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E01386: Greek epitaph with a poem, composed probably for a nun, expressing the belief that the deceased will 'rejoice in paradise together with victorious virgin martyrs'. Found near Hagios Ioannes, close to Chania/Kydonia, northwest Crete. Probably 4th-5th c.

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posted on 2016-05-19, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Here presented in verse form with vertical strokes marking line endings:

κεύθει μέν μου σῶμα, Βαναῶς, κατὰ | γαῖα φερίστη, |
ψυχὴ ̣δ᾿ ἠϊθέοις συναγάλλεται ἐν | παραδίσῳ |
μάρτυσιν ἀθλοφόροις, ἐπεὶ βίον | ἔκφυγον ἁγ̣νή,
̣τᾶς ψυχῆς ἐνὶ ̣θ̣ε̣σ̣μ̣ῷ διαφθορὰν Βελείοιο | φυγούσας. |
[κε]ύθει ̣γαῖα μάκερα δύο σώματα | τᾶν φιλαδέλφων.

4. ̣θ̣ε̣σ̣μ̣ῷ Bandy 1971 Guarducci, θ̣εῷ Bandy 1963, θεσμῷ or θεο(φ)ίλῳ or θεο(ο)μίλῳ Peek, Θεο(τό)κῳ Gerola

'Chaste earth covers the body of me, Banao, but my soul rejoices in paradise together with victorious virgin martyrs, since I escaped life pure, my soul having taken refuge in the (monastic?) rule from the corruption by Belial. Blessed earth covers two bodies of the beloved sisters.'

Text and translation (modified): Bandy 1971, no. 93.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Unnamed martyrs (or name lost) : S00060 Unnamed ascetics (or name lost) : S00117

Saint Name in Source

ἠΐθεοι μάρτυρες ἀθλόφοροι

Image Caption 1

From: Inscriptiones Creticae 2, no. 21.

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Funerary inscriptions Literary - Poems


  • 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

Crete Chania/Kydonia

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

Crete Salamis Σαλαμίς Salamis Salamis Farmagusta Far Κωνσταντία Konstantia Constantia Chania/Kydonia Salamis Σαλαμίς Salamis Salamis Farmagusta Far Κωνσταντία Konstantia Constantia

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits


A bluish-white marble plaque. Broken on the lower left-hand side. H. 0.37 m; W. 0.42 m; Th. 0.04 m; letter height 0.025 m. Said to have been found by a local inhabitant in c. 1917, in a field near the village of Hagios Ioannes, close to Chania/Kydonia. Moved to the Archaeological Museum of Chania, where the stone was damaged in a fire in 1934. Seen and examined by Doro Levi, Federico Halbherr, Margherita Guarducci, and Anastasios Bandy.


The epitaph consists of six clumsy hexameters. It was almost certainly composed for a nun, called Banao (or Vanao), and records also the burial of two (more?) members of her congregation. The name of the deceased suggests that she was born outside Crete. Anastasios Bandy points out that Βαναώ or Ἀβανά might be a Greek rendering of a Semitic name. A less probable possibility is that we have here a dialectical form of the names Φαναώ, Φανιώ, or a female version of the name Βάννος, attested in Egypt. Werner Peek suspended judgment in this matter The deceased is praised as a pure virgin, therefore the editors suspected that either she had died prematurely, before marriage, or, more plausibly, she had been a nun. The latter possibility is supported by the reference to ἀδελφαί/'sisters' in verse 5, very probably fellow nuns. If so, this is a very interesting equation of the status of chaste nun with that of the virgin martyrs. The fourth word in verse 4 is mutilated. Gerola read it as Θεο(τό)κῳ ('having taken refuge in the God-Bearer'), but this suggestion is implausible. Peek opted for θεσμῷ ('having taken refuge in the (monastic?) rule'), or θεο(φ)ίλῳ ('in God's love'), or θεο(ο)μίλῳ ('in God's community'). Guarducci and Bandy (in the 1971 edition) prefer to read the word as θεσμός/'rule, law', which may refer to the monastic past of the buried woman. The motif of the body covered by earth and detached from the soul living its own, more or less happy life, is common in pagan funeral poetry. Here it was reshaped to fit the Christian idea of Paradise and the community of saints welcoming the deceased. It is interesting that the buried person, being a nun herself, sees the virgin martyrs as her direct counterparts and companions in heaven. Dating: Based on the letter forms, Guarducci dated the inscription to the 5th c.; Levi and Bandy suggest even the 4th/5th c. The occurrence of the hexameter verse points to a relatively early period, as later it was superseded by dodecasyllable verse.


Edition: Bandy, A.C., (ed.), The Greek Christian Inscriptions of Crete (Athens: Christian Archaeological Society, 1971), no. 93. Bandy, A., "Early Christian inscriptions of Crete", Hesperia 32 (1963), 245-247, no. 12. Lattimore, R.A., Themes in Greek and Latin Epitaphs (Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 1942), 305. Guarducci, M., Inscriptiones Creticae, vol. 2: Tituli Cretae occidentalis (Rome: Libreria dello Stato, 1939), no. 21. Peek, W., "Korkyräische und kretische Epigramme", Philologus. Zeitschrift für antike Literatur und ihre Rezeption 88 (1933), 145-146, no. 3. Gerola, G., Monumenti veneti nell'isola di Creta, vol. 4 (Venice 1932), 404, no. 2. Levi, D., "Epigrammi cretesi inediti", Historia 6 (1932), 597-598, no. 3. Further reading: Halkin, F., "L'Egypte, Chypre, la Crète et les autres îles grecques. La Grèce continentale et les pays balkaniques. L'Italie et la Sycylie", Analecta Bollandiana 70 (1952), 120. Reference works: Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 53, 962.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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