Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at Textile Society of America 11th Biennial Symposium: Textiles as Cultural Expressions, September 4-7, 2008, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Copyright © 2008 Elisabeth R. O’Connell


Modern Akhmim was a productive source of “Coptic” textiles entering international collections in the late nineteenth century. Fragments said to have come from the site constitute the majority of registered textiles held by the Ancient Egypt and Sudan Department, The British Museum. In Late Antiquity, Akhmim was the location of Panopolis/Shmin, one of about forty metropoleis and a city relatively well documented in contemporary textual and other archaeological sources. This is precisely the period in which most of Egypt’s residents became Christian. The abundance of material culture representing Panopolis/Shmin provides an opportunity to explore and challenge the categories scholars have traditionally used to describe late antique Egypt: Christian/pagan, rural/urban, poor/wealthy, Coptic/Greek. This paper will establish the grounds for attributing the BM corpus to the site; discuss the context of their ancient production and function; and explore the expression of cultural and personal identity via textiles, arguing for conservatism in religious and burial practice in late antique Egypt.