Inscribed Coptic Stele for Apa Simothe

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Inscribed Coptic Stele for Apa Simothe

8th - 10th Century A.D.
60 x 41 x 3 cm (23 ⁵/₈ x 16 ¹/₈ x 1 ¹/₈ inches)



A Coptic stele with a 23 line inscription in Sahidic dialect, framed within a rectangular decorative border. The inscription has been summarily translated by Dr. Lincoln H. Blumell of the Department of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University as:

“An epitaph for an Apa (father) Simothe who was a resident of Tilothis (Nilopolis) in Upper Egypt. The text begins with an invocation to the Holy Trinity and then follows with an invocation to various biblical figures like Adam, Zoe (Eve), the patriarchs and the prophets. Following this, it contains a long litany of Egyptian saints and fathers who are listed for many lines before it commemorates Apa Simothe's death. The epitaph concludes with a plea to God that he remember other Egyptian saints who had previously died.''

Sahidic is a dialect of the Coptic language which was originally spoken around Thebes in around the 2nd century A.D., before becoming the standard Coptic spoken across all of Upper Egypt in the 5th century A.D. It uses the Greek alphabet, supplemented by seven letters borrowed from earlier demotic writing and, whilst no longer spoken, is still the standard liturgical language of Coptic Christians of Egypt.

Funerary stele such as this one were part of the architecture of Coptic tombs, with the inscription intended to honour and commemorate the deceased. They were for the most part in limestone or sandstone, such as this example here, but are also found in marble, alabaster, granite, wood, and terracotta. They were placed into a niche dug out of the mound which covered the tomb, or else within the burial chapel. Often they were of the litanic type, listing saints in hierarchical order.

The title ‘Apa’ (father) given to the deceased, Simothe, could mean he was a priest or deacon. Another funerary stele recorded by Jacques van der Vliet (‘Coptic Epitaphs from Abydos’, Journal of Coptic studies, 2020, Volume: 22, pp. 205-228), whose whereabouts are currently unknown, mentions an Apa Simothe in a list of other Coptic saints (pp. 221-222). Nilopolis was a city and episcopal see on the left bank of the Nile, around forty-seven miles from Memphis.


David Aaron Ltd, 2023, No. 30.


Possibly with George M. Juergen (1897-1986), New York.
Private Collection of Mr Louis Toth, Huntington Long Island, NY, originally acquired in the 1960s/1970s, possibly from the above.
With Harmer Rooke Numismatics, New York, from at least 1981.
Private Collection of Lawrence I. Feinberg, (1942-2009), papyrologist and specialist in ancient manuscripts turned antiquarian bookseller, New York, acquired from the above 20th April 1981, (accompanied by a dated 1981 invoice).
Thence by descent.
ALR: S00220486, with IADAA Certificate, this item has been checked against the Interpol database.

Note on the Provenance

Lawrence I. Feinberg (1942-2009) was a well-regarded specialist in ancient manuscripts and papyri, who eventually established a business selling rare books and manuscripts out of his home. Originally intending to be a chemical engineer, he instead followed his true passion and studied papyrology, mastering Greek, Latin, Egyptian and various Semitic languages and receiving his master’s degree from Columbia University in 1967.

He was hired by Columbia in 1968 to sort and preserve more than 1,000 papyri and vellum fragments that the university had acquired from Egyptian dealers. During this project, he discovered one of the oldest written fragments of Homer’s Odyssey, dating to the third century B.C.

A connoisseur with a wide range of interests, he also collected rare coins, American furniture, prints, paintings, and decorative antiquities, choosing objects for their beauty and rarity, as well as their sense of history.