Moskva. Compiled, with an introduction and catalog by R. Shurinova. [Album.] Leningrad, 1967.
Cramer, M. Das christlich-koptische Ägypten einst und heute: Eine Orientierung. Wiesbaden, 1959.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The month before Christmas is called Kiahk, the fourth month in the Coptic calendar where Copts sing special songs of praise or "Kiahk tunes" on Saturday evenings.
While most Copts live there, the church has about a million members outside the country.
A lawsuit was filed against the Deputy Head of the Salafist Front in Alexandria, Yasser Borhami, accusing him of fomenting a sectarian strife and incitement against the Copts of Egypt through posting an edict on his official Facebook account which prohibited Muslims from greeting Copts on their holidays, describing it as "worse than drinking alcohol and committing adultery."
Copts are fiercely proud of their Egyptian heritage that dates back to the age of the pyramids as early as 3000 B.C.
Hate crime-weary Copts, and not the government, might well themselves be the ones keeping their numbers low on census reports, argues the Pew Research Center .
The latest abductions come after seven Copts were kidnapped in the city a few days earlier.
Critique: A masterpiece of seminal and exhaustive scholarly research, "Copts At The Crossroads" is an important contribution to the growing library of information arising from the political evolution of Egyptian society, culture, and national development.
Ayman Moussa told AFP there had been no security at the church since June, despite several attacks against Copts around the country in the wake of president Mohamed Morsi's July 3 ouster by the army.
Expatriates, particularly Copts, reacted similar outrage.
The leaders of the Church disagreed over the quality of the attendance of the pope's funerals, as some believed that the man deserved a popular ceremony and that the crowds which surrounded the Copts' cathedral for three consecutive days ought to participate in the farewell.
BEIRUT: Lebanon's political and religious leaders Sunday mourned the death of Pope Shenouda III, the spiritual head of Egypt's Orthodox Copts, praising him as a man of unity, dialogue and openness toward other religions.Shenouda III, who died of a heart attack Saturday at the age of 88, had been plagued by health problems for several years.