Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures
- Author(s): Ruffini, Giovanni
- et al.
Late antique Egypt ran from the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian (284-305 CE) to the Arab conquest of Egypt (641 CE). During this period, Egypt was part of the eastern Roman Empire and was ruled from Constantinople from the founding of that city in the 320s CE. Culturally, Egypt’s elite were part of the wider Roman world, sharing in its classical education. However, several developments marked Egypt’s distinctiveness in this period. These developments included the flourishing of literature in Coptic, the final written form of the native language, and the creation and rapid growth of several forms of monastic Christianity. These developments accompanied the expansion of Christianity throughout the countryside and a parallel decline in the public role of native religious practices. This expansion of Christianity also led to its expansion in Nubia and Ethiopia, Egypt’s closest international neighbors, as a result of travel and trade from the Roman world. Documentary and archaeological evidence suggests a decline in Egyptian village and small town life in some places in this period, but the picture is mixed. The documents reveal large aristocratic estates in some regions and small-scale middle-class enterprises in others, but debate on how to interpret this data continues.