University of Oxford
6 files

E01460: So-called Basilica A/the 'Great Basilica' in Rusafa/Sergioupolis (northeast Syria/Euphratesia), a major place of the cult of *Sergios (soldier and martyr of Rusafa, S00023), housing the relics of the saint probably since at least the last third of the 5th c. A number of important inscriptions and substantial archaeological evidence, relating to the cult of Sergios, were found at the site.

online resource
posted on 2016-06-06, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
The basilica is sited in the southeast part of the city of Rusafa-Sergioupolis. It is the biggest of Rusafa's four major ecclesiastical structures (see the comments in: E01440) and its connections to the cult of Sergios are well documented, already in the accounts of early travellers in the Levant (see: Key Fowden 1999, 80; Ulbert 1986, 1-5).

The basilica is a three-aisled building with half piers and arches dividing the interior. A peristyle courtyard is adjacent to its northern wall. The southern wall has numerous extensions, but their exact functions are not obvious. To the north of the apse there is a small room, connecting the interior of the church with the courtyard (see below), a similar room to the south of the apse was identified as the pastophorium (a room, for example, for storing liturgical vestments).

The construction of the basilica was originally dated by Thilo Ulbert, based on a Greek inscription found in the floor of basilica's sanctuary (for another, similar but fragmentarily preserved, plaque, see the attached image). The inscription reads:

Ἀβραάμιος ἐλέει θ(εο)ῦ ἐπίσκο(πος) Σεργιουπο(λέως) ᾠκοδόμησεν
πρὸς τιμὴν τοῦ Ἁγίου Σταυροῦ ἵνα ἀξιωθῇ
ἐλέους θεοῦ. γέγονεν δὲ μη(νὶ) Ἀρτεμ(ισίῳ) ἰνδ(ικτιῶνος) ζ΄
τοῦ οω΄ ἔτους

'Abraham, by God's mercy bishop of Sergioupolis built (it) in honour of the Holy Cross in order to be made worthy of God's mercy. It was accomplished in the month of Artemisios, in the 7th year of the indiction, in the year 870.'

Text: Ulbert 1977, 563-569; SEG 27, 993. Translation: Key Fowden 1999, 83.

The date of the inscription is computed according to the Seleucid era, which corresponds to AD 599. However, despite Ulbert's suggestion that this was the date of the construction of the whole building, Gunnar Brands plausibly argued that this commemorative text referred only to the sanctuary, and perhaps to a side chapel, decorated with a large cross. Therefore, the whole building can no longer be considered as built in 599 and dedicated to the Holy Cross (its dedication remains unknown). Brands also pointed out that another inscription, reused in the nearby Umayyad Mosque (E01440), may provide us with a terminus ante quem for the construction of Basilica A. The style of that inscription suggests that it was taken from Basilica B, located in the centre of the city. It says that already in 518 (year 827 of the Seleucid era) the relics of Sergios were kept in another church, presumed to be Basilica A. Brands concludes that the analysis of the archaeological evidence from the site provides us with arguments to place the construction of Basilica A in the last third of the 5th c. (see: Brands 2002; Key Fowden 1999, 83)

Remarkably, Rusafa, with its relics of Sergios, was “a place of convergence” as Key Fowden names it (1999, 67). Its political role is even more strongly emphasised by Irfan Shahîd (2002, 115-132, 136-142), who points out that the city was a major centre on the political map of the dominium of the Ghassanids/Jafnids. As a prosperous commercial city, a watering point, and junction of caravan routes, it attracted people of various ethnic origin. When still under Roman domination, the city was used to manifest Roman authority in the region. As a result, Sergios was equally eagerly venerated there by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Persians. It is also believed that Basilica A was used by the Umayyad caliph, Hisham b. 'Abd al-Malik (691-caliph 724-743) to create a shared space for the Christian and Muslim Arab tribes, and thus to ease control of the area by the Umayyads. Hisham fostered the (already vigorous) cult of Sergios among Muslims and constructed the Great Mosque, at the north edge of the courtyard of Basilica A. Thanks to this shared courtyard, both Muslim and Christian pilgrims had common access to the relics of Sergios and could venerate the saint together, clearly under the auspices of the caliph, thus strengthening their allegiance to the state and their local relationships (see: Fowden 2004, 577-578).

Inscriptions from the church:

1) Inscription on a column, in the north aisle, before the entrance to the room that probably housed the relics of Sergios:

It is supposed that the relics of the saint were deposited in a room located in the northeast part of the church, next to the apse, connecting the north aisle with the courtyard (see: Key Fowden 1999, 84-86). At least four phases of renovation have been identified in the room. Its most recent floor was made of green, white, and pink marble. It is supposed that a silver chest with the relics of Sergios lay on a stone table (altar?). Broken ampullae and pilgrim flasks were found in the room. These, with the evidence of fixtures in the base of the table/reliquary, suggest that holy oil was produced here and distributed to people venerating the saint.

On a split-leaf capital (Capital N 1) in the north aisle, near the entrance to the room, there is an inscription, interpreted as a marker of the holy site. The capital was first recorded by M.W. Halifax in 1691. It is also mentioned by X.A. Siderides in 1899 and F. Sarre in 1909. It is supposed that the capital came from Basilica B and was reused at Basilica A. The text is written from right to left, and the letters rendered in low relief.

ἅγι + ος
Σέρ + γις
πᾶ + σιν

πᾶσ[ι]ν ἅγιος Σέργι[ο]ς [βοηθὸς εἵη] Siderides || ἅγιος Σέργιος [- - -] πᾶσιν Sarre

Text: P.-L. Gaiter (ed.) in: Ulbert 1986, 165, no. 3g.

' Sai+nt Ser+gios. Peace to a+ll.'

It is tempting to see this inscription as a referring to the various tribes and peoples visiting the relics of Sergios. But, on the other hand, in comments to a Jewish inscription, published in the fourth volume of Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie under no. 1320, René Mouterde noted that the formula πᾶσιν εἰρήνη/'peace to all' was the Christian counterpart of the popular Jewish blessing εὐλογία πᾶσιν and listed several near-eastern inscriptions, referencing this expression. Perhaps the formula was used here indeed deliberately, to stress the multicultural character of the sanctuary of Sergios, but it could be equally well chosen as a customary Christian saying.

2) Graffiti with invocations of pilgrims:

The room, presumed to have housed the relics of Sergios, was connected with the courtyard by a small passage. Its walls are covered with plaster and inscribed with pilgrim graffiti, containing mostly the names of supplicants (proving the extraordinary popularity of the name Sergios in the region), the Trisagion prayer, and the name of the saint. The graffiti are in Greek, Syriac, and Arabic. The Greek ones were published by Cornelia Römer, and the Arabic by Raif Georges Khoury in 1986, in Ulbert's study on the basilica. For selected examples, see: $E01461.

3) Inscriptions of bishop Sergios II.

A number of inscriptions commemorating a construction/restoration by bishop Sergios II, cousin of the village bishop Maronios (see the comments in E01440) were found in Basilica A. These are seven columns capitals, all inscribed with an identical commemorative formula and a plaque, placed in the floor of the apse, near the inscription of bishop Abraamios (see: Ulbert 1986, no. 3 (ed. P-L. Gatier) = SEG 36, 1305; Ulbert 1986, no. 2 (ed. P-L. Gatier) with revised completions in Gatier & Ulbert 1991, 181-182 = SEG 36, 1304; 41, 1358). It is however, almost certain that they refer to the refurbishment of Basilica B, and were only later reused in Basilica A. For this refurbishment, see: E01440. As they do not mention the patron saint of the church, we do not reproduce them here (for images, see: E01440).

4) For other, fragmentary Greek inscriptions, found in Basilica A, see: Ulbert 1986, nos. 4-18 (ed. P.-L. Gatier) = SEG 36, 1306-1311. Among them only three might refer to the martyr Sergios:

a) Ulbert 1986, nos. 4-18 (ed. P.-L. Gatier) = SEG 36, 1311:

Greek inscription on a red limestone fragment, probably 6th c.:

+ Σέ̣ργ[ιος - - -]
̣βῆμ̣α [- - -]

'+ Serg[ios - - -] sanc[tuary - - -]

b) Ulbert 1986, nos. 18a-b (ed. P.-L. Gatier) = SEG 36, 1311:

Fragmentary inscriptions on two fragments of a gypsum capital, probably 6th c.:

+ Σέ[ργιος - - - Δεσπ]οίνης

'+Se[rgios - - - of the La]dy'

c) Ulbert 1986, no. 18c (ed. P.-L. Gatier) = SEG 36, 1311:

Fragmentary inscription on a gypsum capital, probably 6th c.:

[- - -] Δεσποίν[ης]

'[ - - - of the] Lad[y - - -]'

If the reading is correct, this must refer to *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033).

It is possible that the capitals come from Basilica B and were reused in Basilica A.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Sergios, martyr in Syria, ob. 303-311 : S00023 Mary, Mother of Christ : S00033

Saint Name in Source


Image Caption 1

From left to right: the Great Mosque, courtyard, and Basilica A. From: Key Fowden 2004.

Image Caption 2

The first inscription of bishop Abraamios, before and after the arrangement of fragments. From: Resafa 2, plate 49.

Image Caption 3

The second, fragmentary inscription of bishop Abraamios. From: Resafa 2, 166.

Image Caption 4

The second, fragmentary inscription of bishop Abraamios. From: Resafa 2, plate 49.

Image Caption 5

Capital with the inscription: ' Sai+nt Ser+gios. Peace to a+ll.' From: Resafa 2, 165.

Image Caption 6

Capital with the inscription: ' Sai+nt Ser+gios. Peace to a+ll.' From: Resafa 2, plate 9.

Type of Evidence

Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea) Archaeological and architectural - Internal cult fixtures (crypts, ciboria, etc.) Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.) Inscriptions - Inscribed architectural elements


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Resapha-Sergiopolis Thabbora Thabbora

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Activities Accompanying Cult

  • Production and selling of eulogiai, tokens

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Muslims Pagans Crowds Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified Contact relic - oil Ampullae, eulogiai, tokens Making contact relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Construction of cult building to contain relics Public display of relics Reliquary – institutionally owned

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Ampullae, flasks, etc.


For descriptions of Basilica A, see: Brands, G., Resafa VI: Die Bauornamentik von Resafa-Sergiupolis. Studien zur spätantiken Architektur und Bauausstattung in Syrien und Nordmesopotamien (Mainz: P. von Zabern, 2002). Brands, G., "Old and new order. City and territorium of Ruṣāfa in Late Antiquity and early Islamʼ, [in:] Borrut, A., Debié, M., Papaconstantinou, A., Pieri, D., Sodini, J.-P. (eds.), Le Proche-Orient de Justinien aux Abbassides: Peuplement et dynamiques spatiales. Actes du colloque «Continuités de l’occupation entre les périodes byzantine et abbasside au Proche-Orient, VIIe-IXe siècles», Paris, 18-20 octobre 2007 (Bibliothèque de lʼAntiquité tardive 19, Turnhout: Brepols, 2011), 59-76. Donceel-Voûte, P., Les pavements des églises byzantines de Syrie et du Liban. Décor, archéologie et liturgie (Publications d’histoire de l’art et d’archéologie de l’Université catholique de Louvain 69, Louvain-La-Neuve: Département d'archéologie et d'histoire de l'art, 1988), 273-279. Gussone, M., Sack, D., "Resafa/Syrien. Städtebauliche Entwicklung zwischen Kultort und Herrschaftssitz", in: E. Rizos (ed.), New Cities in Late Antiquity. Documents and Archaeology (Bibliothèque de l'Antiquité Tardive 35, Turnhout: Brepols, 2017), 117-136. Key Fowden, E., The Barbarian Plain: St. Sergius between Rome and Iran (Berkeley, Calif.; London: University of California Press, 1999), 60-100. Key Fowden, E., "Christian monasteries and Umayyad residences in late antique Syria", [in:] J. Ma Blázquez Martínez, A. González Blanco (eds.), Sacralidad y arqueología: homenaje al Prof. Thilo Ulbert al cumplir 65 años (Murcia: Universidad de Murcia, 2004), 565-581. Kollwitz, J., "Die Grabungen in Resafa", [in:] E. Boehringer (ed.), Neue Deutsche Augrabungen in Mittelmeergebiet und im Vorderen Orient (Berlin: Mann, 1959), 45-70. Loosley, E., The Architecture and Liturgy of the Bema in Fourth-to-Sxth-century Syrian Churches (Boston: Brill, 2012), 28-29; 129-131; 267-272. Sack, D., Sarhan, M., Gussone, M., "Resafa-Sergiupolis/Ruṣāfat Hišām, Syrien. Pilgerstadt und Kalifenresidenz. Neue Ansätze, Ergebnisse und Perspektiven", Zeitschrift für Orient-Archäologie 3 (2010), 102-129. Sack, D., Gussone, M., "Resafa – Pilgerstadt und Kalifenresidenz am Rand der Wüste", Spektrum der Wissenschaften, Spezial 2 (2011), 58-65. Sack, D., "St Sergios in Resafa: Worshipped by Christians and Muslims alike", in: Blömer, M., Lichtenberger, A., Raja, R. (eds.), Religious Identities in the Levant from Alexander to Muhammed: Continuity and Change (Contextualizing the Sacred 4, Turnhout: Brepols, 2015), 271-282. Shahîd, I., Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 2, part 1: Toponymy, monuments, historical geography, and frontier studies (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2002), 115-132, 136-142. Ulbert, T., Resafa II: Die Basilika des Heiligen Kreuzes in Resafa-Sergiupolis (Mainz: P. von Zabern, 1986). For the inscription of bishop Abraamios, see: Gatier, P.-L., Ulbert, T., "Eine Türsturzinschrift aus Resafa Sergiupolis", Damaszener Mitteilungen 5 (1991), 181. Key Fowden, E., The Barbarian Plain: St. Sergius between Rome and Iran (Berkeley, Calif.; London: University of California Press, 1999), 83. Ulbert, T., “Eine neuentdeckte Inschrift aus Resafa (Syrien)”, Archäologischer Anzeiger (1977), 563-569. Ulbert, T., Resafa II: Die Basilika des Heiligen Kreuzes in Resafa-Sergiupolis (Mainz: P. von Zabern, 1986), 161 (comments by Pierre-Louis Gatier). Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 27, 993. For the inscription of the column before the entrance to the chamber with relics, see: Ulbert, T., Resafa II: Die Basilika des Heiligen Kreuzes in Resafa-Sergiupolis (Mainz: P. von Zabern, 1986), 165, no. 3g (ed. P.-L. Gatier). Gatier, P.-L., Ulbert, T., "Eine Türsturzinschrift aus Resafa Sergiupolis", Damaszener Mitteilungen 5 (1991), 180-181. Sarre, F., “Rusafa-Sergiopolis, mit 13 Abb.”, Monatshefte für Kunstwissenschaft 2 (1909), 103. Siderides, X.A., “”, Φιλολογικὸς Σύλλογος Κωνσταντινοπόλεως 1896 (1899), 138-139. Reference works: Bulletin épigraphique (1978), 521. Chroniques d'épigraphie byzantine, 573. Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 27, 993; 36, 1305; 52, 1588bis.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager