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E01620: Greek inscription commemorating the construction of a martyr shrine (martyrion) of *Thomas (probably the Apostle, S00199), by an Arab woman Mavia. Found near Anasartha/Theodoroupolis (north Syria). Dated 23-30 September 426.

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posted on 2016-06-10, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
[+] ̣γυναικείας φύσεως Μαουία [θαυμάσ]-
[ι]ον (?) ἄ<γ>αλμα, σωφροσύνης τε κ[αὶ εὐσεβ]-
[ε]ία<ς> αὐτῆς καὶ φη<λ>ανδρίας κ[λέος (?), ἔκ]-
[τι]σεν ἁγίου μαρτύριον Θωμᾶ τ[οῦτο, χρ]-
[ό]νοις ἰνδικτι[ῶν]ος ιʹ τοῦ ζλψʹ [ἔτους - - - +].

1. ̣γυναικείας Feissel, [γ]υναικείας Mouterde, 2. ΑΙΑΛΜΑ stone || 3. IAOAYTHC stone || 4. ΦΗΔΑΝΔΡΙΑΟ stone || 5. ἰνδικτι[ῶν]ος Feissel, ἰνδικτιῶνος Mouterde

'[+] Mavia, of the female nature, [the admirable (?)] glory (and) [the pride (?)] of prudence, [and of piety (?)], and of the wifely affection, built [this] martyr shrine (martyrion) of the holy Thomas. In the times of the 10th indiction, the [year] 737 [- - -. +]'

Text: Mouterde & Poidebard 1945, no. 20 with corrected readings of line 1 and 5 by Feissel 2002, 206.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Thomas, the Apostle : S00199 Thomas (unspecified) : S00842

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)


  • 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)

Anasartha Thabbora Thabbora

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Monarchs and their family Aristocrats


A fragmentary stone lintel. Broken and lost on both sides. Preserved dimensions: H. 0.45 m; W. 1.52 m; letter height 0.06 m. The letters are rendered in low relief, as frequently in this region. Copied and photographed by René Mouterde before 1945. When recorded, the stone was reused in a modern building. Said to have been found elsewhere, in a church, outside the city walls of Anasartha, to the north of the fortifications of the city. Revisited by Denis Feissel. He considered Mouterde's completions as quite plausible, but still hypothetical. Nonetheless, we have decided to reproduce them in the main text. Despite the unusual phrasing and syntax, Reinhold Merkelbach and Josef Stauber consider this text as prose (see: SGO IV, 295).


The inscription commemorates the construction of a martyr shrine of 'the holy Thomas', probably Thomas the Apostle, as he was widely venerated in north Syria (see: the comments in E01439), and his relics were kept in nearby Edessa (see: E00077; E01358). Irfan Shahîd points out that the rulers of Edessa, an Arab dynasty, the Abgarids, venerated Thomas as a figure involved in the apocryphal story of the correspondence between Abgar (their ancestor) and Jesus, and perhaps also the Tanukhid Arabs, dwelling near Anasartha, considered him as their specific patron saint (just as the Ghassanids/Jafnids considered Sergios in the 6th c., see: Shahîd 1984, 225). Though hypothetical, this is not completely implausible. For the opinion that this is a local martyr, based mostly on the lack of the title 'Apostle' in the inscription, see: Peeters 1945, 259-260 (rejected by Feissel 2002, 206). The founder of the martyrion is a woman, named Mavia. The first editor, René Mouterde, noted that the name was borne also by the Arab warrior-queen, who in 378 led the rebellion of the Nicene Tanukhid Arab tribes against the Arian emperor Valens (see also the comments: E01618). Doubting that Mavia would have been still alive c. 50 years after this uprising, Mouterde suggested that our founder might have been her relative, for example grand-daughter (born from the marriage of Mavia's anonymous daughter and a certain Victor, see: Socrates, HE IV 36,12). Shahîd believed that our Mavia was the warrior-queen herself, and simply built the shrine as a woman advanced in years. Feissel prudently opts for a coincidence of names, and sees no arguments for any links of our Mavia with the famous queen. Mouterde wondered, why the shrine was sited outside the city walls of Anasartha, while a certain Silvanos built another within them (see: E01618). He suggested an implausible explanation, considering Silvanos as a Roman or romanised leader of settled Arabs, living in the city, and our Mavia as a chief of nomads, who needed a sanctuary in its territory, as, he hypothesised, they could have been forbidden from accessing the city churches. The issue was similarly described by Shahîd. We must note, however, that in the 4th and 5th c. martyria were normally constructed outside city walls: either to locate them at the site of cemeteries, over martyrs' tombs, or because the bringing of bodies to the city, even those of martyrs, was a highly disputed issue, forbidden by the Roman law. A good example is the case of the martyr shrine of *Probos, Trachos, and Andronikos, built outside the walls of Mopsuestia, southeastern Asia Minor, by bishop Auxentios, as reported by the Martyrdom of Niketas the Goth (see: E01129). In this light, it is the foundation of Silvanos, that needs an explanation, and not that of Mavia. Fisher and Liebeschuetz questioned any links of Mavia's martyrion (and even Mavia herself) with nomadic Arabs. They say that the inscription attests only to the religious activity of a, probably Greek-speaking, woman bearing a name of Arabic origin, and says nothing about her possible office as phylarch, etc. Dating: the date, year 737, is computed according to the Seleucid era, which corresponds to AD 425/426. The 10th indiction year allows for the narrowing of the date to 23-30 September 426. Mouterde erroneously calculated the date as 425 (see: Feissel 2002).


Edition: The Packard Humanities Institute database: PH322270. Feissel., D., "Les martyria d'Anasartha", in: Mélanges Gilbert Dagron (Travaux et Mémoires 14, Paris: Association des Amis du Centre d'Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance, 2002), 202-205. Mouterde, R., Poidebard, A., Le limes de Chalcis: organisation de la steppe en haute Syrie romaine: documents aériens et épigraphiques (Paris: P. Geuthner 1945), 194-195, no. 20. Further reading: Feissel., D., "Les martyria d'Anasartha", in: Mélanges Gilbert Dagron (Travaux et Mémoires 14, Paris: Association des Amis du Centre d'Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance, 2002), 205-209. Fisher, G., Between Empires: Arabs, Romans, and Sasanians in Late Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 105-107. Fisher, G., "Arabs and martyria", in: G. Fisher and others, Arabs and Empires before Islam (Oxford: OUP, 2015), 311-312. Liebeschuetz, J.H.W.G., "Nomads, phylarchs and settlement in Syria and Palestine", [in:] A.S. Lewin, P. Pellegrini (eds.), Settlements and Demography in the Near East in Late Antiquity: Proceedings of the Colloquium, Matera 27-29 October 2005 (Pisa: Istituti editoriali e poligrafici internazionali, 2007), 144. Liebeschuetz, J.H.W.F., East and West in Late Antiquity: Invasion, Settlement, Ethnogenesis, and Conflicts of Religion (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 253-254. Peeters, P., "Review: Mouterde R., Poidebard A., Limes de Chalcis...", Analecta Bollandiana 63 (1945), 259-260. The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire 1, Mauia. Shahîd, I., Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fourth Century (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1984), 222-227; 232-233. Steinepigramme aus dem Griechischen Osten IV, 295. Reference works: L'Année épigraphique (1947), 193; (2002), 1505. Bulletin épigraphique (1946-1947), 204; (1950), 207. Chroniques d'épigraphie byzantine, 582; 584. Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 39, 1569; 52, 1543.

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