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Egyptian and Coptic collection

Collection Details

Egyptian and Coptic collection held at Oriental Collections Central Bodleian [Institution record]

Description of Collection

Content description

The Bodleian has a collection of Egyptian papyri containing texts in all three written forms of the Egyptian language viz hieroglyphic, hieratic and demotic.

The Coptic manuscripts are mainly Biblical and liturgical, with a number of lexicographical and grammatical works. The Bodleian has also many early European works on the Egyptian and Coptic languages and currently acquires books and a number of serials relating to all periods of the language and literature of Egypt, including text editions.

History and development

The Egyptian papyri are among the earliest written records in the Library. The oldest, a marriage contract, bears the date 527 B.C. A notable group within the collection is represented by fifteen funerary papyri. In addition there are a number of ritual texts and a handful of mummy wrappings. Some of the funerary papyri formed part of the bequest of the antiquary Francis Douce (1757-1834), making them the Library's first Egyptian accessions. Later in the nineteenth century papyri were purchased from, and given by, Archibald Henry Sayce (1845-1933), professor of Assyriology at Oxford, and the Rev. Greville John Chester (1831-92). In 1912 the Rev. Vivian Eccles Skrine gave a small group of papyri of which several are funerary compositions. The large number of fragments of burnt papyri, mostly demotic, found by Flinders Petrie in 1884 at Tanis, form another component of the collection. They were given to the Library in 1918 by the Egypt Exploration Fund. In 1933 a further five papyri came to the Library under the terms of Professor Sayce's bequest. The ostraca which Professor Sayce donated to the Library in 1914 were transferred to the Ashmolean Museum in 1939.

The Coptic language made its first appearance in the Bodleian in the seventeenth century when 23 manuscripts came in 1685 as part of the bequest of Thomas Marshall, Rector of Lincoln College and Dean of Gloucester. A further 29 were received in 1693 with the purchase of Robert Huntington's oriental manuscripts. In 1885 the Delegates of the Clarendon Press deposited in the Bodleian the Coptic portion of the library of the Coptic scholar Charles Godfrey Woide, which they had purchased on his death in 1790. Five volumes of this library contain Sahidic fragments dating from as early as the seventh century.

As with the Egyptian papyri, miscellaneous Coptic fragments were acquired from Professor Sayce and the Rev. G.J. Chester towards the end of the nineteenth century, and through the former's bequest of 1933. In 1908 the Library took possession of the whole of the find made during the excavations at Deir el-Bala'izah by Flinders Petrie in the previous year. This collection represents the remains of the library and charter-room of the Coptic monastery of St Apollo at Deir el-Bala'izah in Egypt's Western Desert. It is estimated that the material contains fragments of over 3,000 texts - Bible, liturgies, homilies, lives of the saints as well as taxation receipts and monastic accounts. The whole lot belongs to the sixth-eighth centuries.


The collection is strong in Egyptian ritual texts. The most famous Coptic manuscript in the library is the so-called Codex Brucianus, a papyrus codex containing gnostic compositions, which James Bruce had bought in Upper Egypt around 1769.

General arrangement and access regulations

The manuscripts and printed books are closed access and can be consulted in the Oriental Reading Room.

Subjects of the Collection

Regions of Asia

Near & Middle East and North Africa.



Languages of material

Coptic, Egyptian (Ancient).


Archaeology, History, Language, Literature, Religion.

Languages as linguistic focus

Coptic, Egyptian (Ancient).

Collection Material and Size of Collection

Material Types

Books, Manuscripts.

Total size of collection

920 manuscripts, 1,000 printed books

Size of collection - vernacular

100 Egyption papyri, 820 Coptic codices and papyri

Size of collection - western

1,000 printed books on Egyptian and Coptic

Collection Management Information

The collection is being actively developed, and the average intake has stayed the same.

Content date range

527 BC to present

Interlibrary loan procedure

Collection Catalogue Information


There is at present no published catalogue of the Bodleian's Egyptian holdings. A card index giving brief descriptions is available in the Oriental Reading Room. The Library's first Coptic acquisitions are described by J. Uri (1787) in his catalogue of the Bodleian's Oriental manuscripts. Woide's Sahidic fragments were catalogued by Henry Hyvernat in 1887. The catalogue remains in manuscript and is available to readers in the Oriental Reading Room. The collection of Coptic texts from Deir el-Bala'izah was edited by Paul E. Kahle and published in 1954.

Collection printed catalogues

Bala'izah: Coptic texts from Deir El-Bala'izah in Upper Egypt.
Kahle, Paul E.
London: Oxford University Press, 1954.

Bibliothecę Bodleianę codicum manuscriptorum orientalium, ... catalogus, ...
Uri, J.
Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1787.

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