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E01232: Rocks near Grammata on the island of Syros (the Aegean Islands) are covered with dozens of graffiti, mostly authored by ship-owners and sailors asking for a safe journey and invoking God as the Lord, *Phokas (martyr of Sinope, S00052), and unnamed *Apostles. The graffiti also contain references to ships named after *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033). Probably 5th-7th c.

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posted on 2016-03-31, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski, Bryan
The place called Grammata or τῶν Γραμμάτων (literally: 'Of the letters/writings') is a natural port (c. 400 m long, with two bays: Vathi Potami and Gria Spilia), sited on the north-western coast of the island of Syros. Near and in the port itself there are several rocks covered with dozens of graffiti with invocations: pagan (55 texts, with references to, for example, the gods Serapis and Asclepius), Jewish (a Jew of Naxos and his companions address the Lord/Κύριος, see: Kiourtzian 2000, no. 108; a Jew addresses 'the Living God'/ὁ θεὸς ζῶν, see: Kiourtzian 2000, no. 118), and Christian ones (more than 65 texts, mostly invocations of God as the Lord/Κύριος).

The site was first explored by Klonas Stephanos, physician and amateur archaeologist, in 1869 and again in the winter of 1873/1874, under the auspices of the Athenian Archaeological Society (Η εν Αθήναις Αρχαιολογική Εταιρεία). Stephanos noted that graffiti were incised on five greyish-white marble rock-faces, two of them (Α and Β) were at the site of the port itself, while three (Γ, Δ, and Ε) were in its immediate area. Faces Α and Β are at an angle of c. 40 degrees to the ground. The surface of Face Α is c. 35 m2 large. Face Β is located c. 30 m to the east of Face Α and its surface measures c. 40m2. It seems that Face Β was once a part of a quarry and the graffiti were engraved when the complex had been abandoned. The rock-faces, located outside the port, are much smaller. Face Γ is the southernmost one, measuring c. 8 m2; Face Δ has c. 14 m2; and Face Ε (the northernmost one) c. 4 m2.

The site was revisited by Charles Bayet before 1876, who copied several texts and published two of them in capital letters in a short communication in Revue archéologique in 1876. Andreas Phrangidis, a physician from Syros, also explored the port at the end of the 19th c., and the results of his studies were published in the posthumously edited book: Ιστορία της Νήσου Σύρου. In 1903 Friedrich Hiller von Gaertringen, the editor of the fifth part of the twelfth volume of Inscriptiones Graecae, came to Grammata to verify the readings of earlier editors, but it appeared that the inscribed rock-faces were weathered or damaged by people occasionally visiting the site, so he relied for the most part on Stephanos' copies, when republishing these texts. In the first decades of the 20th c. the graffiti from Grammata were also the object of field studies by T. Evangelidis, director of the High School in Ermoupoli (Syros) and M.I. Zolotas. Both published notes on these texts in the Κυκλαδικόν ημερολόγιον.

The most complete edition and thorough commentary were offered by Georges Kiourtzian in 2000, in his corpus of Christian inscriptions from the Cyclades. The scholar visited the site in the autumn of 1987 and then in May of 1988, 1989 and 1992, spending more time reading and photographing the graffiti, than his predecessors. This resulted in reliable readings of previously known texts and the discovery of several new invocations.

Kiourtzian, like earlier editors, (see Kiourtzian 2000, 141-142) dated most of the Christian inscriptions to the late antique period (5th/7th c.), based on the contents (a reference to a governor of the province of Bithynia, and his subordinate, optio) and the letter forms. Just several texts are from the middle Byzantine era, and some come apparently from the modern period. It is assumed that Christianity was present on the island already in the 4th c., mostly based on the study of archaeological remains of churches, though bishops of Syros appear on council lists not until the early 10th c. (see: Kiourtzian 2000, 135-136).

Kiourtzian supposes that the site of Grammata was rarely visited, or even abandoned, between the 7th and 10th c., mostly because of the Arab raids on the Cyclades, but also due to changes in trade routes. These chronological conclusions are similar to those concerning the so-called cave of St. Stephen, near Gastria on the island of Tinos, likewise rich in seafarers' graffiti (see: E01228).

The supplicants, mentioned in the Christian inscriptions of Grammata, are mostly seafarers: sailors and ship-owners (ναῦται and ναύκληροι). Some invocations contain requests for help specifically for ships and for a safe journey (εὔπλοια). Most of the mentioned people are men of uncertain status. There are also references to a citizen of Ephesos (Kiourtzian 2000, no. 93), an inhabitant of Paros (Kiourtzian 2000, no. 115), a ship-owner of Miletos (Kiourtzian 2000, no. 126), a citizen of Miletos (Kiourtzian 2000, no. 128), travellers 'saved in the city of Tyre' (Lebanon) (Kiourtzian 2000, no. 96), a lector and a deacon from Naxos (Kiourtzian 2000, nos. 105, 110), a deacon (Kiourtzian 2000, no. 123), a soldier (Kiourtzian 2000, no. 130), and an optio of the governor of Bithynia, northern Asia Minor (Kiourtzian 2000, no. 131). Women are rarely mentioned (e.g. Kiourtzian 2000, no. 84: a mother).

A characteristic feature of these invocations is that they are made on behalf of groups of people, usually travelling companies (συμπλοία) or ship-owners and their subordinates. Therefore, it seems that the graffiti were incised during occasional visits to the island (for example during storms or while replenishing supplies), and the site was not an independent pilgrimage destination.

Formulas used in the invocations are mostly Κύριε, βοήθει/'Lord, help!' and Κύριε, σῶσον/'Lord, save!' followed by names of supplicants. Inscriptions with thanksgiving formulas are much less frequent (for instance Kiourtzian 2000, no. 95: εὐχαριστοῦμεν/'We give thanks').

Among more than sixty-five Christian invocations, we have just five with explicit references to saints. These are scratched on Faces Α and Β.

Graffito 1: Kiourtzian 2000, no. 71; IG XII 5,712, no. 56; Stephanos 1875, no. 56.

Κ(ύρι)ε κα(ὶ) ἅγιε Φωκᾶ σõσον
τὸ πλοῖον Μαρία καὶ το-
ὺς πλέοντας ἐν αὐτ̣õͅ
[- - - - -]πηδάλ̣ι̣ο C [- -]
[ - - -]CΗ̣C[- -]
[- - - - -]̣Η[- -]

1. κ[ὲ] Stephanos, Κε. κ[αὶ ἅ]γιε Hiller von Gaertringen || σõσο[ν] Stephanos Hiller von Gaertringen || 2. τὸ [πλ]οῖον Stephanos Hiller von Gaertringen || 3. [π]λέοντας Stephanos Hiller von Gaertringen || 4. ΠΗΔΑΝΑ Stephanos, ΥΧΙΧ ΠΗΔΑΝΑ Hiller von Gaertringen, πηδάλ̣ι̣ο<ν> σ[ωτηρίας ψυχῆς πά]ση̣ς Kiourtzian || 5. CΗC Stephanos

'Lord and saint Phokas, save the ship Mary and those who sail in it [- - -] the rudder (?) [- - -]'

This graffito was engraved on the rock-face A, over an earlier pagan invocation (below line 5 there are traces of a diagonally written word, probably: εὐτυ[χῶς]/'fortunately'). H. 0,25 m; W. 0,56 m; letter height 0.03 m.

The invocation is addressed to God as the Lord (Κύριος) and Saint Phokas, asked to save a ship and unnamed seafarers. The invocation is addressed to God as the Lord (Κύριος) and Saint Phokas, asked to save a ship and unnamed seafarers. This is almost certainly *Phokas, martyr of Sinope (S00052). Asterios, bishop of Amaseia, in his Homily IX (see: $E01963) praises this martyr as a patron of sailors, in particular those travelling across the Aegean Sea: ναῦται δὲ καὶ πλωτῆρες οἱ πανταχοῦ, οὐχ οἱ τὸν Εὔξεινον διαπλέοντες Πόντον, ἀλλὰ καὶ οἱ τὸν Ἀδρίαν τέμοντες καὶ ὑπὲρ Αἰγαίου φερόμενοι, καὶ ὅσοι τὸν Ὠκεανὸν πλέουσι τὸν Ἑσπέριον καὶ τοῖς Ἑῴοις κόλποις ἐνθαλαττεύουσι, τὰ συνήθη κελεύσματα, οἷς τοῦ πλοῦ τὸν πόνον προσαναπαύουσιν, εἰς καινὴν τοῦ μάρτυρος μετέβαλον εὐφημίαν καὶ διὰ γλώσσης ἐστὶν ὅλος ὁ Φωκᾶς αὐτοῖς ὑπᾳδόμενος / 'Everywhere sailors and seamen, not only those sailing through the Black Sea, but also those crossing the Adriatic Sea, and carried by the Aegean, and those who sail to the Western Ocean, and sojourning at Eastern bays, neglect the usual procedures, by which they ease the hardships of the journey, in favour of the new glory of the martyr, and it is said that Phokas is their only aid.' Furthermore, the links of Phokas with the sea and seafarers were probably clearly exposed already at the very beginning of his cult: in c. 400 Phokas' relics were brought to Constantinople from Pontus and deposited in a sea-shore shrine on the Bosphorus. John Chrysostom (see: E00097) says that the relics were transported in a splendid maritime procession: βλέπε αὐτὸν καὶ διὰ τοῦ πελάγους πλέοντα, ἵνα ἑκάτερα τὰ στοιχεῖα τῆς παρ’ αὐτοῦ εὐλογίας ἐμπλησθῇ (…) Ποιήσωμεν πάλιν τὴν θάλατταν ἐκκλησίαν μετὰ λαμπάδων ἐξιόντες ἐκεῖσε, καὶ τὸ πῦρ ἐνυγραίνοντες, καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ ἐμπιμπλῶντες πυρός. Μηδεὶς φοβείσθω τὸ πέλαγος· ὁ μάρτυς θάνατον οὐκ ἐφοβήθη, καὶ σὺ τὸ ὕδωρ δέδοικας; / 'Then also see him sailing through the sea, so that both elements may be filled with the blessing coming from him. (…) Let us again turn the sea into a church, going out there with torches, making the fire liquid, and setting the water on fire! Let no one be afraid of the sea! The martyr was not afraid of death, and you are scared of water?'

Remarkably, the addressee of pagan graffiti, found in Grammata, was Asclepius, a physician-god, also worshipped as a protector of travellers. It seems that his cult was superseded by that of Phokas, and the sanctuary of Asclepius in Grammata, was converted into a church dedicated to the saint.

The interpretation of line 4 of our graffito is difficult. The only legible word is πηδάλιον, normally meaning 'rudder'. However, Kiourtzian supposes that here it can be a toponym, or a part of an invocation, based on a sentence from the Life of St. Phokas: ὁ τῶν χειμαζομένων σωτήρ, Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, τὸ πηδάλιον τῶν ψυχῶν ἡνῶν / 'Jesus Christ, the saviour of those exposed to storms, (be) the rudder of our souls!' (BHG, no. 1535z, § 9, lines 12-13).

The ship of the dedicant is called '(the holy) Mary', which was


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Phocas, bishop and martyr of Sinope, under Trajan : S00052 Apostles (unspecified) : S00084 Mary, Mother of Christ : S00033

Saint Name in Source

Φωκᾶς ἀπόστολοι Μαρία

Image Caption 1

A view of the coast. From: Kiourtzian 2000, plate 21.

Image Caption 2

Rock-face A. From: Kiourtzian 2000, plate 20.

Image Caption 3

Rock-face B. From: Kiourtzian 2000, plate 21.

Image Caption 4

Graffiti from the site. From: Kiourtzian 2000, plate 23.

Image Caption 5

Graffiti from the site. From: Kiourtzian 2000, plate 24.

Image Caption 6

Graffiti from the site. From: Kiourtzian 2000, plate 27.

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Graffiti


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Aegean islands and Cyprus Aegean islands and Cyprus

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Syros Grammata

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

Syros Salamis Σαλαμίς Salamis Salamis Farmagusta Far Κωνσταντία Konstantia Constantia Grammata Salamis Σαλαμίς Salamis Salamis Farmagusta Far Κωνσταντία Konstantia Constantia

Cult activities - Places

Other (mountain, wood, tree, pillar)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Miraculous protection - of people and their property

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Women Merchants and artisans Soldiers Officials Other lay individuals/ people Pagans Jews Foreigners (including Barbarians)


Edition: Kiourtzian, G., Recueil des inscriptions grecques chrétiennes des Cyclades, de la fin du IIIe au VIIIe siècle après J.-C., (Travaux et mémoires du Centre de recherche d'histoire et civilisation de Byzance. Monographies 12, Paris: De Boccard, 2000), 135-200 (with further bibliography and detailed description of the site) Zolotas, M.I., Κυκλαδικὸν Ἡμερολόγιον 1928, 92-93. Evangelidis, T., Κυκλαδικὸν Ἡμερολόγιον 1908, 36-37. IG XII 5, no. 712 - Hiller von Gaertringen, F. (ed.), Inscriptiones Graecae, vol. 12 , part 5: Inscriptiones Cycladum (Ios, Sikinos, Naxos, Paros, Oliaros, Siphnos, Seriphos, Kythnos, Keos, Gyaros, Syros, Andros and Tenos) (Berlin: 1903-1909), nos. 1-55 (pagan graffiti), nos. 56-99 (Christian graffiti). Phrangidis, A.K, Ιστορία της Νήσου Σύρου (Αθηναι : Εκδιδεται υπο του συλλογου των εν Αθηναισ & Πειραιει Συριανων, 1975), 258-273. Bayet, Ch., [A communication], Revue archéologique 32 (1876), 287-290 (nos. 13 and 14 of Stepahnos' edition). Stephanos, K., Ἐπιγραφαὶ τῆς Νήσου Σύρου τὸ πλεῖστον ἀνέκδοτοι, μετὰ τοπογραφικῶν καὶ ἱστορικῶν παρατηρήσεων περὶ τῆς ἀρχαίας Σύρου καὶ δύο λιθογραφικῶν πινάκων (Athens 1875). Stephanos, K., "Ἐπιγραφαὶ τῆς Νήσου Σύρου", Athenaion 3 (1874), 517-525, 648-656. Further reading: De Rossi, G.B., "Sira (isola dell'Arcipelago), proscinemi graffiti da naviganti pagani, ebrei e cristiani sulla roccia d'un porto", Bolletino di archeologia cristiana. Seria 3/1 (1876), 112-116 (republished in Νέος Ἑλληνομνήμων 12 (1915), 220-223). Drossoyianni, Ph., "[Review:] G. Kiourtzian, Receuil des inscriptions grecques chrétiennes des Cyclades, De la fin du IIIe au VIIe siècle après J.-C.", Βyzantinische Ζeitschrift 95 (2002), 693-694 (further comments of specific graffiti). Kiourtzian, G., "Pietas insulariorum", [in:] Eupsychia: mélanges offerts à Hélène Ahrweiler, vol. 2 (Série Byzantina Sorbonensia 16, Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1998), 367-368, 374.

Continued Description

a quite frequent practice in Late Antiquity. For other ships named after this saint, see: Graffitos 3, 4, and 5 below and E01238. Kiourtzian supposes that there was a theological background behind this habit, as Mary was metaphorically described as the 'vessel' of Christ.Graffito 2: IG XII 5,712, no. 58. Cf. Kiourtzian 2000, no. 72.ἐνκενί<σ>[θη ὁ] ἱ[ερὸς (?) - -][ναὸς τοῦ ἁ]γίου [Φωκᾶ (?)]'The [holy church (?)] of saint [Phokas (?)] was consecrated.'The graffito was engraved on the rock-face A. It commemorates the consecration of a place of cult, Friedrich Hiller von Gaertringen supposed that it was a church dedicated to St. Phokas, but this supposition is very fragile: the name of Phokas was restored based on his single invocation in Graffito 1 above, and the denotation of the church (ναός) was inserted based on the disputed reading ένεκαινίσθη, 'was consecrated', allegedly appearing in line 1. Having re-examined the graffito, Kiourtzian reads it as an invocation of the good journey on behalf of an ordinary man (Enkainios the younger): Ἐνκενίου νεω|τέρου ὑπὲρ εὐπλί̣α̣[ς]. See the comments by Kiourtzian who discusses at length the history and subsequent attempts to restore this text.Graffito 3: Kiourtzian 2000, no. 92 = IG XII 5,712, no. 65 = Stephanos 1875, no. 65.ὁ χωρὸς τῶν ἁγίω̣ν ἀπ̣οσ̣τ̣όλονσώσα[τ]̣α̣ι [τὸ] πλοῖ̣ο̣ν ̣Μαρίαν μετ̣ὰ τ(ῶν) γωμοτῶ̣ν ̣Α̣V..CΤΙΝ (καὶ) Ἰωάν[νου]ναυ{̣τ}κλήρου (καὶ) τõν συνπλεόντω[ν]αὐτ̣õ1. [ἁπάντω]ν Stephanos, ὁ χωρὸς [τ]ῶν ἁγίων [πάντω]ν Hiller von Gaertringen || 2. σώσαι Stephanos Hiller von Gaertringen || πλοῖ[ον Μ]αρίαν Stephanos, πολῖ[ον Μ]αρί[α]ν μετ[ὰ] Hiller von Gaertringen || 3. [γ]ώ[μου...... ἐ]στίν Stephanos, [- - - ἐ]στὶν (καὶ) Ἰω[ά]νν[ου] Hiller von Gaertringen, ̣Α̣ὐ[γου]στίν(ου καὶ) Ἰωάν[νου] Kiourtzian || 4. ν[α]υκλ[ή]ρου Hiller von Gaertringen || [τῶν] Stephanos Hiller von Gaertringen || συμπλ[ε]όντω[ν] Stephanos, συνπλ[ε]όντω[ν] Hiller von Gaertringen || 5. αὐτ[οῦ] Stephanos, [ἐν α]ὐτ[ῷ] Hiller von Gaertringen 'The choir of the holy Apostles, save [the] ship Mary together with its load, [- - -], (and) Ioan[nes] the ship-owner, (and) those who sail with him.'The graffito was engraved on rock-face Β, in a frame. H. 0,28 m; W. 0,38 m; letter height c. 0.04 m. To the left of the inscription there is a large carving of a Latin cross. According to Kiourtzian the invocation is addressed to 'the choir of the holy Apostles'/ὁ χωρὸς τῶν ἁγίω̣ν ἀπ̣οσ̣̣τόλον. He bases this statement on a personal examination of the stone, and adds that 'the choir of the holy Apostles' is an expression frequently used in Byzantine liturgical texts. Earlier editors considered the last word as illegible and preferred to complete the line, for example, as: ὁ χωρὸς [τ]ῶν ἁγίων [πάντω]ν/'The choir of [t]he [All] Saints'. The ship, mentioned in line 2 is named after Mary, Mother of Christ, as in the case of Graffito 1, above.The first word in line 3 is scarcely legible. It can refer to the load of the ship (γομωτής), that was meant to be protected by the saints, probably followed by a name in the genitive case, for instance: ̣Α̣ὐ[γου]στίν(ου).Graffito 4: Kiourtzian 2000, no. 103 = IG XII 5,712, no. 75 = Stephanos 1875, no. 75.{ΚΙ} + Κ(ύρι)̣ε σõσον τὼπλοῖον ΜαρίαἸσ(ι)δόρου Π̣ι-να<ρ>έως1. {ΚΙ} Kiourtzian: 'inexpliqué', perhaps: Κ(ύρ)ι<ε>, + Κ(ύρι)ε || 3-4. ΙΣΔΟΡΟΥ Π̣Ι|ΝΑΨΕΩΣ lapis'+ Lord, save the ship Maria of Isidoros of Pinara!'The graffito was engraved on rock-face Β. H. 0,25 m; W. 0,5 m; letter height 0.04-0.05 m. It is an invocation of God, asked for the protection of a ship named after Mary, Mother of Christ. The ship's owner, Isidoros, was a citizen of Pinara, a city in Lycia (southern Asia Minor). Graffito 5: Kiourtzian 2000, no. 107 = IG XII 5,712, no. 78 = Stephanos 1875, no. 78.Κ(ύρι)ε β̣ο̣ή̣θι τῷ πλοίῳ Μαρίᾳ Θηρέῳκὲ Ἰσιδώροͅ δ(ια)κόνοͅ κὲ τοῖςπλέουσιν μετ' ἑαυτοῦ κὲ Ἰωάννῃ τῷ γράψ(αντι), εὔπλια1. β[οή]θι Stephanos Hiller von Gaertringen || π[λ]οίῳ Stephanos Hiller von Gaertringen || 3. [π]λέουσιν Hiller von Gaertringen || 4. εὐπλία Stephanos, (καὶ) [σ]υμπλίᾳ Hiller von Gaertringen'Lord, help the ship Maria of Thera, and Isidoros the deacon, and those who sail with him, and Ioannes, who wrote it. Fair voyage!'The graffito was engraved on rock-face Β, in a tabula ansata. H. 0,32 m; W. 0,69 m.It is an invocation of God, asked to give the grace of the safe journey to a ship named after Mary, Mother of Christ, a deacon Isidoros and his unnamed companions. The graffito was authored by a certain Ioannes, a man of unclear status.The name of the ship is followed by the adjective Θήρεος. Kiourtzian supposes that it specifies the origin of the ship ('the one of the island of Thera') rather than being the ethnic identity of the unnamed ship-owner, or the given name 'Theraios'. The expression, is nonetheless peculiar, as normally ships were not identified in this way. The object of the request, εὔπλοια/'Fair voyage', is also frequently mentioned in pagan invocations from the island.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity