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E01978: Floor-mosaic with a Greek building inscription for a martyr shrine (martyrion). Found in a church outside the citywalls at Dibsi Faraj/Athis/Neokaisareia (between Beroia/Aleppo and Rusafa, northeast Syria/Euphratensis). Dated 429.

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posted on 2016-11-01, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
+ ἐτελιώθη τὸ ἔργον τοῦ
ἁγίου μαρτυρίου σπου-
δῇ Ἰακώβου πρεσβ(υτέρου) καὶ Π-
αύλου περιοδ(ευτοῦ) ἐν μηνὶ
Ξανθικῷ τοῦ μψ΄ ἔτους.
Κύρ(ιε) ἀθ(άνατε), εὐλ<ό>γεσαν
τ<ο>ὺς ψ<η>φ<ο>θέτος. ἀμήν

3. Ἰακόβου Donceel-Voûte || 5. Ξαντικῷ Donceel-Voûte || 6. ἀθ(άνατος) Donceel-Voûte || εὐλ[ό]γεσαν Donceel-Voûte || 7. τ[ο]ὺς ψ[η]φ[ο]θέτος Donceel-Voûte

'+ The building of the holy martyr shrine (martyrion) was completed by the efforts of Iakobos, presbyter, and Paulos, the itinerant priest (periodeutes), in the month of Xanthikos, the 740th year. O immortal Lord, bless the mosaicists! Amen.'

Text: Donceel-Voûte 1988, 80 with corrected readings by J. Bingen from SEG 40, 1782. Translation: P. Nowakowski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Anonymous martyrs : S00060 Sergios, martyr in Syria, ob. 303-311 : S00023 Bakchos, martyr in Barbalissos (Syria), ob. c. 303-311 : S00079

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.) Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Beroia Dibsi Faraj

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

Beroia Thabbora Thabbora Dibsi Faraj Thabbora Thabbora

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Merchants and artisans


Dibsi Faraj, ancient Athis or Neokaisareia, was situated on the right bank of the Euphrates, next to Barbalissos, between the two important cities of Rusafa and Beroia/Aleppo. It was first surveyed in 1971 by George Mendenhall and then excavated by Richard Harper and the expedition of the Kelsey Museum (University of Michigan) in conjunction with Dumbarton Oaks in 1972 and 1973. The works were carried out in the framework of the UNESCO rescue excavations in the Lake Assad region, which preceded the flooding of the area by the construction of the Tabqa Dam at Ar-Raqqah in 1974. The site is now under the waters of Lake Assad. The excavations revealed that the site was occupied from the Roman to the Umayyad period. Among the buildings discovered were baths, a cathedral, and our martyr shrine. Our church was situated outside the city walls, in the area of the necropolis. The site was later covered by the modern city. The building was a three-aisled basilica, measuring c. 23.75 m x 51 m, with a narthex (with two side chambers), an apse, and two 'sacristies' situated to the right and to the left of it. A sarcophagus was found in the south sacristy The floor-mosaics were found in the nave, the aisles and sacristies, and in the narthex (in its central room). They were taken to the Museum of Damascus. Our mosaic inscription was first published by Pauline Donceel-Voûte in 1988 [1991]. It comes from the narthex. There are no published dimensions for the inscription.


The inscription commemorates the construction of a martyr shrine, almost certainly the whole building and not just the narthex where it was displayed. It does not say to which martyrs the shrine was dedicated. They could have been some local martyrs, as the building was situated in the area of the settlement's necropolis and the date of its construction is early, or perhaps they were the famous *Sergios (S00023) and/or *Bakchos (S00079), given the closeness of the city to the two important martyr shrines of these two saints. Dating: the date is here computed according to the Seleucid era. Its year 740 and the month of Xanthikos correspond to AD 429. This makes our martyr shrine one of the earlier attested structures of this kind.


Edition: 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), 78-87. Further reading: Bahnassi, A., Bounni, A., Sauvegarde des antiquités de l'Euphrate (Damascus, 1973), 10-11 and plate 3. Feissel, D., "L'épigraphie des mosaïques d'églises en Syrie et au Liban", Antiquité Tardive 2 (1994), 286. Harper, R.P., "Second preliminary report on excavations at Dibsi Faraj", Les annales archéologiques de Syrie 24 (1974), 25-27. Harper, R.P., Wilkinson, T.J., "Excavations at Dibsi Faraj, Northern Syria, 1972-1974: A preliminary note on the site and its monuments", Dumbarton Oaks Papers 29 (1975), 319-338 (especially pp. 333-334). Vokaer, A., "Brittle Ware trade in Syria between the 5th and 8th centuries", in: M. Mundell Mango (ed.), Byzantine Trade, 4th-12th centuries: the Archaeology of Local, Regional and International Exchange: Papers of the Thirty-eighth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, St John's College, University of Oxford, March 2004 (Farnham, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate Pub., 2009), 124 ff. Reference works: Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 40, 1782.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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