Saint NameUnnamed martyrs (or name lost) : S00060
Unnamed ascetics (or name lost) : S00117
Saint Name in Sourceἠΐθεοι μάρτυρες ἀθλόφοροι
Image Caption 1From: Inscriptiones Creticae 2, no. 21.
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Funerary inscriptions
Literary - Poems
Evidence not before300
Evidence not after500
Activity not before300
Activity not after500
Place of Evidence - RegionAegean islands and Cyprus
Aegean islands and Cyprus
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcCrete
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Crete
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesWomen
Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits
SourceA 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.
DiscussionThe 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.
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.
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.
Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 53, 962.