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E00708: Fragmentary Greek inscription from Ephesos (western Asia Minor) with an excerpt from a letter, probably from the emperor Justinian (527-565), stating the unique dignity of *John (Apostle and Evangelist, S00042) and his precedence over *Polycarp (bishop and martyr of Smyrna, S00004).

online resource
posted on 2015-09-12, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Two substantial fragments of the inscription have been found, and three smaller ones.


]̣ω̣ς καὶ τοσαύ̣τ̣ης ἐκ […...]
ἀξι]̣ωθῆναι καὶ ἀγαπητὸν αὐτὸν μαθητ̣ὴ̣ν
[ὑπὲρ πάν]̣τας ὀνομασθῆναι, καὶ πρῶτον μὲν
[τοῖς Κ(υρίο)υ] ἀνακλιθῆναι στέρνοις, ἐκεῖθέν τε
[ἕκλειν .].τους ἐκείνας φωνάς, δι’ ὧν ἡμῖν καὶ
[δοὺς τὴν] ἔνθεον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀνεκδιήγητον θεο-
[λογίαν κ]αὶ βροντῆς υἱὸς εἰκότως ἐκλήθη, ὡς
[οὐκ ἀνθ]ρώπινον φθεγγόμενος ἀλλ’ ἐξ οὐρανοῦ
[ἡμῖν τὰ μ]̣υ̣στικώτ̣ατα τῶν δογμάτων ἀναφαίνων,
[ c. 14 letters ] τοσοῦτον δὲ τὸ μέγεθος
[ ὥστ]ε καὶ πρὸς τὴν ἁγίαν τε καὶ
[ἀειπάρθενον (?) αὐ]̣τοῦ κυρίως μητέρα τὸν θ(εὸ)ν
[ ἁγιώ]τ(ατον) ἀπόστολον εἶναι τῆς
[ ]αν μητρὸς ὑπαρχούση̣ς
[ ἀ]̣γ̣ί[ου ἀ]̣ποστόλου κατα[....]

I. 1-2. ἐκ [τούτου | τειμῆς ἀξι]ωθῆναι Keil || 2-3. μαθητὴ[ν | θῡ παρὰ πάν]τας Keil || 4. [τοῖς τοῦ θ̅υ̅] Keil || 4-5. τε|[θήλακε (Heberdey) ἀπύσ]τους Keil, τέ|[τακε ἀγνώσ]τους or ἀρρήτους Keil p. 371 n. 1, τε | [σχεῖν (or λαβεῖν) τὰς ἀφά]τους Grégoire, τε | [σχεῖν τὰς ἀρρή]τους Wankel || 5-6. και|[νίζων τό τε] ἔνθεον Keil, καὶ [φήνας (or δηλῶν) τό τε] ἔνθεον Grégoire Wankel || 6-7. θεο|[λόγος τε κ]αὶ Keil || 8. [οὐδὲν ἀνθ]ρώπινον Keil || 10. [τε καὶ ἀνακαλύπτων.] Keil || 11. [τῆς τιμῆς αὐτοῦ ὥστ]ε Keil || 12. [ἐξ ἁγs πνεύματος αὑτ]οῦ Keil || 13. [ἀποφαίνειν, τὸν ἁγιώ]τs Keil || 14. [αὐτῆς υἱὸν κατ᾿ ἐναντί]αν μητρὸς Keil, οὐ κατ᾿ ἀλήθει]αν Crönert || 15. [τῆς Θεοτόκου τοῦ ἁγιωτs ἀ]π[οσ]τόλου Keil || 15-16. κατ[ὰ τοὺς | λόγους τοῦ θ̅υ̅] Keil, κατὰ [δὲ τὴν | ἀξίωσιν τοῦ θ̅υ̅] Crönert || 14-15. [αὐτῆς υἱόν, ὡσπερ] ἂν μητρὸς ὑπαρχούση̣ς | [τοῦ αὐτοῦ ἁ]̣γ̣ι[ωτ(άτου) ἀ]ποστόλου κατὰ [υἱοθεσίαν (or: τὸ πνεῦμα?) - - -] Rizos


[ ].̣ω.[....]̣λου μ̣α[ ]
[ ]̣ωρειν καὶ ὑποκεκλ̣ί[σθαι ]
[ ] ̣ἁ̣γ̣ι̣ωτ(άτου) μάρτυρος Πολυκάρπο[υ τοιοῦτο]
[προνό]μιον ἐσχηκότος. οὐ γὰρ ἑτέρ[α τούτῳ τῆς]
[ἁγιό]τητος οὐδὲ τῆς ἱερω<σ>ύνης ̣δ[ιδασκαλία]
[ἢ παρ]̣ὰ τῶν ἀποστόλων τε καὶ μαθ[ητῶν τοῦ θ(εο)ῦ,]
[οὐδὲ] ἂν οὐδὲ αὐτὸς ἀποδέξοιτο, Σ̣μ[υρναίους]
[εἰ τ]ῷ καθ’ ὑμᾶς ἀποστολικῷ τε̣μ[ένει (?) ]
[ ]ειν ἐπιχειροῖεν [ ]
[ ] ἐξ οὗ καὶ αὐ[ ]
[ ] ἀριθμηθ[ ]
[ ]̣α̣ι̣κ[ ]

II. 1. μεγά]̣λου μ̣ά[ρτυρος (?) Feissel || 2-3 ...ρειν καὶ ὑποκεκλ[ιμένου ἄρ|χειν ἄτε τῆς τοῦ ἁγι]ωτs Keil, ]̣ωρειν Wankel, ὀλιγ]̣ωρεῖν Merkelbach || 3-4. Πολυκάρπο[υ ἐπισκο|πῆς τὸ προνό]μιον Keil Wankel, Πολυκάρπο[υ τὸ ἱερώ|τατον μνη]μῖον Keil || 4-5. ἕτερ[ος τούτω πε|ρὶ τῆς ὁσιό]τητος Keil Wankel || 5-6. ἂ[ν ἁμιλλη|θείη. ἀλλὰ] τῶν Keil Wankel || 6-7. μαθ[ητῶν τὴν ἐξαί|ρετον δόξ]αν Keil Wankel, κυριώ|τεραν δόξ]αν Crönert || 7-8. Σ[μυρναῖοί τε | εἴ τίνες τ]ῶ Keil, Σμ[υρναῖοι Wankel || 8-9. Τει[μοθέω αὐτὴν | περιβάλλ]ειν Keil Wankel (omisit αὐτὴν) || 7-9. Σ̣μ[υρναῖοι δὲ εἰ | τῇ αὐτῇ τ]ῷ καθ’ ὑμᾶς ἀποστολικῷ τει[μῇ θρόνῳ ἑαυτοὺς | περιβαλ]εῖν ἐπιχειροῖεν [- - -] Rizos || 9-12. [οὐδαμῶς ἂν γνώμην συγ|καταθεῖντο.] ἐξ οὗ καὶ αὐ[τοκέφαλος γενέσθαι καὶ ἐν | ἀρχιεπισκόποις] ἀριθμηθ[ῆναι ὁ Σμυρναίων θρόνος | ἠξιώθη] Keil, omisit Wankel.


τ]̣οῖς δὲ [




]̣τέραν [
]. Τ̣Ι.[

'[- - -] and that he was deemed worthy of such [- - -] and he was called the most beloved disciple [above all others], and, firstly, he was to repose on the chest [of the Lord], and thence [he received] those words, through which [he gave] to us his divine and indescribable theology, and for this reason he was justly called the Son of Thunder, because he spoke [nothing] of human provenance, but from Heaven did he reveal for [us] the most occult of teachings. Such was the greatness of [- - -] that God, addressing his holy and [forever Virgin (?)] real mother, [- - - the most holy] Apostle was [her son (?) - - -] mother being present [- - -] of the holy Apostle [- - -]

[- - - of the great martyr (?) - - -] to be inclined (?) [- - - ] of the most holy martyr Polycarp who had [such privilege]. And he did not receive any [teachings] on holiness and priesthood other than [from] the Apostles and Disciples [of God (?)]. And he himself would not approve that if the citizens of Smyrna would have attempted to [- - -] for your apostolic [sanctuary - - -]'

Text: Feissel, D., "Acte de Justinien mettant en parallèle saint Jean et saint Polycarpe" (forthcoming, kindly shared by Denis Feissel in a letter dated 17.09.2016.). Translation: E. Rizos, P. Nowakowski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

John the Evangelist : S00042 Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr, and other martyrs in Smyrna, ob. 2nd c. : S00004 Mary, Mother of Christ : S00033 Timothy, the disciple of Paul the Apostle, ob. c.97 : S00466

Saint Name in Source

Πολύκαρπος Μήτηρ Θεοῦ Τει[μόθεος]

Image Caption 1

Part I. Drawing from: Keil 1924.

Image Caption 2

Part II. Drawing from: Keil 1924.

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.) Canonical and legal texts


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Ephesus Smyrna

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Ephesus Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia Smyrna Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Awarding privileges to cult centres

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Considerations about the hierarchy of saints

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Monarchs and their family


Fragmentary plaque of bluish marble with white veins. Dimensions of the surviving pieces: I: H. max 0.45 m; W. 0.65 m; Th. 0.045-0.06 m; letter height 0.02-0.0225 m (found in the ruins of the baths of the gymnasium, near the harbour, and put together from ten conjoining fragments by Rudolf Heberdey in 1911 [inv. 1892]). II: H. 0.335 m; W. 0.58 m; Th. 0.043-0.0575 m; letter height c. 0.02-0.022 m (two conjoining fragments; found respectively in 1904 [inv. 1213] and 1907 [inv. 1569] by Josef Keil in the narthex and the atrium of the church of Mary). III/1-3: three non-conjoining small fragments measuring respectively: III/1 [inv. 358]: H. 0.10 m; W. 0.09 m; Th. 0.055 m; letter height 0.02-0.025 m; III/2 [inv. 402]: H. 0.15 m; W. 0.08 m; Th. 0.055 m; letter height 0.015-0.025 m; III/3 [inv. 1083]: H. 0.12 m; W. 0.09 m; Th. 0.049 m; letter height c. 0.02 m. Two of these were found by Heberdey in the fields in 1898 (inv. 358: «im Winter im Feld Dionysi aufgelesen»; inv. 402: «auf den Feldern ausserhalb der byz. Mauer gegen den Bülbüldagh»); one by Josef Keil in 1905 in the south aisle of the church of Mary. We can be sure that all these fragments come from the same text, but their order is not certain. Hermann Wankel probably rightly supposed that the whole plaque was originally located in the church of Mary. Fragments I and II were originally published by Joseph Keil in 1924. Significant portions of the text of this edition were restored, based on very hypothetical, and not always justified, conjectures. Keil's edition was republished in Byzantion in 1924 by Henri Grégoire with a French translation and minor changes; then in the fourth volume of Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum with completions by Wilhelm Crönert; in 1979 in the first volume of Die Inschriften von Ephesos in a slightly modified form by Hermann Wankel, and, after Wankel's edition, by Mario Amelotti in 1985 in his Le costituzioni giustinianee nei papiri e nelle epigrafi. Above we present a new transcription and apparatus by Denis Feissel, based on an examination of the two already published parts and the three new, previously unpublished, fragments. This transcription was kindly communicated to us by Feissel in a letter dated 29.03.2016 and is going to be published together with further comments by him in his forthcoming corpus of Ephesian inscriptions.


The text is clearly concerned with the status of Ephesos as the church of John the Apostle in relation to Smyrna as the church of the martyr Polycarp. The first editor of the inscription, Josef Keil, claimed that the wording fits the language of legal decisions of Justinian, and concluded that it was an imperial letter settling a priority quarrel between the two episcopal sees. The cities of Ephesos and Smyrna had argued over precedence for several centuries, already during the high imperial period (e.g. under Antoninus Pius). After the council of Chalcedon (451) the see of Smyrna was exempted from the ecclesiastical authority of Ephesos and became an autocephalous bishopric. The bishops of Constantinople, trying to diminish the power of the Ephesian metropolitans in western Asia Minor, were presumably the moving spirits behind this change. Keil believed that our text referred to these events, and that it was an expression in favour of the church of Smyrna (despite being set up in Ephesos!). He suggested a substantial reconstruction of the last lines of Part II to suit this interpretation: Σμ[υρναῖοι τε, | εἴ τινες τ]ῷ καθ' ὑμᾶς ἀποστολικῷ Τει[μοθέῳ αὐτὴν | περιβάλ]λειν ἐπιχειροῖεν, [οὐδαμῶς ἄν γνώμην συγ|καταθεῖντο·] ἐξ οὗ καὶ αὐ[τοκέφαλος γενέσθαι καὶ ἐν | ἀρχιεπισκόποις] ἀριθμηθ[ήναι ὁ Σμυρναίων θρόνος | ἠξιώθη] / 'The Smyrnaeans would never consent if someone would attempt to invest your apostolicus Timothy with the same dignity. Therefore, the see of Smyrna should become autocephalous and be included among the archbishoprics.' This interpretation is, however, highly speculative. Also the occurrence of the name of Timothy (a disciple of Paul the Apostle and founder of the Ephesian Christian community) in line II.7, argued by Keil, cannot be taken for granted, as the preserved passages can be understood in a completely different way, for instance: Σμ̣[υρναῖοι δὲ εἰ | τῇ αὐτῇ τ]ῷ καθ’ ὑμᾶς ἀποστολικῷ τει[μῇ θρόνῳ ἑαυτοὺς | περιβα]λ̣εῖν ἐπιχειροῖεν [- - -] / 'Now if the Smyrnaeans attempted to invest themselves with the same dignity as your apostolic throne [- - -]' (reconstruction by Efthymios Rizos) or, as suggested by Denis Feissel: [οὐδὲ] ἂν οὐδὲ αὐτὸς ἀποδέξοιτο, Σμ[υρναίους | εἰ τ]ῷ καθ’ ὑμᾶς ἀποστολικῷ τεμ[ένει (?) - - - | - - -]ειν ἐπιχειροῖεν [- - -] / 'And he himself would not approve that if the citizens of Smyrna would have attempted to [- - -] for your apostolic [sanctuary - - -].' Similarly, the Justinianic authorship of our text has been a subject of some uncertainty. In 1991 Denis Feissel stated that the author of the letter might indeed have been Justinian, but could have been another emperor or even a bishop (see: Feissel 1995, p. 97 = Feissel 2010, p. 37); Feissel repeated this opinion in 1999 (see: Feissel 1999, no. 29: “acte imperial (?)” and pp. 127-128: “un document de date et de caractère mal définis, lettre d'un empereur (ou peut-être d'un évêque)”). However, in an inventory of legal texts published in 2009 Feissel describes this inscription simply as an imperial letter (possibly written by Justinian), see: Feissel 2009, p. 121 = Feissel 2010, p. 64. Similarly, his forthcoming edition is titled: Acte de Justinien mettant en parallèle saint Jean et saint Polycarpe. The principal arguments for this reasoning are the following. Feissel rightly observes that the letter was explicitly addressed to the Ephesians as a foreign community (2nd person plural: τ]ῷ καθ’ ὑμᾶς), which makes it very unlikely to be the work (e.g. a sermon) of an Ephesian bishop. The phrasing is highly sophisticated, and very different from that of local inscriptions, suggesting an origin for the text in Constantinople. Another imperial letter of Justinian was certainly published as an inscription by Hypatios the influential bishop of Ephesos (PCBE 3, Hypatios 4) and is very similar in appearance. Therefore, it is highly probable that our inscription renders another legal decision of Justinian published by the same bishop. Justinian's rebuilding of the great church of John near Ephesos is an obvious possible context for this letter. Finally, in Procopius' description of the new church of John, the importance of the saint is expressed in very similar terms to our inscription: θεολόγος δὲ τὴν ἐπίκλησιν ὁ ἀπόστολος οὗτος ὠνόμασται, ἐπεὶ τά γε ἀμφὶ τῷ θεῷ ἄμεινον αὐτῷ ἢ κατὰ ἀνθρώπου δεδιήγηται φύσιν / 'This Apostle has been named the Theologian, because the nature of God was described by him in a manner beyond the unaided power of man' (trans. H.B. Dewing). Fragment I is entirely devoted to a discussion of the unique status of the Apostle John. He is introduced as the most beloved disciple of Jesus, having access to the most occult divine mysteries due to his close physical contact with the Lord: the fact that he reposed on His chest. John is also presented as the new son of Mary, the true mother (κυρίως μητέρα) of Jesus, i.e. in a way as a substitute of Jesus. Needless to say, these images are inspired by the descriptions of an unnamed Apostle from the Gospel of John, probably John himself. Fragment II deals with the status of Polycarp, an excellent martyr of Smyrna and priest, but also a disciple of John, expected to revere his teacher. The higher nature of the Apostles over martyrs is openly expressed also in other sources. For example a Coptic homily on the resurrection and the Apostles attributed to John Chrysostom says: 'Indeed, which martyr can be compared with them (the Apostles)? For the martyrs were tested only in a single district while they, on their part, were tested in many cities and villages, the test being different from city to city and from village to village: the hardships of the roads, hunger thirst, the trials of being a stranger, the prisons, the fear of the sea on which they sailed. What will I mention, what omit? Truly, they suffered more than anyone and were also glorified more than all the saints, etc.' (trans. Z. Plese; We owe this reference to Gesa Schenke, see: E01925). The last lines of Fragment II are scarcely legible, but one can suppose that they refer to some unjustified perturbations in the ecclesiastic hierarchy. Part III is very fragmentary, but it almost certainly contains a reference to a certain peribleptos, perhaps a Count of the East involved in the execution of the imperial orders.


Edition: Feissel, D., "Acte de Justinien mettant en parallèle saint Jean et saint Polycarpe" (forthcoming). Die Inschriften von Ephesos, I 45 Amelotti, M., Migliardi Zingale, L., (eds.), Le costitutioni giustinianee nei papiri e nelle epigrafi (Milan: A. Giuffré, 1985), 125-127, no. 15 Grégoire, H., "La querelle ïEphèse et de Smyrne", Byzantion 1 (1924), 712-715 Keil, J., "Johannes von Ephesos und Polykarpos von Smyrna", Strena Buliciana. Commentationes gratulatoriae Francisco Bulić ob XV vitae lustra feliciter peracta oblatae a discipulis et amicis, AD IV non. oct. MCMXXI (Zagreb – Split: Zaklada Tiskare Narodnih Novina, 1924), 367-372 Further reading: Destephen, S., Prosopographie du Diocese d'Asie (325-641) (Prosopographie chrétienne du Bas-Empire 3, Paris: Association des amis du centre d'histoire et civilisation de Byzance, 2008), Hypatios 4. Destephen, S., "Martyrs locaux et cultes civiques en Asie Mineure", in: J.C. Caillet, S. Destephen, B. Dumézil, H. Inglebert, Des dieux civiques aux saints patrons (IVe-VIIe siècle) (Paris: éditions A. & J. Picard, 2015), 81. Feissel D., "Épigraphie et constitutions impériales: aspects de la publication du droit à Byzance", in: Cavallo, C., Mango, C., (eds.), Epigrafia medievale greca e latina, ideologia, funzione. Atti del seminario di Erice, 12-18 settembre 1991 (Spoletto: Centro italiano di studi sull'Alto medioevo, 1995), 67-98. Feissel, D., "Épigrahie administrative et topographie urbaine: l'emplacement des actes inscrits dans l'Éphèse protobyzantine (IVe – VIe s.)", in: R. Pillinger, O. Kersten, F. Krinzinger, O. Russo (eds.), Efeso paleocristiana e bizantina = Frühchristliches und byzantinisches Ephesos: Referate des vom 22. bis 24. Februar 1996 im Historischen Institut beim Österreichischen Kulturinstitut in Rom durchgeführten internationalen Kongresses aus Anlass des 100-jährigen Jubiläums der österreichischen Ausgrabungen in Ephesos (Denkschriften: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse 282, Archäologische Forschungen 3, Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1999), 121-132. Feissel D., "Les actes de l'état imperial dans l'épigraphie tardive (324-610): prolégomènes à un inventaire", in: Haensch, R. (ed.), Selbstdarstellungen und Kommunikation. Die Veröffentlichung staatlicher Urkunden auf Stein und Bronze in der Römischen Welt. Internationales Kolloquium an der Kommission für Alte Geschichte und Epigraphik in München, 1. bis 3. Juli 2006 (Vestigia 61, Munich: Beck, 2009), 97-128. Feissel, D., Documents, droit, diplomatique de l'Empire romain tardif (Bilans de recherche 7, Paris, 2010), 37, 64. Halkin, F., "Inscriptions grecques relatives à l'hagiographie, IX, Asie Mineure", Analecta Bollandiana 71 (1953), 80. Knibbe, D., "Der Tempel der Flavischen Augusti in Ephesos un Johannes der 'Theologe'", in: Pillinger, R., Kersten, O., Krinzinger, F., Russo, O. (eds.), Efeso paleocristiana e bizantina = Frühchristliches und byzantinisches Ephesos: Referate des vom 22. bis 24. Februar 1996 im Historischen Institut beim Österreichischen Kulturinstitut in Rom durchgeführten internationalen Kongresses aus Anlass des 100-jährigen Jubiläums der österreichischen Ausgrabungen in Ephesos (Denkschriften: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse 282, Archäologische Forschungen 3, Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1999), 79. Markschies, Ch., Kaiserzeitliche christliche Theologie und ihre Institutionen: Prolegomena zu einer Geschichte der antiken christlichen Theologie (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007), 23-26. Reference works: Bulletin épigraphique (1981), 433. Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 4, 517.

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