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October 18, 2017

Not many would know that the 79th patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Theodosius II (1294 – 1300), was a European by origin – a Frank. In Copto-Arabic sources, he is called Tawḍosios (تاوضوسيوس), which stands for Theodosius.

The History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church tells us that before his patriarchate, Tawḍosios was known as Abdel-Messih (عبد المسيح), it being his first name.[1] He was also known as ‘Ibn abu Makeen al-Ifrinji’ (إبن أبو مكين الإفرنجي), which means ‘Son of the Father of Makeen, the Ifrinji’.[2] His father’s kunya (tekonym), then, was ‘Abu Makeen’ (Father of Makeen) and his laqab (nickname) was al-Ifrinji (the Ifrinji). A kunya, in Islamic societies is used to confer respectability on the addressed by referring to him not directly by his first name but by the name of his eldest son. Tawḍosios (Abdel-Massih), then, must have had an elder brother by the name of Makeen. Further, the nickname of Tawḍosios’ father, ‘al-Ifrinji (الإِفْرِنْجِي)’, tells us that he was European: Western Europeans are known in Arabic literature as Franks (Ifrinj إِفْرِنْج); and a singular is Ifrinji (إِفْرِنْجِي).

Another Coptic source, History of Yousab, Bishop of Fawwa, tells us that Tawḍosios was called ‘ibn al-Ifrinjiya’ (إبن الإفرنجية, Son of the Frankish [woman]); which tells us that both Tawḍosios’ parents were Frankish.[3] Further, other Coptic sources[4] tell us that Tawḍosios was called ‘إبن روبل’(Ibn [Son of] Roble). As Arabic is poor in vowels, and as we do not have in the text any tanwīn (nunation), we cannot be sure of the exact transcription of the name, but ‘Son of Roble’ or ‘Son of Robel’ are both likely. The name sounds like a European name and was a common in medieval times in both Spain and Germany. It is Spanish in origin, meaning oak tree [derived from the Latin, ‘robur’]. In Germany, the name takes the form ‘Robel’.

Tawḍosios, who we know something about his family tree, therefore, was a Frank on both sides. A family tree of Tawḍosios would look like this:


The family tree of Patriarch Tawḍosios II

In the next articles we shall study the ordination of Tawḍosios II; the quality of his ptriarchate; and how a European came to be part of the Coptic community in Egypt in the thirteenth century.


[1] Abdel Messih means, Slave of Christ.

[2] See Live of Theodosius II in Severus of Al’Ashmunein (Hermopolis), History of the Patriarchs of the Egyptian Church (Ta’rikh Batarikat al-Kanisah al-Misriyah). Volume III, Part III: Cyril III – Cyril V (AD 1235 – 1894).

[3] See Live of Theodosius II in Yusab, Bishop of Fuwwah: History of the Patriarchs (Ta’rikh al-Batarika).

[4] See Live of Theodosius in Kamil Salih Nakhla: The Series of the History of the Patriarchs (Silsilat Ta’rikh al-Batarika).

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