A disputed term adopted by art historians to denote early and medieval Christian art in Egypt as well as art undertaken for pagan patrons in Late Roman and Early Christian Egypt. ‘Copt’ derives from the pharaonic name for Egypt via the Greek aigyptos and the Arabic qibṭ, the word used by the Muslim Arab invaders after ad 641 to refer to the Christian inhabitants of Egypt; in modern usage the term is also applied in a narrow sense to the Monophysite national church.
According to tradition, St Mark brought Christianity to Egypt in the reign of Nero (regad 54–68). Its rapid spread was undoubtedly accelerated by the deteriorating conditions that had prevailed in the country since the Roman conquest of 30 bc. Already by ad 190 the first important institution of religious learning in Christian antiquity, the Catechetical School, had been established in Alexandria; its emergence coincided with the first direct attacks on the city’s Christians. These continued under subsequent Roman emperors, culminating in the persecutions under Diocletian (...