Despite the enormous progresses of the last decades produced by the identification of new texts and the reconstruction of manuscripts, a satisfactory ‘history of Coptic literature’ remains a desideratum.

PAThs represents a change of perspective and an usual approach that is thought to useful in reconstructing the development of Coptic literature.

Despite the fact the a new sensibility is emerging, in the past only rarely have literary production and archaeological contexts been placed in relation to one another and studied as whole: as a rule, in Coptic studies – and not only –, art and archaeology on the one hand, and literature and history on the other, have always represented almost independent fields of research. Although a comprehensible consequence of a traditional subdivision of competences, the result of such an approach has not facilitated dialogue among specialists.

PAThs aims to solicit and encourage such a dialogue. Its purpose is to provide a new perspective of the cultural landscape of Christian Egypt, by interweaving literary, codicological and archaeological data, and producing a series of tools, in great part till now unavailable, in a digital environment, among which an Archaeological Atlas of late antique and early medieval Egypt. This will be searchable at different chronological, regional and thematic levels, and is intended to illustrate the strong interconnection between the intellectual and the material production on the one hand, and the area of provenance on the other.

Christian Egypt represents a unique opportunity, since no other Mediterranean region has yielded such a rich archaeological and bibliological documentation.
Moreover, Egypt is to be considered an authentic laboratory for the progressive elaboration and perfection of what we define as ‘book’.

PAThs will study Coptic books as material artifacts (showing how writing support, form and layout change according to contents and finalities), as intellectual products (that is as a selection and combination of texts: particular attention will be devoted to multiple-text codices), but also as ritual objects (for ex. as part of a funerary kit), yet always strictly relating them to their archaeological settings.

In brief, by taking into account a large corpus of works (c.1,100, plus c.800 titles and c.400 colophons), manuscripts (c.4,000) and archaeological sites (c.750) and interrelating them, the final purpose of PAThs is that literature will no longer be considered and studied as a cultural phenomenon independent of its material context.

The most efficaciously visible product of the project will be an interactive, in-depth, up-gradable and comprehensive archaeological atlas of late antique and early medieval Egypt, searchable at different chronological, regional and thematic levels and illustrating, among the other data:

  • the places where Coptic manuscripts have been found and/or produced - monastic settlements, episcopal sees, tombs, and urban contexts (with a wealth of photos, plans, maps and 3D reconstructions);
  • other works in combination with which a specific text was transmitted, in order to identify modes and ideologies in Coptic literary production, which were subject to change, but also to identify the tastes of their particular patrons;
  • the plausible places where the works were conceived and created. This approach is particularly congenial for some hagiographic and monastic literary production, where ideological and devotional motifs may be extremely telling;
  • the codicological features of the manuscripts (book form, writing support, ruling system, presence of a binding, etc.) and their development in relation to a specific period and a specific region. In Egypt the shift from papyrus to parchment writing support represents a technical innovation that has direct consequences on the number of works transmitted by a single manuscript and sometimes even on its contents;
  • information related to the manuscript makers (places where they practiced their trade, places where they obtained their writing supports, etc.);
  • information concerning the copyists (family relationships, normal professions, times of execution).

Moreover, as describe above, PAThs will integrate the Archaeological Atlas of Coptic Literature with:

  • A complete classification of Coptic literature, by means of the attribution of a Clavis Coptica (CC) entry to each work, each title, and each colophon.
  • A complete classification of the Coptic manuscript tradition, by means of the attribution of ‘stable identifiers’ to each manuscript, in order to have univocal coordinates of reference to the entire Coptic book production.
  • A complete census of the relevant sites which are known as places where single manuscripts or entire ‘collections’ have been found.
  • A complete archive of names of copyists, commissioners, donors, institutions and places involved in the production of manuscripts, which till now has been totally lacking.
  • A classification of the book formats, writing supports and other relevant codicological features of the manuscripts, in relation to the texts that they transmit.