number of Christians in Cairo only. Correspondence from the French embassy in Constantinople in 1702 mentions 40,000 Copts in Cairo and 5000-6000 other Christians in Cairo. In 1702 also, Boucher de la Richardiere estimated that out of the 500,000 inhabitants of Cairo 24,000 were Christians, while around 1720 Claude Sicard reckoned that the city had more than 20,000 Christians, mainly


Two comments need to be made regarding these figures. The most reliable ones are those concerning estimates of the number of Christians 'paying tribute', which indicates either the jizya or the kharaj. The tribute was fixed by the region or by the village and was proportional to the number of Christian families and depended upon how wealthy they were. Whereas according to Vansleb there were 10,000 or at the most 15,000, this figure in reality corresponds to the 100,000 or 150,000 Christians given by Dapper. But it will be noticed then that the number of 'tributaries', that is to say the size of the Coptic community, had declined by half or two-thirds between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. The second comment is that the highest figures turn out to be closest to the actual reality in Egypt towards the end of the eighteenth century. The low figures are based upon an estimate for the number of Christians in Cairo and then for the whole of Egypt. Cairo would have seemed to travellers one of the greatest cities in the world and with just as many if not more inhabitants than Paris, and one of its immediately striking features was its overwhelmingly Islamic appearance and the weak position of the Christian minority, which consisted in part of Greeks, Armenians and Syrians, who were incomers. The Jesuit Sicard estimated the number of churches in Cairo at around twenty or twenty-five, which compared with 1140 large and small mosques.15 Given that the route to Cairo was either by land or along the Nile through Lower Egypt where Christians were particularly thinly spread, it is not surprising that the figures derived from the capital and then applied to the whole of the country were so low.

Most of these estimates concern the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, between 1675 and c.1725 Vansleb and Sicard, two experts on Christian Egypt, allow us to gain a sufficiently detailed idea of the life of the Coptic community. The seven surviving monasteries which maintained some type of monastic life - St Paul's monastery was still abandoned - were sparsely inhabited in Vansleb's time. At St Antony he found nineteen religious who

15 Claude Sicard, Éuvres [Bibliothèque d'étude 85] (Cairo: Institut francais d'archéologie orientale du Caire, 1982), 111,116,122.

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