Qift town

Qift Town

Qift, also spelt Kuft, Greek Coptos, or Koptos, agricultural town, Qina muhafazah (governorate), Upper Egypt. It lies along its east bank at the large bend of the Nile north of Luxor (al-Uqsur). Known to the ancient Egyptians as Qebtu, the town was of an early dynastic foundation. It was important for the nearby gold and quartzite mines in the Eastern Desert to work during the first and second dynasties (c. 2925–c. 2650 BCE) and as a starting point for expeditions to Punt (in modern Somalia). Qebtu was associated with the god Min (temple ruins remain) and the goddess Isis, who, according to legend, found part of Osiris‘ body there. Destroyed in 292 CE by Diocletian, Qift later became a Christian community, lending its name to the Coptic Christians of Egypt and Egypt via the Greek name Aegyptus. Important as a medieval caravan trade centre, the town is known chiefly for its ruins. The famous road to the Red Sea, via Wadi Hammamat that made the town important, starts just to the east at the desert edge. Pop. (2006) 22,063.

Location of Qeft Town

Qift is a small town in the Qena Governorate of Egypt about 43 km (27 mi) north of Luxor, situated under 26° north latitude, on the east bank of the Nile.

History of Qift Town

In ancient times its proximity to the Red Sea made it a vital trading emporium between India, Punt, Felix Arabia and the North. It was important for the nearby gold and quartzite mines in the Eastern Desert and a starting point for expeditions to Punt (in modern Somalia).

In ancient Egypt, Qift town, known then as Gebtu, was an important centre for administration, religion, and commerce, being the chief city of the fifth Upper Egyptian nome of Harawî (Two Hawks). From Qift and Qus, trading expeditions heading for the Red Sea and many mining expeditions into the Eastern Desert left the Nile Valley. Gebtu was at the starting point of the two great caravan routes leading to the coast of the Red Sea, the one toward the port Tââou (Myoshormos or Myos Hormos), the other more southerly, toward the port of Shashirît (Berenice). Under the native pharaohs, the whole trade of southern Egypt with the Red Sea passed over these two roads; under the Ptolemies, as well as in Roman and Byzantine times, merchants followed the same roads for purposes of barter at the coasts of Zanzibar and in Southern Arabia, India, and the Far East.

Gebtu was the most important religious centre in the area. Its principal male deity was Min, a sky god whose symbol was a thunderbolt. He became a male fertility deity and was regarded as the male deity of the desert region to the east.

His cult rose to prominence in the Middle Kingdom. At that time, he became associated with Horus as the deity, Min-Horus. Later, he was fused with Amen in the deity Min-Amen-ka-Mut-ef, as “Min-Amen-bull of his mother” (Hathor-Isis). Isis (Hathor-Isis) and her infant, Horus, were the deities connected with Gebtu, named Coptos, during the Greco-Roman period, probably due to the reinterpretation of the Two Hawks of the Nome, Harawî, standard as Min and Horus. Gebtu, once politically influential, especially under the Eleventh Dynasty, was overshadowed by Thebes.

Greco-Roman and Byzantine age

Qift town was important in Hellenistic times when it was a caravan route to Berenice on the Red Sea. Augustus built it up, and it fell to the Blemmyes in the third cent. AD, and was almost destroyed by Diocletian in AD 292.

It rebelled but soon was captured in 292 by Diocletian after a long siege, and the original city got heavily damaged. It recuperated its prominence under the Antonines; it was the base camp of Legio III Cyrenaica or at least one of its subunits. It was then reconstructed as a Roman City with many fortifications and Roman camps. In the 6th century, Qift was renamed Justinianopolis after the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, like several other cities. The present-day village of Qift is on the site.

Muslim age

Under the caliphs and the sultans in the Islamic era, Qift was a chief city of Upper Egypt and a Shi’ite waqf of the Ashraf Alids. In the 12th/13th century, Yaqut al-Hamawi wrote of Qift’s commerce with India and its surrounding orchards. Several generations of qadi high-officials of the Ayubids derived their family nisba (surname), ‘Al-Qifti’, from the territory. The celebrated biographer al-Qifti was born here in 1172, where he received an early education. In 1176, the Copts revolted against the rule of Al-Adil I, the brother of Saladin. He forcefully put down the revolt by hanging 3000 Copts from trees around the city. In the 13th century, numerous monasteries continued in operation around the city. However, when the Ottomans who ruled over Egypt levelled much of the medieval town in the 16th century, its former significance was never regained. By the early 20th century, its population stood at just 8934.


Remains of three temple groups surrounded by an enclosure wall were located during the excavations of W. M. Flinders Petrie in 1893-1894 and later by Raymond Weill and Adolphe Joseph Reinach in 1910–1911. Qift focused on an American archaeological project from 1987 to 1992 and an Australian one between 2000 and 2003.

Northern temple

The undecorated northern temple of Min and Isis dates to the Ptolemaic period. The temple was rebuilt during the Ptolemaic Period. Earlier structures on the site date back to the Middle Kingdom, with significant work during the New Kingdom reign of Tuthmosis III. The later work has been attributed to an official named Sennuu-shepsi on behalf of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (ruling from 281 BC to 246 BC).

This northern temple has some later additions by Ptolemy IV Philopator ruling from 221–205 BC. He was the son of Ptolemy III and Berenice II of Egypt and was the fourth pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt when the decline of the Ptolemaic kingdom began. More additions were added by Julio-Claudian emperors of Rome, Caligula and Nero.

The second pylon still carries the dedication text of Nero, and the cartouche of Caligula appears on the north end of this structure. In the temple court, a headdress of a statue of Arsinoe II, the wife of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, was found. A chapel from the Saite period stands in the court. The remains of this chapel of Osiris, erected by Amasis II of the 26th Dynasty, also were found near the northern temple. Ahmose-si-Neith built it. Scenes on the facade of the temple show the deified king Ptolemy I Soter leaving a palace, while other items, such as a triad and a stela, dated to the time of Ramesses II.

Bronze knife blade inscribed with the cartouche of Thutmose III, “Beloved of Min of Koptos”. 18th Dynasty. Probably foundation deposit no.1, Temple of Min, Koptos, Egypt. Petrie Museum

Foundation deposits point to a temple of Thutmose III of the 18th Dynasty. This temple stands on the site of earlier Ancient Egyptian temple structures. Another temple belonged to Amenemhat I and his son, Senusret I, of the 12th Dynasty. Senusret I is shown receiving life from Bubastis and Nekhbet. In the Eastern doorway found a decree from the 17th Dynasty ruler Nubkheperre Intef was found within this temple by the East doorway. The decree describes how Nubkheperre Intef deposed a man named Teti.

Middle temple

The middle temple dates back to Thutmose III of the 18th Dynasty. The temple was later rebuilt by Ptolemy II Philadelphus and restored by the Roman emperor Claudius. At the later middle temple site built during the Ptolemaic kingdom, blocks of an earlier structure by Senusret I and a gate of Thutmose III, with additions probably made by Osorkon II of the 22nd Dynasty, were found. This later middle temple was built during the Ptolemaic kingdom by Ptolemy II Philadelphus, with minor additions by members of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty of Rome, Caligula, Claudius, and Trajan. The foundations contained objects from the Old Kingdom and the First Intermediate Period. Stelae depicted Pepi I and his mother, Queen Iput, before the god Min, two decrees and fragments of others by Pepi II. A First Intermediate Period decree regarding offerings to a statue of Pepi II was found. The stele mentions the overseer of the prophets named Idi. Three decrees of Neferkauhor, two of which were addressed to a Vizier and are now in the Cairo Museum.

Southern temple

The southern temple was likely dedicated to Geb. At the site of the Southern Temple are the gates of Nectanebo II of the 30th Dynasty, who was the last native king of Egypt. He was placed on the throne by a Spartan king and lost a conflict with the Persians, who overtook Egypt. Other structures found at the site include a set of stelae, now known as the Coptos Decrees. These stelae date to the Sixth and Seventh dynasties, with copies of royal decrees from the pharaohs concerning the temple and its personnel. The name by which the stelae are known reflects the much later Greek name for the city, Coptos or Koptos. A chapel of Ptolemaic dynasty pharaoh Cleopatra VII and her son, Ptolemy XV Caesarion, has been found at the site as well. For six hundred years, these rulers of Ancient Egypt were not native but of Macedonian Greek origin (the Macedonians had begun merging Greek and Near Eastern culture known as the Hellenistic Culture under Alexander the Great). However, without any changes, they adopted the culture and religious practices of the country they occupied. Cleopatra even learned the ancient Egyptian language, which these rulers had never used. The Greeks sought to find parallels to their own religious beliefs and describe the Egyptian deities related to their own. Built even later, after the conquest by the Romans in 30 AD, gates associated with the Roman emperors Caligula and Claudius are documented at the site. The Romans also continued the religious traditions of Ancient Egypt, adopting some completely and drawing parallels (similar to the Greek rulers) for others.

Temple of Claudius at El-Qala

Northeast of Qift, at the modern village of El-Qala, the Roman emperor Claudius also built a small temple and dedicated it to Min, Isis, and Horus. The Horus name of the Roman emperor Tiberius (emperor 14–37 A.D.) is shown on two columns in the sanctuary. In the south chapel, the emperor offers to Hathor, while on the exterior, he is shown offering to the united emblems of Upper and Lower Egypt. In the same sanctuary, Claudius appears before Isis.

Ecclesiastical History of Qift

The Christian city was still important enough to become a diocese, suffragan of Ptolemais in the Late Roman province Thebais Secunda. Five bishops are known (Le Quien, II, 607): Theodorus, a partisan of Meletius; Phoebammon in 431; Sabinus in 451; Vincent, author of the “Canonical Solutions”, preserved in an Arabic translation and highly esteemed by the Copts; Moyses, who wrote the panegyric of Vincent.

It faded under Islamic rule no later than the Ottoman ruin of the city.

Titular see

The diocese was nominally restored as a Latin Catholic titular bishopric, initially under Coptos, which was changed in 1925 to Coptus. It has been vacant for decades, having had the following incumbents, both of the lowest (episcopal) rank:

Francis Hennemann, Pallottines (S.A.C.) (1913.07.16 – 1951.01.17)

Luis Alfredo Carvajal Rosales (1955.07.28 – 1967.02.17).