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Covering approximately the region of modern Egypt in north-eastern Africa. See also Arabic and Islamicate for inclusion in general discussion, but many uses are for Roman-era or Coptic Egypt.

LHMP entry

This article is a narrowly-focused study of single, once-married women in Coptic Egypt, concerning their difficulties due to that state and the support networks available to them. It draws on non-literary evidence primarily from the 6th to 8th century from the area around Thebes. The evidence includes letters and incidental legal documents and focuses on local conditions at a village level.

This article looks at the demographics of pre-Christian Egypt to evaluate the claim that the presence of never-married adults is a Christian phenomenon. Roman legal and literary sources treat single adults as a special anomaly, such as Vestal Virgins or priests of Cybele. Augustine law encouraged marriage and even penalized potential heirs if not married. This applies only to the citizen class and specifically does not apply to those in the military, sex workers, and enslaved people.

The introduction begins with the definition of what we mean by “single” in this context, then looks for Greek and Latin vocabulary that carries that meaning, as well as similar meanings in other ancient languages. The modern sense is “a person not married or in an exclusive relationship.” But cross-culturally, the vocabulary of singleness may emphasize celibacy, solitariness, or loneliness, or distinguish the state for men and women. But in modern international use, the untranslated English word “single” has come into use as a general and neutral term.

Hatem looks at systems of institutionalized male control of female sexuality in 18-19th century Egypt, considering issues of class and ethnicity, as well as large-scale political shifts and disruptions. Moreover, patriarchal systems are not only about relations between men and women, but about how relations among women and relations among men support or resist power structures.

This article is interesting for the context it provides for Brooten’s (1997) discussion of Coptic Egyptian love magic directed from one woman to another. Although there is only a passing mention of Brooten’s work and of same-sex love magic, the background understanding is useful.

Primary Source Text: The Babyloniaka of Iamblichos

The general topic of this chapter is the historic association of the clitoris with transgressive lesbian sex (as opposed to culturally-acceptable same-sex relationships). Traub begins by reviewing Freud's theory that vagina = heterosexual, clitoris = homosexual, and points out that this was not a new concept with him but merely the culmination of a long tradition.

In the 5th century CE, Taese and Tsansno**, two women living in a monastery in Southern Egypt were chastised for "running after" other women in "friendship and physical desire". This instance--with its unusual specificity of details--is part of a general discourse on women's homoerotic activities in Late Antique Egypt that is shaped by the (mostly) male monastic writers whose records survive. While this material dates from a fairly late (and geographically peripheral) part of the Roman Empire, enough continuity can be identified to use it as a window on broader Roman thought.

The article concerns the interrelationships in the Mamluk military caste between the lack of an ability to pass on inheritance, the relatively high status of women, and a general acceptance of homosexuality (among men). At the end of the article is an appendix discussing cross-gender behavior and possible evidence for lesbianism among women in the Mamluk community. One author (Mervat Hatem), discussing 18-19th century Mamluks in Egypt, notes “Lesbian women in Mamluk harems behaved like Mamluks, riding pedigreed horses, hunting, and playing furusiya (chivalrous) games.


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